Annastacia Palaszczuk’s historic return to power in Queensland on the weekend holds a six-pack of lessons for Scott Morrison — and how he deals with these will almost certainly determine his fortunes.
Incumbency is favoured in a crisis
The pandemic proved this to be true for Queensland Labor, but it’s all in the timing. As the crisis passes, voters look to how government responded. Why wasn’t it forecast? How was money being wasted? Why weren’t insurers accepting claims? Has the economy rebounded?
Former Queensland premier Anna Bligh knows just how important timing is. She was wildly popular during the state’s 2011 floods, but was tossed out soon after. Scott Morrison needs to have a post-pandemic plan that takes voters with him.
Pre-polling is the new black
Polling booths were deserted on Saturday; lone sausage sizzles begged for customers. This is because more than 2 million Queenslanders voted early or lodged their vote by post. That changes the nature of any campaign: it only runs until people’s votes are lodged.
This helped Labor enormously because of its strong first week on the campaign. Later analysis will probably also show pre-polling highest among older voters. Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese both need to take note of that, and mould their campaigns accordingly.
Last-minute campaigning and leaders’ debates might be much less significant going forward.
You have to own your wins
Morrison, who visited Queensland during the campaign, failed to capitalise on JobKeeper. There are some voters who believe that this has been gifted by state Labor.
The reason many still have jobs is because of the federal government’s jobs’ assistance packages, yet Morrison — the marketer — failed to sell that on the hustings with state leader Deb Frecklington. That proved costly, particularly in the regions.
Everything is in flux
Up to one quarter — maybe more — of votes are now up for grabs.
On Saturday, One Nation voters went home with Labor. Clive Palmer’s supporters went… somewhere away from his United Australia Party. The Greens are making inroads in Brisbane city, in the way they have in Melbourne and Sydney. Bob Katter’s party in North Queensland continues to have a stranglehold.
Where will those votes go federally? Even a small move away from Scott Morrison outside Brisbane could quickly flip fortunes. One Nation returned to Labor because of Labor’s strong border stance. Will that still be a factor when the federal poll is called?
Local media matters
The loss of local papers across Queensland communities has had significant impacts. But one of those, during the election, was the inability of non-incumbents to build profile — an issue highlighted by One Nation.
State MPs are closer to their community issues than those representing them in Canberra and naturally get more attention in the scant media available in Mackay and Rockhampton, Bundaberg and Gladstone, Gympie, Warwick and Ipswich, the Sunshine Coast and other places.
Both sitting federal MPs (mainly conservative) and their challengers will feel the impact of News Corp’s closure of dozens of newspapers.
Borders are still a major issue
Queenslanders continued their long tradition of gifting the treasury benches to one side at state level, and the other side federally. But Scott Morrison shouldn’t rely on that: while some people say it’s a deliberate move by voters, just as many say it’s coincidental.
The federal issue of borders won Annastacia Palaszczuk the state election. As her own father and seasoned political operator Henry Palaszczuk said: his daughter was rewarded for keeping people safe.
It will get harder from here, as borders open and kickstarting the economy becomes the focus. Annastacia Palaszczuk will have to deal with that inside Queensland. Scott Morrison would be foolish not to believe it also presents his biggest challenge.