Queensland state elections have a long history of reverberating through national politics, foreshadowing defeats of federal Labor governments in 1974, 1995 and 2012 and establishing Pauline Hanson as something more than a local curiosity in 1998.
Now it falls to the state to be the first to hold an election in the age of COVID-19, the campaign for which officially began this week.
The Coalition’s determination that the result should deliver another blow to a Labor Party still grappling with last year’s unexpected federal loss has already contributed to the breakdown of the bipartisan spirit that prevailed for a time after the virus first emerged at the start of the year.
While Daniel Andrews’ government in Victoria has naturally copped the worst of it, the Morrison government has also been ratcheting up the rhetorical pressure on Annastacia Palaszczuk over border closures while giving her Liberal counterparts a notably easier time.
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In contrast to the impregnable Mark McGowan in Western Australia, Palaszczuk’s predators have considered her government highly vulnerable since Labor’s disastrous federal result in Queensland last year.
While her government has only been in power for two three-year terms (Queensland will finally move to four-year terms with this election, the last state to do so), Labor’s dominance of state politics since 1989 has been punctuated by only two short-lived conservative governments, the most recent being Campbell Newman’s one-term crash-and-burn from 2012 to 2015.
This gives Palaszczuk’s administration the feel of a government older than its years, a point emphasised by scandals surrounding her former deputy Jackie Trad and chief of staff David Barbagallo, and a looming exodus of some of the government’s best ministerial talent.
Polls conducted in the first half of the year found the surge in personal approval enjoyed by all incumbent leaders had not translated into a poll lead for Labor, despite soft personal ratings for Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington.
More recently, the News Corp papers have publicised often dubious polling to proclaim that voters were “turning against Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s tough border stance”.
As such, The Courier-Mail may not have got what it bargained for last week when it commissioned YouGov to conduct a poll that ended up crediting Labor with a two-party lead of 52-48.
The large sample of 2000 allowed for sub-samples big enough to provide credible regional breakdowns, which indicated little change from the 2017 result in Brisbane and regional Queensland and a slight swing to Labor on the Gold and Sunshine coasts.
The polls suggest the LNP has at least recovered votes lost to One Nation in 2017, but with little ultimate effect since most of them had been returning to the party as preferences.
Of perhaps greater consequence is Labor’s minor party problem, namely the pressure it is under from the Greens in two inner-city seats — a knife the LNP has turned by putting Labor last on its how-to-vote cards.
While a contentious move among the LNP membership, this tactic helps the Opposition promote the spectre of a Greens-dependent minority Labor government to voters in parts of central Queensland that recorded Adani-powered double-digit swings at the federal election.
Conversely, Labor has an opportunity to exploit links between the LNP party organisation and Clive Palmer, who will again field candidates under the banner of the United Australia Party.
While Palmer’s own electoral support is sure to be negligible, he clearly plans a repeat performance of his anti-Labor advertising campaign at the federal election, to the greatest extent that newly instituted campaign spending limits will allow.
Given the unpopularity of Palmer’s aggressive campaign for open borders, this looms as a double-edged sword for the LNP, whose decision to put Labor last can be characterised as a preference deal with Palmer.
As is usually the case when minor parties muddy the waters, both major party leaders swear they will not form government without a majority in their own right.
Amid a very murky picture overall, one thing that is clear is that events will make a liar out of one of them if the election indeed produces a hung parliament.