QUEENSLAND: by Luke McCormackNews Weekly
How Labor's Queensland strategy has backfired
, August 31, 2013
It is often claimed that federal elections are decided in Queensland, and this is largely true. This is due to the larger swings recorded in the state compared to other parts of the country.
Only weeks ago, the federal Labor government was hoping that having Kevin Rudd at the helm would assist its Queensland vote on September 7. However, recent polling shows Labor slipping in popularity. For example, Newspoll showed that, by mid-August, the ALP primary vote in Queensland had dropped to 34 per cent, despite Rudd’s vigorous campaigning in key seats.
The battle for Queensland votes turned against Labor after its recent attack advertisements comparing Tony Abbott to the state’s Liberal National Party (LNP) premier, Campbell Newman. The advertisements claimed that an Abbott Coalition government would emulate the Newman government’s recent slashing of public spending.
However, Labor’s strategy, as judged by recent polling, seems to have backfired. Steven Wardill, writing for the Brisbane Courier-Mail, pointed out that “the slow leak in support the LNP has experienced since their emphatic victory in 2012 has suddenly [stopped]. Instead, primary backing for Campbell Newman’s administration lurched forward by a significant 3 per cent”.
Wardill continued: “There is little explanation for this trend reversal other than federal Labor is poisoning the political waters for their state colleagues.
“By attacking the Newman Government during this campaign, Kevin Rudd has effectively compelled Queenslanders to directly compare their two levels of government. What the Galaxy poll appears to indicate is that voters are convinced Rudd comes up well short when compared to the Newman administration” (Courier-Mail, August 17, 2013).
This means we can expect to see a stronger anti-Labor swing in Queensland compared to the national trend, which is currently 2 to 4 per cent in favour of the Coalition. Such a swing would result in Labor losing four to five seats in Queensland.
The media have finally caught up with the fact that Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) will have a significant influence on this election. In Queensland’s March 2012 state election, the KAP received an average of 13 per cent of the primary vote in the 76 seats they contested. Most of these were disgruntled Labor voters. This contributed to the huge 15.6 per cent anti-Labor swing that swept Anna Bligh’s government from power.
Since then, however, the KAP has lost many supporters. Ex-members have alleged that the party has endorsed candidates who are either not strongly pro-marriage or who sympathise with proposals to accommodate same-sex couples in marriage law. There has also been some fall-out following the overriding of local branch decisions with little or no explanation.
Sparking more controversy were allegations, which appeared recently in News Limited newspapers, that the KAP may be preferencing Labor in several key seats (Petrie, Flynn, Herbert, Hinkler and Capricornia) in exchange for Labor’s Senate preferences. The KAP candidate for Forde, Paul Hunter, was reported to be outraged at the prospect of assisting former Labor premier Peter Beattie’s chances (which are low). He publicly denounced the possible preference deal and demanded a “split” how-to-vote card instead.
Mining magnate Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party (PUP) is likely to steal some KAP votes. What is unclear is whether the PUP can muster much in the way of a primary vote, given that it has developed scarcely any grassroots membership. The PUP promotes itself as a reformed version of the Liberal Party, but one which is more patriotic and considerate of the working class. However, the PUP’s message has not quite reached the ears of the average elector, and the party is very light on social policies.
Most voters are blissfully unaware of the complicated party-preference deals for people who choose to vote “above the line” on the Senate ballot paper. The public can view the preference arrangements via www.aec.gov.au.
In what is sad news for children’s right to both a mother and a father, the hotly contested sixth Senate seat in Queensland may end up with the Greens unless Family First, the KAP or the LNP can take the prized sixth spot.
The deals mean that the Greens are preferencing the KAP ahead of the LNP; Labor is preferencing the KAP first; and, in a bizarre decision, Clive Palmer’s PUP is preferencing the Greens ahead of both the LNP and Labor. LNP’s third and fourth Senate candidates, who are social conservatives, have missed out on early preferences that they were probably expecting from some minor par-ties, including the DLP, the KAP and Family First.
If the KAP’s James Blundell wins the coveted sixth Senate seat, all eyes will be watching to see whether he adheres to party policy or his personally expressed preferences on marriage, such as when he told the media that, in the event of a conscience vote, he would “fall on the side of freedom of choice”.
Media coverage of the federal election has failed to acknowledge that most voters do not support redefining marriage.
In Queensland’s last state election, the LNP made repealing Labor’s civil unions law for same-sex couples an election issue. Rallying behind this pledge, individuals and groups, such as the Australian Family Association, assisted in a huge letterbox campaign throughout marginal seats. The result was a larger (1.5 per cent) than average state swing to the LNP in those seats.
Luke McCormack is Queensland state president of the National Civic Council.