Before the formal election campaign starts when Parliament is dissolved on February 19, I’m going to keep people updated with a series of Queensland election roundups. The big question, of course, is how politicised things get before the campaign kicks off.
Premier Anna Bligh is touting the announcement of the election date as something of an experiment in fixed terms, suggesting that she will be in government mode until the campaign begins. Naturally, though, she hopes to benefit from a scenario where she can continue to set government policy. She’s wrong-footed the LNP already, with Campbell Newman tying himself in knots trying to explain why the date of March 24 is now some sort of political calculation, while he himself had repeatedly been calling for the poll to take place on that day. Similarly, his attempt to argue that Bligh was misusing government resources backfired when it was revealed that Jeff Seeney had written to the Premier asking for $305 000 in funding.
LNP Leader Newman has spent most of the last week on the defensive, fending off claims that he would seek to take back the Mayoralty of Brisbane from Graham Quirk if he is unsuccessful in Ashgrove, and reports of further divisions in LNP ranks as rural backbencher and former Minister Vaughan Johnson nominated himself and Lawrence Springborg as Cabinet Ministers.
Meanwhile, polling shows slight movement in Labor’s favour, and Anna Bligh gaining on Campbell Newman, but still points to a very comfortable LNP victory. Newman’s rhetoric, warning that folks should not vote for local ALP members who they think are good members, suggests that the LNP might be having trouble piling up the votes in the right seats, and I’d venture a guess that the swing back to the ALP is stronger in Brisbane than elsewhere. Similarly, reports that the LNP is hoping to ensure itself two terms by ‘decapitating’ Labor and running hard in promising Ministers’ and MP’s seats have the whiff of hubris about them.
Conversely, the meme that the LNP may lose Ashgrove and win the election, leading to uncertainty about who would lead a government, has already raised its head.
This really is the LNP’s problem. Everyone expects them to win, so the focus is squarely on them and not on the Bligh government. Anna Bligh’s delay of the caretaker period will be designed to maximise that contrast, and the LNP is playing into her hands with reports of its own internal shenanigans dominating press coverage over the last few days.
As Mark earlier pointed out, there is often significant volatility during campaigns in Queensland. In the lead up to the 2009 state election, for instance, Labor first lost 4 points, but then swung back a point in the last week to eke out a narrow victory. If the trend in favour of the ALP continues, and the government recovers by 3 or 4 points, we might see a real contest. That would have the LNP on a primary of 45 or 46, and the ALP on 36 or 37. That’s before we factor in any possible loss of LNP votes to Katter’s Australian Party, and I would not be surprised if the preference flow from The Greens to the ALP is better than usual under OPV as Greens voters confront the reality of an LNP government.
So the LNP’s status as frontrunner is a millstone around its neck, I’d suggest.
All LP coverage of the Queensland election can be accessed here.