Massive election turnaround in Queensland

7 March 2015

There’d been predictions of Queensland having a new person as Premier after the state went to the polls on 31 January.  And so it proved – Premier Campbell Newman lost his seat, as was widely tipped, but it was largely thought that the Liberal National Party Government would hold office and only seek a new leader, while the Labor Party Opposition was tipped to come close but fall short.  I was among perhaps a minority of pundits tipping a hung parliament.

As it turned out, my prediction came true, and the Queensland election produced a hung parliament, but I wasn’t prepared to predict who’d form government, because in a hung parliament the result could’ve gone either way.  Eventually, just three years after losing office and shrinking to a mere handful of MPs at the previous election, the Labor Party retook office in a stunning turnaround, albeit with the help of an Independent after falling one seat short of a parliamentary majority.

The result stemmed from several factors.  Massive public service cuts, privatisation of public assets, and Newman’s abrasive style all turned voters off.  The unpopularity of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Liberal-National Coalition at national level also didn’t help the LNP in Queensland.  Thus the LNP lost office after a single term.  Following the defeat of the Coalition after a single term in office in Victoria late last year, the Queensland result saw the second defeat of a first-term government in a short time, and both governments were of the same political colour.

The Queensland election began with the LNP holding seventy-three of eighty-nine seats, Labor holding nine, Independents holding four, and a political party set up by Federal MP Bob Katter holding three.  Various opinion polls indicated a swing of 11-12 per cent against the LNP.

I must point out that when these opinion polls indicate swings, they usually assume uniform swings – in other words, all seats held by margins on or under the indicated swing will change hands.  But election swings aren’t always uniform.  Often seats on margins above the uniform swing fall, and seats on margins below it don’t fall.  So it’s necessary to consider unique factors determining whether or not seats might change hands.  For the Queensland election, while polls indicated a swing of 11-12 per cent against the LNP, I tipped a larger swing in the Brisbane area and a smaller swing outside it.

With the pre-election standings at 73-9-4-3, in the order of the LNP and Labor and Independents and Katter’s mob, I’d tipped this order to finish at 40-44-2-3, which meant Labor winning the most seats but not enough for a majority.  In the end, Labor won forty-four seats and the LNP won forty-two, while an Independent and two MPs from Katter’s mob held the balance of power with the other three seats.  I got the Labor numbers right, but the LNP won two more seats than I’d predicted, at the expense of another Independent and Katter’s mob.  Seven of my tips proved wrong.

I’d tipped Katter’s mob to win Nanango, near the Toowoomba region west of Brisbane.  Here I thought that angst over mining and gas extraction on productive farmland would cost the LNP this seat, and Katter’s mob had a well-known candidate in Ray Hopper running, but the LNP held it.  Further north, I’d tipped Independent candidate and former MP Chris Foley to win Maryborough.  Because voters deserting the LNP weren’t strictly warming to Labor, I’d felt that it could fall to a known quantity like Foley, who’d held the seat since 2003 before losing to the LNP in 2012, but Labor won it.

Another LNP loss was Bundaberg, a bit further north.  This seat was well above the range of the predicted swing, so I’d didn’t tip Labor to win it.  Nor did I tip Labor to win the Brisbane seat of Springwood from the LNP.  Even though I’d tipped a bigger swing to Labor in Brisbane than elsewhere, Springwood was well above that range.

But the LNP held the Brisbane seats of Mansfield and Everton – both were within the uniform swing range that I’d tipped in Brisbane, so I’d expected Labor to win them.  Outside Brisbane, the LNP held Toowoomba North, which I’d tipped Labor to win, because it was within the uniform swing range, and because I felt that Labor candidate Kerry Shine would carry extra credibility as the local MP here from 2001 until being defeated in 2012.

Ironically, the logic behind my incorrect tip in Toowoomba North was behind my tip for the LNP to hold four other seats within the uniform swing range.  The LNP held Burleigh and Broadwater and Albert in the south-east, and Whitsunday in the north, all of which Labor had won in 2001 and held until 2012.  I’d felt that the Labor people defeated in those seats in 2012 were effective people whom Labor couldn’t win without, and it turned out as such.

Summing up, the Queensland election resulted in a massive turnaround.  The LNP had won in 2012 with a majority big enough to assure it of maybe three terms in office.  Labor had been discredited and reduced to a tiny rump.  But so controversial was the LNP that it lost voters’ trust greatly in under three years, and now Labor has retaken office.  Politics rarely saw a turnaround this big.


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