With just two days to go to the election, Queensland politics appears to be headed into uncharted waters, with Premier Campbell Newman’s grand gamble on his precarious inner-north Brisbane seat of Ashgrove looking increasingly like a busted flush.
If a poll conducted the night before last by ReachTEL for the Seven Network is even a little bit right, the Premier of Queensland stands to be swept from Parliament by Labor candidate Kate Jones, whom the poll credits with a 54-46 lead in her bid to win back the seat she lost to Newman in 2012.
For Newman, this is no ordinary opinion poll, to be written off with homilies about the only poll that matters being the one held on election day.
When bad polling had emerged from Ashgrove in the past, as it did on a number of occasions, Newman could respond with the half-convincing line that it had all been seen before — specifically in 2012, when numerous polls conducted early in the campaign suggested Newman had bitten off more than he could chew in tackling a seat with a Labor margin of over 7%.
However, this latest result puts that excuse to rest. In 2012, the very same pollster, at the very same stage of the campaign, using the very same methods, found that Ashgrove had swung decisively in Newman’s favour, by exactly the same margin presently being attributed to Jones.
After struggling to set the campaign agenda in the earlier part of the week in the face of static from the Prince Philip knighthood fiasco, Newman now stands to spend the crucial final days being assaulted by the central question of the entire election, to which he will be unable to offer a satisfactory response.
Nonetheless, there remains a general assumption that an outright defeat for the LNP is ruled out by the laws of gravity, given the huge number of seats that would need to be lost.
But in an election where the LNP doesn’t even look like it’s going to be able to deliver the product it’s been advertising for the past four weeks, it seems reasonable to wonder what other firsts the election might have in store.
A majority for Labor in its own right still seems hard to credit, but the minority government scenario that the LNP has gone to such lengths to warn against could well come to pass should the next Parliament have a significantly bigger crossbench than the last.
This didn’t seem to be in prospect going into the campaign, given the failing health of the LNP’s established challengers for the regional conservative vote, the Palmer United Party and Katter’s Australian Party.
For Clive Palmer in particular, the campaign has set the seal on his status as a political has-been. It must be especially galling for Palmer that this should be so, given the centrality of exacting revenge on Campbell Newman to his motivation in starting the party in the first place.
The situation is only slightly happier for Katter’s Australian Party, which remains a force only to the extent that it’s still running off fumes from its 2012 campaign.
Rob Katter, son of Bob Katter, is reckoned likely to retain his seat of Mount Isa, and his party colleague Shane Knuth has always appeared formidable in his seat of Dalrymple regardless of what party banner he might choose to run under.
The remaining question mark for the party surrounds the Hopper family’s endeavour to expand its empire from Condamine into Nanango by having Ray Hopper move from the former seat to the latter, while his son Ben Hopper carries the KAP banner in Condamine. However, Hopper the Elder has pitted himself against very strong competition in the shape of LNP up-and-comer Deb Frecklington, while Condamine voters could very well deem that his 22-year-old son hasn’t paid his dues.
The threat from minor parties may have proved a fizzer, but the prevailing sentiments of hostility and bewilderment towards the LNP, together with inevitable doubts about Labor’s readiness to govern three years after its annihilation in 2012, are providing fertile ground for independents.
There seems little reason to doubt that Peter Wellington is headed for a seventh term as the independent member for the Sunshine Coast seat of Nicklin, and he could well be rejoined by former crossbench colleague Chris Foley in Maryborough. Foley was narrowly defeated by the LNP in 2012, but now looms as the beneficiary of a slump in LNP support as he endeavours to recover his old seat.
Then there are the two seats currently held by independents who were elected as part of the LNP in 2012 — Carl Judge in the inner-south Brisbane seat of Yeerongpilly, and Alex Douglas in the Gold Coast seat of Gaven.
Rating Judge as a contender is probably a bit generous, given the far greater likelihood that his seat will revert to Labor. However, Alex Douglas doesn’t face much in the way of a threat from Labor, and he can draw upon deep roots in the politics of his electorate that predate his time as a parliamentarian.
In the north Queensland seat of Burdekin, the challenge posed by B.J. Davison, a former police officer and owner of an equipment-hire business, has been serious enough to have had the LNP running advertisements on local television spruiking their incumbent, Dale Last.
However, it’s not just the LNP that’s under pressure. Former local mayor Julie Boyd is putting in a strong bid to win Mackay, which is being vacated by the retirement of Labor member Tim Mulherin. Labor’s bid to recover its traditional stronghold of Gladstone, where Liz Cunningham is retiring after two decades as independent member, is likewise meeting strong resistance, with former local councillor Craig Butler running as an independent with Cunningham’s endorsement.
On the most generous reading, that could leave a buffer of as many as 10 members between the LNP and Labor on the crossbench. However, six or seven would seem more likely — including at least three and perhaps as many as six in seats won by the LNP in 2012.
Taking that into account, it begins to look more plausible that the LNP could indeed fall below the magic number of 45 — particularly if more polls emerge to suggest that Asghrove will not be counted among whatever the LNP’s final tally might prove to be.