Queenslanders are different

Annastacia Palaszczuk had an extraordinary victory at the Queensland election. While the (very few) polls suggested Labor might cling on to government for an unlikely third consecutive term, she managed not only to win seats but increase Labor’s primary vote by about 5 per cent for its highest primary vote since 2009.

With just over 40 per cent of the primary vote, a Labor victory was inevitable. In Palaszczuk’s previous victories, the primary vote had been 37.5 per cent (in 2015) and 35.4 per cent (in 2017).

Labor’s increased vote came at the expense of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, which lost half its support from the previous election – down from 13.7 to 6.9 per cent. But this wasn’t a straight transfer of votes from One Nation to Labor. The LNP was the true source of much of the One Nation vote at the previous three elections and it probably benefited at least as much as Labor from One Nation’s disintegration.

What this election demonstrates is that a significant proportion of Queensland voters – probably more than elsewhere in Australia – is not committed to one party or another on a continuing basis. Voters switch from one party to another with relative ease. And this happens at each level of government – federal, state and local. 

For example. The Brisbane City Council elections were held in March this year. Unlike most capital cities in Australia, the BCC covers virtually the whole of the geographic area of the city. At the mayoral election, Labor managed just 30 per cent of the vote. Yet at this state election Labor secured about twice that percentage of the vote in the same area. Federally, last year it secured about half-way in between.

 Or look at Labor’s primary vote in the past six state elections, beginning in 2006: 46.7 per cent, 42.3 per cent, 26.7 per cent, 37.5 per cent, 35.4 per cent and now 40.3 per cent.

 There could be an argument that Queensland voters are a quite discerning bunch, happy to make judgments about the merits of contesting political parties and candidates and to switch allegiances accordingly. Of course they make mistakes from time to time – they fell for Campbell Newman, for example, who used his successful stint as Lord Mayor of Brisbane to take over the leadership of the LNP and lead it to an extraordinary victory in 2012 (when Labor was reduced to just 7 seats in the then 89-member Parliament). But his reign was judged unacceptable by voters at the following election when he and his government were removed in a reverse landslide.

 Frequently, as John Ford and Roger Scott demonstrated in their articles in Pearls and Irritations in recent weeks, the way Queenslanders vote is significantly affected by regional issues and personalities. But this election was different. Regional variations were far less important than the state-wide importance of Ms Palaszczuk’s leadership – and the equivocation of the Opposition Leader – during the corona virus crisis.

 Acting on the advice of the State’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, the Premier closed the borders more than six months ago, and despite the demands of the federal government, the NSW government and many in the tourist industry, kept most of them closed until election day.

 Ms Palaszczuk’s  insistence that the borders remain shut to ‘keep Queenslanders safe’ was made more credible by the fact that Dr Young was herself seen as an independent expert and that she was a familiar figure for many Queenslanders, having held her position for 15 years and made many appearances in the media during health emergencies through that period.

 Months into the shut-down the Opposition Leader, Deb Frecklington, joined the critics of the government and urged the reopening of the borders. She later recanted, saving her criticism for the implementation of the closures, but lost credibility on the issue. If anything, she was further undermined when the Prime Minister joined her election campaign – his presence a reminder that the only guarantee the borders would remain closed (if necessary) was the re-election of the Palaszczuk government.

 As the elections in the Northern Territory, the ACT and New Zealand showed, voters approved a policy that was sold to them as keeping them safe from the virus. It may be that the policy was particularly appealing to older voters. But the Queensland results suggest that despite the damage the policy undoubtedly inflicted on the tourist industry, there was no significant voter backlash in relevant electorates.

 There was another policy issue that didn’t get much publicity, but was widely canvassed in many electorates and may have had some impact. This was a promise by the Premier to introduce voluntary assisted dying legislation (permitting euthanasia) into the parliament, and to personally vote for it. The Opposition Leader would not commit to the legislation proceeding. A similar legislative proposal for euthanasia has just been approved in a referendum in New Zealand by almost two-thirds of those who voted.

 And on the subject of publicity it is noteworthy that the Murdoch press once again (unsuccessfully) devoted its resources to trying to defeat the Palaszczuk government. The Townsville Bulletin, for example, gave a full front page to pictures of the LNP candidates for the crucial marginal seats in its area – Townsville, Mundingburra and Thuringowa – under the headings, ‘LNP trio slap down plan criticism’ ‘CURFEW CRUSADERS’. This was to support the LNP policy of imposing an 8pm curfew on young people under the age of 14, and 10pm on those 15-17, in Townsville and Cairns. (Labor held or increased its majority in each seat.)

 And despite the desperate efforts of the Courier-Mail in Brisbane to champion the LNP on news as well as opinion pages, Labor’s vote generally increased there more than that of the LNP. The one scalp the paper might claim was that of former Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, who lost her seat to the Greens. But this happened only because the LNP switched its preferences from Labor to the Greens.

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David Solomon is a former legal and political correspondent. He has degrees in Arts and Law and a Doctorate of Letters. He was Queensland Integrity Commissioner 2009-2014.

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