New person likely to lead Queensland

31 January 2015

Queenslanders go to the polls today, for a state election likely to produce an interesting outcome.  The Liberal National Party Government of Campbell Newman won office at the last election, in 2012, by an almighty landslide, and arguably should’ve been expected to govern for at least two or three terms.  But after a controversial first term, highlighted by massive public sector job cuts and abrasive style of Newman as Premier, he now looks like leading a one-term government to election defeat, and losing his own seat in the process.  However, my prediction is for a hung parliament and a new person as Premier.

Going into the 2012 election, the Labor Party had been in office for over a decade, and by then it had both the signs of age and a stench of corruption about it.  Actually, the signs of age were showing at the previous election, in 2009, but voters simply weren’t warming to the Opposition.  So after the 2009 election, with the Opposition unconvinced of the ability of its existing MPs to win over voters, it turned to Newman, who was then Lord Mayor of Brisbane and immensely popular.  As such, there came a scheme whereby Newman would lead the Opposition and attempt to win the 2012 election from outside Parliament, while he was running for a marginal Labor seat, which turned out to be Ashgrove in inner Brisbane.

This was perhaps unprecedented.  It also left a big question – who would be Premier if the Opposition won the election but Newman failed to win Ashgrove?  Indeed Labor raised this question many times after Newman became Opposition Leader.

In the end, it didn’t matter in 2012.  Not only did Newman win Ashgrove, but he led the LNP to a whopping election victory.  Out of eighty-nine seats in Parliament, the LNP ultimately won seventy-eight.  The size of this victory was beyond all comprehension.  Labor was reduced to a “netball team” of seven seats.  Two Independents also won seats, while two other seats went to a political party set up by Federal MP Bob Katter.

Although many people believe that the Newman Government hasn’t governed too badly, the style of Newman in particular has really put voters off, and there have been controversies.  As a result, since the 2012 election the Government has shed five seats.  One MP defected to Katter’s mob, two MPs are now Independents, and the resignations of two other MPs have resulted in by-elections which Labor won.

Such has been the ability of the Newman and the LNP to upset voters, in only their first term in office, that opinion polls have been indicating a swing of 11-12 per cent against them in this election.  Such a swing would perhaps be enough to defeat the LNP today.  Of course, it hasn’t helped the LNP, created from a merging of the Liberals and Nationals in Queensland in 2008, to have hanging over it the stench of intense voter dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National Coalition at national level.  Indeed the unpopularity of Abbott was partially blamed for the defeat of the Coalition at a state election in Victoria last year.  But even without Abbott, Newman and the LNP were going to struggle to win.

The only saving grace for the LNP has been that voters haven’t really warmed to Labor, now led by Annastacia Palaszczuk.  Leading a team of seven, subsequently increased to nine after two by-elections, Palaszczuk looks uninspiring and shouldn’t really be in a position of coming within striking distance of victory, let alone winning the election.  But she looks like she’ll be competitive.  However, I suspect that she’ll fall short of a majority in the end.

Anyway, with Parliament currently reading 73-9-4-3 to the LNP over Labor and the Independents and Katter’s mob, after tonight I’m tipping a hung parliament.  I tip Labor to win thirty-three seats from the LNP and two from Independents, for a total of forty-four.  My tips are for Labor to gain twenty-four LNP seats in Brisbane and its immediate surrounds, three seats in Queensland’s far north, three seats around Townsville, and a seat each in the Toowoomba and Rockhampton and Mackay areas, plus Independent-held Gladstone and Yeerongpilly.  Apart from those thirty-three losses to Labor, I also tip the LNP to lose a seat to Katter’s mob and a seat to another Independent, but it’ll gain another seat from Katter’s mob and Independent-held Gaven, to finish on forty.  On this prediction, neither Labor nor the LNP will win enough seats to govern alone.  And Newman will lose Ashgrove, which he holds by a margin of only 5.7 per cent from Labor.

The election in Queensland will leave a few noses out of joint and how.

Different NSW Parliament during Nile’s time

26 January 2015

Controversial though Fred Nile might well have been for decades, how much the State Parliament of New South Wales has changed since his election to it long ago might only be known to political junkies.  But this isn’t to say that Parliament has changed strictly because of the Christian Democrat Nile.  He just happened to be there during its gradual period of change, and he’s been there ever since, bar a brief period in 2004 when he resigned to run for the Senate in a Federal election and then returned after his Senate run failed.

In NSW, Parliament has two representative chambers, the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council.  The religious Nile was elected to the latter in 1981.  But it wasn’t until 1978 that the Council, the Upper House of Parliament, was open to general elections – in those days, state election in NSW were only for the Assembly, the Lower House of Parliament, where governments are formed.

Members of the Legislative Council, or MLCs for short, were instead elected internally and separately from general elections.  Every three years or so, there’d be a joint meeting of Assembly and Council members to elect people to new Council terms, lasting twelve years.  These joint meetings were sometimes held months in advance, which occasionally meant during the year before terms were due to commence, and they were also held to elect replacements to complete the terms of MLCs who died or resigned before their terms ended.  By 1978 there were sixty MLCs, divided into four groups by virtue of the years in which their terms were deemed to have commenced – the years in question were 1967, 1970, 1973, and 1976.

After Neville Wran became Premier in 1976, he strove to “democratise” the Council, and he was ultimately able to do so despite initially lacking support for it within Parliament.  As a result, when the next election came in 1978, NSW MLCs were popularly elected for the first time.  The size of the Council was also reduced.  At this point, to keep things simple, I should point out the years in which subsequent elections took place – they were in 1981, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1995, and 1999.

The terms of MLCs dating back to 1967 and 1970 ended at that 1978 election.  The terms of MLCs dating back to 1973 would end in 1981, and the terms of MLCs dating back to 1976 would end in 1984.  After the 1984 election, there were forty-five MLCs, a third of whom would face the voters at each state election afterwards.  The subsequent years in which terms would end were scheduled to be 1988 for those MLCs elected in 1978 and 1991 for those in 1981 and 1995 for those in 1984.

New reforms affecting MLCs came after the 1991 election.  The number of them was reduced from forty-five to forty-two, and half of them would face the voters at each election.  As a result, the terms of the last three MLCs elected in 1984 ended immediately.  The remaining twelve MLCs from 1984 would face the voters in 1995, as would the last nine MLCs elected in 1988.  Meanwhile, the first six MLCs elected in 1988 and all fifteen MLCs elected in 1991 would face the voters in 1999.  As such, the NSW Parliament now has the whole Assembly and twenty-one MLCs facing the voters at each election.

Also, in the 1990s Parliament moved to fixed terms.  Whereas previously the Premier of the day could call an election at will, terms are now set for late March every fourth year.

This shows how much the NSW Parliament has changed during Nile’s time there.  Perhaps Nile was unlucky that he hadn’t been there when it all began just a few years before he entered it.

Independent’s betrayal long forgiven

23 January 2015

Independents betraying their constituencies – times beyond counting would people have heard this sort of characterisation attributed to Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, for three years beyond September 2010.  Hitherto most people, except within their constituencies and perhaps neighbouring ones, wouldn’t have heard of these two men, both Independent MPs from regional New South Wales.  They hit the headlines in late August 2010, when Australians failed to elect a majority government for the first time in decades, leaving these two men among several MPs with the power to decide on who’d govern the country.

Probably few people thought that Oakeshott and Windsor, both one-time members of the National Party, would support the Labor Party in a hung parliament.  Besides being ex-Nationals, both represented areas where voters were more likely to prefer the Nationals to Labor.  But more than a fortnight after the election, which was so late in August that the counting of votes stretched into September, the two ex-Nationals ultimately decided to give Labor the necessary support to form government.  And the vitriol, especially from conservative commentators brooding over Labor’s narrow escape from defeat, began at once and went on for three years, until both Oakeshott and Windsor retired from politics in 2013.

You might think that the actions in 2010 of Oakeshott and Windsor, in arguably going against the wishes of their constituencies and allowing Labor to govern, were unprecedented in Australian political history.  But you’d be wrong.

Over a decade earlier, during the 1990s, Independents in the State Parliament of Queensland did the same thing as Oakeshott and Windsor, albeit on separate occasions.  The first of these Independents was Liz Cunningham of Gladstone, normally a Labor-leaning region.  She entered Parliament in 1995, at an election which the Goss Labor Government almost lost, against expectations.  Wayne Goss had been very popular as Queensland Premier since 1989, but a surprise against Labor left Goss with a one-seat majority.  The following year, when Labor lost one of its seats in a by-election and was left deadlocked with the Coalition on forty-four seats apiece, the new balance-of-power MP Cunningham arguably went against the wishes of her constituents and gave her support to the Coalition, thereby tipping Goss and Labor out of office.

Surely, in many people’s minds, Gladstone voters would revolt against Cunningham for her “betrayal” and throw her out at the next election, which ultimately came in 1998.  But they voted her back in.  And even at the election after that, in 2001, when Queensland voters swung back to Labor everywhere, Cunningham won Gladstone again.  Four elections on, she’s continued to hold her seat.  If she’d betrayed her constituents at first, clearly they’ve long forgiven her.

Now Cunningham is retiring at the next Queensland election, after nearly twenty years in Parliament.  I suspect that Gladstone voters will miss her.

As a footnote, in 1998 another Independent MP, Peter Wellington, did something similar to Cunningham.  Having won a seat on the Sunshine Coast from the Nationals in an election which produced a hung parliament, Wellington chose to give Labor support to take office.  Despite this betrayal, he’s held his State seat ever since.  Perhaps voters can forgive MPs for betraying them if they like what they see otherwise.