Queenslanders revisit the past

14 November 2016

 

Might Queenslanders be heading to the polls for an early election?  There was speculation earlier this year of one, although I haven’t heard more since then.  But it could happen, if Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk decides to call it early.

Barely two years have passed since the last Queensland election, in January 2015.  It saw the Labor Party return to office after a single term out, albeit only after getting support from the crossbench.  Labor had been comprehensively voted out of office at an election in March 2012, fourteen years after winning office, again with crossbench support, in June 1998.  Mind you, before 2012, Labor hadn’t lost an election in Queensland since November 1986.  Starting in 1989, Labor won eight Queensland elections in a row, the last of these elections being in 2009.  But Labor had a short stint out of office during this long period.

An election in 1995 left Labor governing with a majority of one seat in Parliament.  Early the following year, Labor lost one of its seats in a by-election, leaving both it and the Coalition deadlocked on forty-four seats each, while one Independent, Liz Cunningham, held the balance of power.  Despite coming from a regional area whose voters normally supported Labor, Cunningham gave her support to the Coalition, thus tipping Labor out of office – no governments have been tipped out of office in non-election periods since then.

Labor regained office when Queenslanders next went to the polls, in June 1998.  By then, politics had seen the rise of Pauline Hanson, who really polarised voters across the country.  But it seemed that she polarised voters in Queensland, her home state, more than anywhere else.  After forming her own political party, Hanson watched with pride as her party won eleven seats in the 1998 election in Queensland.  But the new MPs ended up leaving Hanson’s party, and Hanson herself, then a Federal MP, was later voted out.

Both Labor and the Coalition lost seats to Hanson’s party, but Labor gained seats from the Coalition, to the point of ending up one seat short of a majority, and was able to return to office with the support of a newly-elected Independent, Peter Wellington, even though Wellington held a seat in a region where voters favoured the Coalition.

Interestingly, although both Cunningham and Wellington might’ve been seen as betraying their constituents, in giving support to governments of the wrong “colour”, it seemed like their constituents didn’t actually mind.  Both Independents kept holding their seats at one election after another.  Cunningham retired in 2015, but Wellington’s still there now.

After initially needing crossbench support to take office in 1998, Labor went on to win big majorities at the next four elections.  But by 2012, Labor had become incompetent and scandal-plagued, and voters reduced it to a mere seven seats, out of eighty-nine available, when the election came.

Some years earlier, the Liberals and Nationals in Queensland had merged, to form the Liberal National Party.  It took two elections for the LNP to win office, albeit due largely to voters really wanting to rid themselves of Labor, but after winning in 2012, the LNP went on to be immensely unpopular, and was voted out after a single term, in 2015.

At the time, nobody really expected Labor to win, and indeed not many people knew the name of the Labor leader, who was Palaszczuk.  But the 2015 election left crossbenchers holding the balance of power, and Labor got back with crossbench support.

When Hanson first arrived on the political scene in the 1990s, the Queensland Parliament had a crossbencher holding the balance of power.  An election then came, but the balance power was again in the hands of the crossbench after that election.

Two decades on, after contesting several elections without success, Hanson has returned to the political scene, and people are talking about what impact she’ll have on the next Queensland election.  And now, like then, the Queensland Parliament again has the balance of power in the hands of the crossbench.

I don’t know how many Queenslanders remember that period of the 1990s when Hanson was wreaking havoc on the political scene, given that it all happened two decades ago.  But those with long memories probably wouldn’t have expected to revisit the past, as they now look likely to do.

The next Queensland election won’t have to happen until about January 2018.  But because Queensland doesn’t have fixed parliamentary terms, like most other Australian states have, the Premier of the day can call the election at will.  How Hanson impacts on that next election remains to be seen.  There might be thoughts on whether crossbenchers will again hold the balance of power after the election, but many voters will find themselves remembering that they’ve been down that road before.

 

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Hot air from anti-CSG candidates

20 March 2015

The notion of coal seam gas as an election issue seems like nothing more than hot air.  Nobody should tell you otherwise.  Recent history, albeit brief, doesn’t show any elections changing course because of coal seam gas, often referred to simply as CSG.

I’m not downplaying CSG as a public issue.  I don’t like the idea of this gas being extracted from underground, chemically or otherwise, in a manner which potentially releases hazardous chemicals onto surrounding land or into underground soils.  It poses major hazards to rivers and underground water catchments.  And it should be a firm no-no on lands considered perfect for farming, especially for growing crops and fresh produce.

My point is that, as an issue, CSG is yet to swing an election.  For several years, I’ve heard stories about the hazards of CSG extraction on prime farmland in particular, with parts of New South Wales and Queensland being mentioned a lot.  But in that time, there have been elections in those states, along with a Federal election in 2013, and while all have resulted in changes of government, little looks different in relation to whether or not CSG extraction in these areas has begun.  It hasn’t mattered whether the Labor Party or the Coalition parties were in power.  And it isn’t like there haven’t been chances for CSG opponents to make their concerns swing elections.

Realistically, CSG opponents shouldn’t believe a single bit of rhetoric from either Labor or the Coalition parties.  It’s true that when I first heard about CSG becoming an issue of public concern, Labor was in government in most states and nationally.  Certainly it would’ve been Labor giving extraction projects the go-ahead.  But even after governments have changed from Labor to the Coalition parties, the noises still prevalent to this day suggest no change on the issue.  Therefore CSG opponents should seem more inclined to vote for minor political players.

However, this is where problems regarding elections begin.  The Greens have naturally been critics of CSG extraction everywhere.  But they have little traction among voters outside the inner suburbs of state capitals like Sydney and Melbourne and Brisbane – if anything, they’ve often seen rural voters as environmental vandals killing trees and rivers, and rural voters largely hate them.  On the other hand, Federal MP Bob Katter has also been a CSG critic, but even though he set up his own political party a few years and has fielded candidates at several elections, they’ve seldom made any difference in areas where CSG has been an issue.

The recent state election in Queensland showed Katter’s party as almost meaningless.  With much anger surrounding CSG extraction on prime farmland in the Darling Downs region around Toowoomba, to the west of Brisbane, Katter’s party really should’ve won several seats there if voters were so angry about the issue.  But Katter’s party got nowhere in that area.

If unhappy with the major parties’ positions on CSG, voters in the regions would be more likely to vote for Independent candidates, should there be any of substance running around.  And some Independents either against or concerned about CSG are contesting the coming state election in NSW.  But they face the usual challenges faced by Independents at election time – needing to get themselves well known among many thousands of voters across relatively small areas, having personal beliefs that those voters will tolerate, or being able to cherry-pick what voters like and dislike about the major parties’ other policies.  Voters don’t always support candidates simply with the letters I-N-D in brackets after their names, unless they know them well beforehand, and generally they’re unlikely to support single-issue candidates.

Ironically, perhaps also hindering anti-CSG candidates is a vocal CSG industry critic, namely broadcaster Alan Jones.

Thought strongly supportive of the Coalition parties generally and of Prime Minister Tony Abbott in particular, Jones has been part of a long-running war against Independents.  This dates back to late 2010, when Abbott narrowly lost a Federal election to Labor leader Julia Gillard, who managed to govern in a hung parliament with the support of two Independents from Coalition-leaning electorates in the bush, despite the unpopularity of Labor at that time.  Filthy at this result, Abbott and the Coalition have repeatedly used the Independent-Gillard deal to scare voters into voting against Independents, painting votes for Independents as votes for Labor.  These tactics have been dishonest, but they’ve worked, costing many respected Independent MPs their seats.  And Jones has been among the Coalition’s media cheerleaders in that respect.

Coalition bias aside, Jones has been savagely critical of both mining and CSG extraction on prime farmland.  Indeed he’s from rural Queensland himself, and he’s spoken of how mining has desecrated the area where he comes from.  He was very vocal during the Queensland election.  But his words seemingly had no impact in areas where people had concerns about CSG.  In any case, given his leaning to the Coalition, how could he also support anti-CSG Independents?

There might be a first time for everything, of course.  As such, will anti-CSG candidates actually have enough support to win seats in the coming NSW election, or will they be merely letting off hot air?  The day draws closer when CSG will get hot or stay cold.

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.

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.

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.