Flat White

Who’s going to win the Queensland election? It’s complicated

30 October 2020

7:00 PM

30 October 2020

7:00 PM

If polls really could foretell the future, rather than just being an imperfect model of the present, then the LNP should currently be cruising to victory in Queensland, because back in June and July they were well ahead of Labor. 

But that’s not what’s happening. 

As soon as the election campaign was on, the polls swapped around, and suddenly the LNP had to win the election from the ALP.  

But that’s not how either side has played the election. Labor has run an underdog campaign, scrapping over every point and niggling the LNP with little rabbit punchesall the way.  

Labor’s campaign has been relatively low-key, relying on the lack of COVID deaths in Queensland (there’s been only five, which is 20% of the deaths in NZ, for perspective), to “prove” that the premier is competent and capable, and the person to lead Queensland into the post-COVID future. 

Under cover of the COVID emergency, Labor has given up any pretence of financial responsibility and proposes to borrow all its election commitments – $4 billion of them — including those that are operational rather than capital. 

Most of Labor’s promises are to demonstrate its commitment to health, education and policing, combined with large dollops of bribery in key electorates they want to turn. Truth is not elastic enough to describe them as a plan for economic recovery. 

Labor has been forensic in targeting seats they need to win. Pro-mining sentiment drove large swings against Bill Shorten in Central and Northern Queensland 

So immediately the election was called Labor announced the approval of another coal mine in the Galilee Basin behind Bowen (while simultaneously refusing to deal with Stage 3 of Acland’s New Hope mine, which is far away on the Darling Downs). 

Labor is busy building infrastructure in Cairns and Townsville, and when that didn’t seem enough to win NQ and FNQ votes, they proposed to build a new Bruce Highway, west of the Great Divide. 

They know unemployment is an issue, so every announcement comes with a jobs number, and out of the $4 billion they are borrowing, about $1 billion of it is to be invested in local companies to keep jobs in Queensland, or to build trains at Maryborough 

(Let’s hope these investments don’t end up like their $200 million stake in the rapidly shrinking Virgin Australia.)  

Premier Palaszczuk has also made a promise to introduce legislation for euthanasia into the Queensland Parliament. She claimed today this was because of the death of her beloved Nan, but the hardheads have been boasting for a while it will win them votes in marginal seats with elderly populations like Currumbin and Caloundra. 

However, most of the ALP campaign has been targeted at the LNP, with a bus driving round the suburbs advertising that the LNP will cut 30,000 jobs. This is a fabrication, built on the feather provided by activist think tank Per Capita, who wrote a paper claiming this was what the LNP would have to do to meet their commitments. 

There is some rhetorical substance to this claim. Labor has campaigned at every state and federal election against the LNP’s “cuts” even though there generally haven’t been any. The LNP have allowed this to happen unanswered, so the public tend to believe it to be true. 

Added to that, in 2012 Campbell Newman retrenched 14,000 public servants, a figure that has entered into folklore. Nevermind that each of them received on average an $80,000 retrenchment payment, and many subsequently returned as consultants. 

Labor’s campaign proposition has been two-pronged. Annastacia is strong because she kept us safe, and the LNP are weak and divided, will be reliant on a ragtag of minor parties and independents, and will cut services and destroy jobs. 

The LNP has responded by not responding. Deb Frecklington is a nice person (something which comes through in our polling in the way she is regarded, even by Labor voters), and appears not to be able to bring herself to really criticise her opponents. 

The LNP policy has been based on economic recovery, which is the correct line, but without a line of attack on Labor’s woeful record.  

While Labor obsesses about Newman’s 14,000 lost jobs, over the reign of Annastacia Palaszczuk there are 49,600 more Queenslanders unemployed now than at the beginning.  

The public service has grown faster than the population, and public sector wages outpace the private sector, starving the real job creators of resources by redirecting larger slabs of tax to government services than are required. 

Unions dictate government policy, and featherbedding is rampant, inflating the price of public services and infrastructure.  

Green tape has been allowed to strangle new projects so that mines and developments are slow to start. Green policies are slowly strangling the farming sector with farmers unable to adequately manage their land due to vegetation regulations and restrictions on pesticides in coastal areas because of alleged damage to the Great Barrier Reef. 

While Queensland still has an intact electricity network, the state government is intent on destroying it by infecting it with unfirmed intermittent wind and solar generation, yet still milks the coal-fired generators, inflating tariffs to top-up the state coffers so that it can employ more public servants. 

Labor has demonstrated time and again it has no capacity to manage infrastructure development.  

There was the fiasco with the new Redcliffe line where there were not enough drivers to drive the trains.  

And now my think tank, the Australian Institute for Progress, has unveiled a study into the Cross River Rail project showing the government has sold 24 years’ worth of access rights to use the system to the consortium building it for $1.5 Billion. Queensland Rail will then pay $4.8 Billion to the consortium for access and maintenance of the system before the state eventually becomes the owner. 

Despite this, polls show more people trust the ALP with the economy than the LNP – largely because of the lack of an LNP ground game. 

The dismal economic record has been neglected in favour of promising the LNP’s own infrastructure pork barrels up and down the coast, as well as more police, nurses, doctors and teachers. It has also been running on law and order, with a proposal to put a curfew on youths in Cairns and Townsville. 

It also has two signature projects. One is to double the capacity of the Bruce Highway from Noosa to Cairns; and the other is the New Bradfield Scheme, a massive dam near Charters Tower funnelling some northern water south and west and producing 2 GW of hydro power 

These are pitched firmly at North Queensland, with the Bradfield Scheme also having some resonance in the south-east corner. 

But are these vote-winning promises? We’ll probably never know 

Labor has put a lot of pressure on the LNP over their costings, because the LNP promised no new taxes and no more debt. So how were they going to afford $33 billion to upgrade the highway and $15 billion for the Bradfield Scheme? 

These were obviously long-term promises, with the highway being a 15year project, and requiring 80% funding by the federal government — $400 million a year is doable in the main roads budget. Yet when Treasury spokesman Tim Mander eventually delivered the costings both projects were given just a few tens of millions of dollars with the ultimate costs outside the budget horizon. 

With that, the LNP are left with nothing apart from a limp reflection of the ALP’s bribes. Worse, they broke their “no new borrowings” promise and are going to use some of the ALP’s debt. 

Until this week I would have said that the most likely result was a Labor minority governmentLabor goes into the election with 4seats, giving them a margin of two. The LNP has 38, and would need another nine to form a majority government 

In Queensland, two-party preferred polls are misleading because independents and minor parties hold seven seats between them, more of which lean LNP than ALPSo, even with a 50/50 poll result, the LNP would still probably be further away from majority government than the ALP. 

Now I think the chances are that the ALP could actually increase its majority.  

The only path to victory for the LNP is for the ALP vote to collapse in central and northern Queensland, as it did in the federal election, and for the ALP to pick up no more than one or two seats in the south east. 

Vulnerable ALP seats (in order of margin) include Townsville, GavenMundingburra, Aspley, Mansfield, Barron River, Redlands and then you’re up to 3%. They might also lose Keppel, and are virtually certain to lose South Brisbane to the Greens. 

Vulnerable LNP seats include Burdekin, Pumicestone, Bonney, Clayfield, Chatsworth, Currumbin, Caloundra. There is also a strong independent running in Oodgeroo.  

The Katter Party doesn’t have any vulnerable seats, but it may win some – one from One Nation, and the others from the ALP. 

On the polling at the moment, the result should therefore be fairly tight – swings and roundabouts, but with the independents blocking the LNP path, and a worst-case for Labor of having to deal with two Greens and one or two independents to form minority government. 

But there are a whole lot of undecided voters who may well wake-up tomorrow and decide to reward Palaszczuk for “keeping us safe”, and because the LNP hasn’t done well enough for anyone to care too much what happens to their vote. In which caseLabor could do much better than any of us pundits think. 

Graham Young is Executive Director of the Australian Institute for Progress and founder and editor of On Line Opinion.

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