Aside from the state’s border policy or a surprise outbreak of COVID-19, Scott Morrison’s visit to Queensland this week could be the biggest play of the state election campaign.
It could also be the biggest threat the ALP faces in its bid for another term.
Morrison has proved popular in Queensland, evidenced by the fact that there is not one federal Labor seat north of Brisbane. Take a look at a map of the state, and you won’t find a touch of red anywhere between Brisbane River and the tip of the cape.
Add to that last week’s budget, where four in five voters believe they will be better off. That’s thanks largely to generous income taxes and a new found shrug of the shoulders by voters over herculean debt levels.
Queensland Labor strategists don’t want Scott Morrison on the campaign trail because they know voters usually decide state elections on state issues. The problem is there doesn’t seem to be any state issues being talked about, and when they are, they are being consumed quickly by bigger national ones.
Crime’s been mentioned by the LNP couple of times. Energy prices popped up. Labor’s new-found love for mining in the north has registered interest. The role of the Greens in a couple of inner-city Brisbane seats is being talked about. But they are topics and policies and issues at the edges.
That’s made it hard for the state opposition, where even a pre-Christmas bonus of $300 for everyone with a registered car has fallen fairly flat.
Yesterday a donations scandal almost took off, with LNP leader Deb Frecklington facing questions over whether she might have violated laws aimed at stymieing political influence of property developers. But the accusations — which Frecklington has denied — fall well short of proof of anything, at least so far. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk then confirmed she was at a function hosted by former prime minister Kevin Rudd on Saturday night where thousands of dollars were donated, but no property developers were invited. Property developers, in Queensland, sit well below used car salesmen.
The biggest single policy by the LNP is a $30 billion, 15-year upgrade to the Bruce Highway. But voters know that could fall at the first hurdle because it requires federal funding and the prime minister is dodging questions about whether he’ll come to that party.
The income tax cuts, which Morrison is trumpeting around the state, are a federal issue too. And we’d be mad not to like them.
So is the border policy, which has made Palaszczuk popular inside the state.
The reason behind Labor wanting voters to see this poll as a referendum on state issues is because Queenslanders like to have one party at the state level and another at the federal level — and have strategically done that time and time again.
That’s why, at the last federal election, is wasn’t surprising that the state brought home victory for Morrison by delivering those seats he needed. But it was also happy for Palaszczuk to remain queen in Queensland.
That’s now complicated because Labor’s most popular policy — closed borders, which it is boasting about and using in advertisements — opens the bag on other federal issues, like tax cuts.
And Morrison’s “I’m up here to sell the budget not campaign” visit as he records a bump in popularity takes the heat off Frecklington, who has been unable to cut through the talk about border policy and budget breaks.
Labor knows that. That’s why Deputy Premier Steven Miles launched the unusual Sunday attack on the prime minister, who he claimed had taken a week off work running the nation to campaign for Frecklington.
(Just for the record, Mr Miles, Queensland remains part of the nation, and the prime minister would do well to spend more time here.)
But Morrison’s retaliation was equally immature. He’d have a better working relationship with Frecklington than Palaszczuk, he said, forgetting the state’s long-held view that it likes to be represented by different parties in different arenas.
The bottom line is that border policy and income tax cuts — both federal issues — risk dominating this election campaign. That makes it one of the state’s most unusual. But it also provides a headache for Labor, who would prefer Morrison to take a real week off work at the Lodge, a long way from Queensland.