January 30, 2015

Campbell's soup

By Mark Bahnisch
Image: Wiki commons
Will Campbell Newman squander what began as a 71-seat majority?

Desperate times make for desperate measures, and the measure of Campbell Newman the man has been front and centre in the Queensland state election campaign in its final week. Having accused Labor of receiving bikie money funnelled through unions in the “People’s Forum” at the end of the penultimate week of campaigning, the premier’s response when asked to provide evidence was to say, “google it”. Liberal National Party ads went into overdrive, but all anyone with thumb on mobile could find when the dust settled were some opportunistic and ironic donations from bikies to the LNP, and a fleeting edit to Newman's Wikipedia page suggesting he had organised crime links. “Electronic graffiti”, indeed.

By Australia Day, the premier was determined to be back on message, a message that might have been lost in the static as electors pondered whether Sir Prince Philip might now have his own little corner of Queensland, befitting a consort with a gong. By Tuesday, Newman was expressing his view that Tony Abbott's “knightmare” had been unwise, but on Australia Day itself Newman answered every question put to him by journalists by reciting his nostrums about “strong plans”, a “strong team” and “strong jobs”. He explained that he was answering questions ordinary Queenslanders wanted answered.

Whether or not electors were interested in “strong plans” will be made plain tomorrow. It’s certain, though, that the last week of the unprecedented summer election did not go to script as far as the LNP was concerned. Labor released its “modest” costings, but by Thursday, when the premier had flown back from North Queensland in an unannounced and some said panicked change to schedule, no one was much concerned at his and the treasurer’s response. Rather, the man standing next to him, Tim Nicholls MP, Member for Clayfield and Treasurer of Queensland, whose election signs in his blue ribbon seat no longer bore the LNP logo, had suddenly come into sharp focus as a possible premier. Seven News had released a ReachTEL poll showing Newman behind Labor in his own seat of Ashgrove, 54-46. The margin was almost identical to Newman's lead at a comparable stage of the 2012 race, but this time the late surge had been towards Labor’s Kate Jones, who sought to regain the marginal seat she had held from 2006 til the Anna Bligh wipeout.

Constitutional lawyers opined on whether the premier had to sit in parliament, an ironic echo of Newman’s own path to power as an opposition leader without a seat. Suddenly, the ruling party’s claim that a vote for anyone else would lead to chaos seemed ironic too. Labor had, weirdly enough, become the party of stability, and the spectacle of either a quick by-election or an unseemly scrabble for the vacant premier’s chair loomed large.

Labor, meanwhile, was playing it safe. Days went past without a policy announcement, as the party and its leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, rammed home the message that an ALP government would not sell state assets. The ALP’s “modest” costings were contained in a document of modest length, and the party’s law and order policy consisted largely of a commitment to consult on a review of the notorious bikie laws. The champion of the rule of law, Tony Fitzgerald QC himself, gave a very rare interview to the ABC’s 7.30 decrying both parties, and complaining of a creeping culture of corruption sneaking back in ever since the Goss government. Fitzgerald advised his fellow citizens to vote for neither major party.

Ashgrove aside, the polls are now looking close, very close indeed. Statewide polling was conspicuous by its absence for most of the week, with Essential entering the fray yesterday, releasing the results of an aggregate poll showing Labor and the LNP tied at 50-50. If you enter that into Antony Green’s election calculator, a Labor majority pops back at you. Expectations are still almost unanimously of an LNP win, now without the premier, and that may work in Labor’s favour, but it’s still very difficult to see the ALP prevailing, unless all the stars align. But this is Queensland after all. At any rate, there will be a very large swing to the ALP, which will have implications not just for Queensland, its politics and its governance, but also for that other first term conservative regime in Canberra. A week that began with the roar of Greeks rejecting austerity politics may indeed end with an echo across Australia. How faint or how loud that echo will be is the question.

Mark Bahnisch

Dr Mark Bahnisch is a sociologist, writer and consultant. He founded the popular progressive blog Larvatus Prodeo, and has analysed Australian politics across a variety of media since 2004. He is currently writing Everything You Need to Know About Queensland But Were Afraid to Ask for NewSouth Publishing, forthcoming in May this year.

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