Voter volatility empowers the Zoo-lady

18 May 2015

Not many predictions had been made before the Queensland election, earlier this year, of the Labor Party retaking office after losing to the Liberal National Party in a big way at the previous election, back in 2012.  Indeed, it was argued that, amid much voter hostility towards Premier Campbell Newman, relatively little notice was taken of the Opposition Leader, a lady left leading a “netball team” of seven Labor MPs – to the point where many voters couldn’t name her.

More significantly for the lady who was Labor leader, many voters couldn’t say, let alone spell, her name.  Yet on election night, with neither the LNP nor Labor looking like winning a majority of parliamentary seats, she suddenly had a chance to become Premier, and people had to take notice of her.  So it would’ve been amusing to hear, as I heard Brisbane-based political commentator Dennis Atkins mention on television on the morning after the election, how to spell the Labor leader’s name – “P-A-L-A-Sydney-Zoo-Canberra-Zoo-U-K”.

History shows that lady, Annastacia Palaszcuk, whose name is pronounced “Pala-shay”, becoming Premier in the wake of the election, albeit with crossbench support.  Palaszcuk’s triumph in leading Labor from seven seats out of eighty-nine in Parliament to forty-four, although one seat short of a majority, was a stunning turnaround.  It was also an unbelievable display of voter volatility.

Having checked the results of this year’s election against the previous election in 2012, I can illustrate an incredible turnaround for Labor.  In 2012, if not before, Queensland voters had been desperate to throw Labor out, but they’d never really warmed to the LNP.  It wasn’t until Newman, formerly Lord Mayor of Brisbane, was recruited to lead the LNP, albeit from outside Parliament, that voters saw a viable alternative to Labor.  But his abrasive style as Premier ended up turning voters off almost as greatly as they’d been initially turned on.

Labor was left with only seven seats in 2012 – three of them in southern Brisbane, one of them near Ipswich, one of them near Cairns, one of them in Mackay, and one of them in Rockhampton.  Right across Queensland, Labor was obliterated, but this year, most of those lost seats were won back.

South of the Brisbane River Labor won back eleven seats – Algester, Bulimba, Capalaba, Greenslopes, Logan, Lytton, Springwood, Stretton, Sunnybank, Waterford, and Yeerongpilly.  North of the Brisbane River Labor won back eleven more seats – Ashgrove, Brisbane Central, Ferny Grove, Kallangur, Morayfield, Mount Coot-tha, Murrumba, Nudgee, Pine Rivers, Pumicestone, and Sandgate.  Labor thus won twenty-two seats in this area alone.  Two other northern Brisbane seats, Redcliffe and Stafford, had fallen to the LNP in 2012 but returned to Labor at later by-elections after the sitting LNP members in both seats resigned from Parliament prematurely.

Just outside Brisbane, Labor regained Ipswich and Ipswich West, both lost in 2012.  Further north, Labor regained Keppel in the Rockhampton area.  Further north still, Labor also regained Townsville and Thuringowa and Mundingburra.  In the far north, Labor regained Cairns and Barron River and Cook.  I should point out that I include Cook for the purpose of my illustration, even though the newly-elected Labor MP in that seat, Billy Gordon, has since become an Independent after having a criminal record exposed – Cook was easily winnable for Labor, even if Gordon hadn’t been the candidate.

Labor therefore regained thirty-one seats lost in 2012 – the total rises to thirty-three if you include the by-election gains.  Four other Labor gains were already in other hands by 2012 – Bundaberg and Gladstone and Maryborough, plus Mirani on the Rockhampton-Mackay stretch.

This shows quite a level of voter volatility in Queensland, to the point where a “Zoo-lady” whom many people couldn’t name has become Premier.  Harsh though it might be to call her the Zoo-lady, the “Sydney-Zoo-Canberra-Zoo” reference in relation to spelling her name really sticks!  It’s unlikely that Palaszczuk will have that level of voter volatility empowering her again, and few other leaders will have moments in which such volatility empowers them.  But her name will become more familar to all and sundry, and we’ll see what kind of Premier she ends up becoming.


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