Queensland has delivered a killer punch to the Australian body politic, not for the first time.
My wife Ann and I worked on the hustings over several weeks, convinced that this was an election which could possibly deliver an outcome with long-term benefits. But Queenslanders led the way in putting first a narrowly-defined version of self-interest. This could be expressed in dollar terms, appealing to those retirees who received amounts, however small, when they visited their tax accountant or discussed the impact of future changes on their housing investments with their financial advisers. The ALP’s energetic, highly effective campaign in our constituency of Ryan touched large numbers and generated the biggest swing to the ALP in the state, but not enough to go close to unseating the LNP parvenu.
Octogenerians will remember Joh and his capacity to create surprises like abolishing death duties to attract interstate immigrants; younger people will recall Campbell Newman and his thumping win reducing the total of state ALP parliamentarians to single figures, relying on a manifesto of privatisation and public service cuts. In 2019, we have just had a marketing guru offering warnings against the need for change, in the form of policy-free negativity which put an exaggerated price on every desirable social reform. The LNP bunting nationally was mainly coloured red, identifying fake news about “ALP lies” on hospitals, schools and child care.
Here in Queensland Morrison was also able to tap into widespread scepticism about climate change, based on entrenched disbelief of experts when they contradicted religious fundamentalists or commercial priorities. Holding up a lump of coal in national Parliament may have led to ridicule elsewhere but it created a gut-level response for people outside Brisbane who grew up on a mineral-rich diet. Some farmers might worry about water resources but there was little enthusiasm for putting small birds ahead of the heavy machinery which once provided a magnet for workers. So the union movement was heavily conflicted locally, reflected in results of seats all up the coast. Job opportunities trumped climate change.
And we will doubtless hear more of that last verb. Trump was the obvious inspiration. This was a campaign where a self-proclaimed messiah with his invisible team of apostles and a temple full of bankers confronted a bunch of do-gooders. Unfortunately goodness was perceived to come at too high a dollar price. Perhaps Queenslanders saw a latter-day Joh personifying their preference for resisting change. On the front pages of all the compliant newspapers, Morrison identified his success as “miraculous”. Ann speculated that the nature of truly Christian ethics suggests that the good Samaritans lost out to the money-lenders.
Yours in sadness,
Roger Scott is an Emeritus Professor of Public Administration in the University of Queensland and former Director-General of Education in Queensland. He was the inaugural Director of the TJ Ryan Foundation in Brisbane.