Queenslanders vote for safe pair of hands

Queenslanders didn’t have a lot of choice this weekend and voted accordingly. They were confronted with two parties, neither of whom had a clear vision for the future, so they voted for certainty in the present.

This manifested itself in two ways – voting for incumbents, and voting for border closures.

Border closures worked for the premier, but not strongly. No doubt some voters were scared of catching COVID if the opposition became the government, but the contrast was more between a party with one certain line on the issue – “we’ll follow the health advice” – and the other with mixed messages – “we’ll follow the health advice…or maybe not”.

Ditherers are not a safe pair of hands, whether on health, or the economy.

In New Zealand Jacinda Ardern won definitively on the back of COVID, and received a 12.16% swing to her. Labor’s Queensland swing won’t even be half of that. While there is a first preference swing of 5.19% to Labor, looking at the seats changing hands is more meaningful.

In this case it is swings and roundabouts.

The LNP appears to have lost 3 to Labor and picked up one from an Independent, a net movement of 2, while Labor has lost 1 to the Greens and picked-up 3 from the LNP, a net gain of 2. At the time of writing the new parliament will most likely be Labor 49, LNP 36, Katter 3, Greens 2, One Nation 1, and Independent 1.

This is a handy, but not handsome, margin to Labor.

Some of this failure has been attributed to the decline in the One Nation vote, but this is plain wrong. Yes, One Nation has declined by about 6 percentage points, which is similar to the first preference swing to Labor, but this is coincidence, not correlation.

One Nation is a protest party. Its vote swells when voters are unhappy, and declines when they are not. Their decline is a sign of the move to certainty and incumbency, and their voters probably went back to where they originally came from.

What should be more concerning for the LNP is that some of their voters from last election would have gone to Labor.

The biggest surprise is that the LNP didn’t get even close to winning any seats from Labor in the regions and North and Far North Queensland. They ran hard on crime and infrastructure, and the traditional cultural antipathy between country Queensland and metropolitan elites should have helped.

I’d provisionally attribute this to the party now being seen as a creature of the south-east, with that view articulated by Katter and One Nation.

There are different swings in different areas. Across the Gold Coast the two-party preferred vote seems to have moved around 3% against the LNP. Not enough to snare any of the seats. A general swing is also evident on the Sunshine Coast.

But in general the seats changing hands are ones which were vacant. Pumicestone’s one-term LNP member retired at this election, as did Caloundra’s long-term member, and a former parliamentary leader of the Liberal Party, Mark McCardle. Hervey Bay also so the retirement of the previous member. The swings in these seats were in the order of 5% or more to the ALP.

In Brisbane, all of the LNP seats were vulnerable to the ALP on a swing of 5% or better, but each held, and perhaps with improved margins, once all the votes are in. First time members also did well, including Labor members Bart Mellish in Aspley and Corrine McMillan in Mansfield (both targeted by the LNP).

Our early qualitative polling showed that electors were looking past COVID for a plan for rebooting the economy, and they were particularly concerned about jobs, so plans featured in both parties’ rhetoric.

Yet both became threadbare as the election continued. Labor’s amounted to a public service jobs splurge, some infrastructure spending, and a plan to invest money in private businesses, all funded by another $4 Bn in borrowings. The LNP’s was the New Bradfield Scheme, and widening of the Bruce Highway to Townsville, a modest public service jobs splurge, and $300 off your rego.

The LNP’s pitch ultimately came undone when they released their costings. Despite saying there would be no new borrowings, there were – $1.7 Bn worth – and the major funding for their signature infrastructure projects were pushed into the second term of government.

The LNP lost the election. Labor campaigned as though they were the  opposition – lots of negative advertising and personal attacks. The LNP campaigned as though they were the government – big projects and defending their position, but without calling Labor to account. No surprise, as this is the way they’d conducted themselves in parliament. As a result they hadn’t laid down the foundation for attack.

They also seemed to have trouble settling on a message. This wasn’t a problem for Labor. With “we kept you safe during the pandemic” being the only coherent message, voters went with that, except where they had a local member who had earned their faith.

If this member was Labor, the swing was accentuated, and if LNP, it was mitigated.

With Labor’s small margin of victory the LNP will be anticipating the next election, but if they are to do any better they need to spend the next 4 years rebuilding and renovating.

If you can’t campaign you will rarely get to govern.