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.