Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Queensland election

Of course the Queensland election has federal implications. No-one can quantify how much but the consequences of one of the biggest losses ever in Australian politics cannot be ignored.

To suggest otherwise, as has been the ploy of senior government people like Bill Shorten and Craig Emerson, is to collectively bury their heads in the sand.

And it suggests that they want to ignore public opinion. The idea that politicians can just blithely ignore public opinion is not realistic in a democracy. When confronted with an adverse sample poll like the Newspoll most politicians say that polls are not perfect and that the only poll that counts is the poll on Election Day. When confronted with a 'real poll' like Queensland's poll we now hear that the poll only reflects Queensland politics. The truth is that polls are useful and this explains why the political parties and newspapers are always polling the electorate. In Queensland, and earlier in NSW, the polls were quite accurate in predicting that Labor was going to be thrown out of office.

The same polls have been saying for months that federal Labor will lose the next election. These polls also said that John Howard would lose in 2007 and they were right.

Julia Gillard had a good win over Kevin Rudd last month but the result was built on the oft-stated view of Labor MPs that they took no notice of public support for Kevin Rudd. I understand why they don't like Rudd but that is a diversion. Their fatal mistake was not their veto of Rudd but their failure to realistically assess Gillard's standing with the Australian public. She is probably now locked in to lead Labor to the next election but it was a bad decision by Labor's caucus. If they don't reassess their leadership then the chances are they will have to reassess it straight after the next election.

Gillard's standing is a complex list of various factors; in the same way that Anna Bligh had her pluses and minuses. Bligh certainly undermined her standing by promising, before the previous election, to keep a state fuel rebate and then abandoning the rebate after her re-election.

Her support in the polls also took a dive for her assets sale policy by not mentioning the proposal until after the election. She seems to think that such back flips are ok. She promised before this election that she would remain in the Parliament if she lost to Newman. She ditched that promise within 24 hours.

There is a parallel between Bligh and Gillard. Gillard promised that she would not introduce a carbon tax six days before the last federal election and then broke the promise. The issue goes to the heart of public concern about economic management and the cost of living and reinforces the perception that Gillard can't be trusted. Labor ministers say that everyone knew that Labor wanted to price carbon and that therefore this absolves them from the broken promise. The trouble is that no-one else sees this as a credible excuse for the spin.

The consequences of the Queensland election are not confined to Labor. They will confirm Abbott's view that he should stick with his approach on policy. The truth is that he is under no pressure to initiate economic policy measures because he is well ahead. He could announce what he will do on unfair dismissal to support small business but he reckons he does not have to bother because Labor is on the nose with business large and small. He will keep his paid paternal leave because his own MPs will not criticise him while he remains well ahead. He will not reshuffle his ministers because why bring in new talent while his team looks better than Labor. And why should he worry about being targeted personally by Labor. Anna Bligh was obsessed with her opponent and look where that got her. No-one was listening; a problem that besets Gillard.

Campbell Newman has achieved an incredible double feat. He stood for a marginal seat that needed a swing of 7 per cent and won a convincing majority. Then he won the right to form a state government without ever having been a Member of Parliament and reduced Labor to a rump of seven MPs.

Politics is in his blood. It now seems likely that Campbell has paved the way for a federal Coalition government. This is not new for the Newman family. His father Kevin Newman won the Bass by-election for the Liberal Party thereby setting up Malcolm Fraser's huge win in 1975. Then later his mother Jocelyn Newman became a senator for Tasmania, helped Howard win in 1996 and served as a cabinet minister in the Howard government.

Of course, a day can be a long time in politics and if Newman does not meet expectations then a swing to the LNP in the next federal election may not be so great. But, he has already made a solid start. If he tackles Queensland's finances in his first budget, then he will have made a strong start. Reducing unemployment to 4 per cent may not be easy but if he does something for small business like cutting out penalty rates in tourism and if he reforms Queensland's industrial relations system then he will not only help Abbott politically, he will also be showing him how to address the labour market reforms needed in the federal system.

PS - Bob Katter got a drubbing. The best he could do was win one seat with his son as the candidate, lose one and win one. Most of his votes were from Labor. In this election, anybody could win votes from Labor. His policies were bizarre including a funny money proposal to reduce interest rates to 2 per cent, a vicious homophobic advertisement and an alliance with militant unions who then repudiated him. Then he declared he was the new political force in Queensland. What a joke!

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