Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten (Image: AAP/Dan Peled)

There are many likelihoods in an election year: scare campaigns, three word slogans and photos of politicians attacking everyday food as though they were aliens who missed the class on how humans eat. But none are so reliable as the rush of party leaders to curry favour with the sunshine state.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is currently on a four-day Queensland trip, pledging to create 1.25 million jobs over the next five years. Earlier this month, opposition leader Bill Shorten told a group of party faithful — as he was about to embark on a nine-day bus tour of Queensland — that Labor needed to “win Queensland” if it wanted to form government.

Why is Queensland such a big deal?

“I think it’s easy to put too much emphasis on Queensland making or breaking the election,” Dr Joff Lelliott, lecturer at the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland told Crikey. “There are also other states, like New South Wales, that could deliver government to Labor even if the party stands still everywhere else, so we shouldn’t focus only on Queensland.” 

But to the extent that it will play a part, the Coalition will be worried.

For starters, most seats are held by the Coalition and Labor has relatively few,” Lelliott said (the Coalition holds 21 of its 73 seats in Queensland, while the ALP has only eight). “And when you look further at the numbers, a huge proportion of the most marginal Coalition seats in Australia are in Queensland, so even a small swing to Labor in Queensland potentially delivers it enough additional seats to form government.”

The seat of Capricornia is held by only 0.6% by Michelle Landry (another of those rumoured to be quitting), Forde is clung to by Bert Van Manen by the same margin, and Flynn, where Ken O’Dowd clung on in 2016 by just 1814 votes, is held by 1%. A further six LNP seats in Queensland are held by 4% or less. Among those eight seats, all tantalisingly within reach, are scalps such as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, 20 year member Warren Entsch and the perpetual malcontent George Christensen.

“On the other side of the ledger, few of Labor’s Queensland seats are on tight margins. That means Labor has a lot to play for in Queensland and relatively little to lose,” Lelliott said. There is the notable exception of Herbert — the closest seat in Australia at time of writing — which Cathy O’Toole won by 37 votes. Labor has four seats below a 5% margin in QLD. 

“Even if Labor can only achieve a swing of a few per cent nationally, it could still take government, largely by winning seats in Queensland.” 

How did the redistribution effect things?

The Electoral Commission’s recent federal redistribution made only subtle differences in QLD. The Coalition will at least be encouraged that Labor’s most vulnerable seats remained either unchanged (Longman, Herbert, Moreton) or have gotten slightly worse, as in Griffith.

What influence will the flood of independents and minor parties have?

The other argument that has dominated early talk of the upcoming election — the influence of high profile independents — will seemingly be less of a telling factor in QLD.

“Queensland isn’t seeing strong independents challenging individual MPs and the Queensland-based minor parties — Katter, Palmer, One Nation — will mostly have a thinly spread vote. None of them are currently lighting things up in Queensland,” Lelliott said. “For all the noise and media attention in Queensland’s 2017 state election, One Nation essentially fizzed, and has become less and less prominent since then.”

However, as Crikey noted after Kerryn Phelps took Wenthworth, the threat of an independent may be present in the seat of Ryan, after LNP preselectors ditched pro-Turnbull incumbent Jane Prentice for “young male conservative from central casting” Julian Simmonds. As we said back then, Prentice could probably hold Ryan as an independent. 

By the same token, the LNP hold on the seat of Brisbane may be threatened by the Greens, whose candidate in Brisbane will be Andrew Bartlett, who returned to the limelight in 2017 when he filled Larissa Waters’ section 44 vacancy in the Senate.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey