Katter’s Australian Party MPs Shane Knuth and Rob Katter address the media yesterday
As the Queensland election continues to send shockwaves through the Australian political landscape, there remains to be resolved the small matter of the result.
It is very far from clear whether Labor will make it over the line to a parliamentary majority, and the collective attitude of the crossbench is yet to be definitively established. As such, Annastacia Palaszczuk remains unable to claim victory — and indeed, the seatless Campbell Newman officially continues as Premier.
In the meantime, late counting has added further surprises to the pile accumulated on election night. Chief among these has been a return to the spotlight for Pauline Hanson, making what by my count is her eighth bid for public office since she lost her federal seat in 1998.
The news that Hanson was likely to make it through to the final preference count in the rural electorate of Lockyer seemed at best a mildly diverting tidbit on election night, as it appeared safe to assume she would stumble at the same obstacle that has been confounding her for nearly two decades, namely the refusal of the major parties to direct preferences to her. But when the Electoral Commission of Queensland took another look at the ballot papers on Monday to determine who would ultimately prevail out of Hanson and LNP incumbent Ian Rickuss, it emerged that the advice of the unions and GetUp to “put the LNP last” had been more widely heeded by Labor voters than the direction of the party’s how-to-vote card — which they presumably weren’t putting a lot of effort into circulating, Lockyer being a seat Labor has little reason to care about.
Entertainingly, the ECQ counted preferences from five of Lockyer’s 32 polling booths on Monday before calling it a night, and those booths happened to be among Hanson’s very strongest. Casual observers going off the ECQ’s raw numbers were thus given to understand that Hanson held a formidable lead of 54.6% to 45.4%.
Rickuss was in fact able to pull narrowly ahead when the remaining booths were added to the count yesterday, and while it remains extremely close, he looks likely to hang on. GetUp and the unions should thus be spared the irony of having facilitated, however indirectly, the return of Pauline Hanson to the political stage in a crucial balance-of-power role in a hung Parliament.
Another spanner in the works was yesterday’s revelation that the Palmer United Party candidate for the northern Brisbane seat of Ferny Grove, where Labor maintains its narrowest lead, contested the election despite apparently being disqualified as an undischarged bankrupt.
That raises at least the glimmer of a prospect that a rematch might be required, provided a legal case can be established that the candidate’s absence from the ballot paper could have produced a different result.
If the LNP proves able to secure the support of Rob Katter and Shane Knuth of Katter’s Australian Party, such a byelection could potentially determine who will form government — although history suggests a party demoralised by a disastrous election result will stand little chance of winning the confidence of voters forced back to the polls by a pedantic legal challenge.
Aside from Ferny Grove and Lockyer, the biggest remaining question mark surrounds the seat of Whitsunday. The LNP officially led by 163 votes as of the close of counting yesterday, which stands to blow out by another 200 when primary votes counted yesterday are added to the two-party total.
Labor’s hopes in the seat rest on upwards of 2500 votes that will have been cast outside the electorate on polling day, none of which have yet been counted. Such votes traditionally favour Labor in Whitsunday, the southern end of which encompasses the outer areas of the Labor stronghold of Mackay. Consequently, many votes from Labor’s best part of the electorate are cast in polling booths for the Mackay electorate as absent votes.
Also in doubt is the seat of Maryborough, where either independent Chris Foley or Labor’s Bruce Saunders will finish second and ride over LNP incumbent Anne Maddern on preferences. The progressive two-party count being conducted by the ECQ offers no guide on this score, but the odds on Foley have lengthened after a weak showing on late counting.
Assuming the assessments above concerning Ferny Grove, Lockyer and Maryborough bear out, Whitsunday stands to decide whether Labor can make it to the magic number of 45 for a majority in the 89-seat Parliament. But even if it fails, it is clear that Labor will have the support of independent MP Peter Wellington to form a minority government.
For the LNP, the only path to remaining in office runs through Katter’s Australian Party and the seat of Ferny Grove, either through a late reversal in the current count, or a long-shot legal victory followed by even longer shot win at a byelection.