Accentuate the positive

Liberal candidate Ray Stevens scored a free kick in his campaign for the Gold Coast seat of Gaven yesterday after a sloppy tackle from Labor incumbent Robert Poole. Poole’s campaigners had been distributing brochures calling attention to Stevens’ alleged extravagance as a member of Gold Coast City Council, illustrating the point with a depiction of Stevens as a pig with his snout in the trough. Graham Young helpfully provides a reproduction of the offending item at On Line Opinion.

Certainly the pamphlet errs on the robust side, but not on a scale that would rate a mention by normal Australian campaigning standards. The reason this campaign is different is that Peter Beattie has comprehensively succeeded in persuading everyone that muck-raking has no place in this election and only positive campaigning is good enough for the people of Queensland. This is fine for him – his party is the one that’s carrying the accumulated baggage of 10 out of the last 12 years in office. To the extent that Beattie even faces an opposition, its members are too little-known within the electorate for a smear campaign to gain any traction. By contrast, the only logical campaign for the Coalition is one calling attention to the government’s failings and calling on voters to "restore the balance" with a protest vote. This is exactly what they are doing with television advertisements lampooning Beattie’s propensity for apologising, although it presumably hasn’t been lost on the Coalition that this is exactly what the electorate likes about him. It’s also something the Gaven pamphlet has given Beattie yet another chance to do. Sure enough he has responded by criticising his own side and calling for higher standards all round in time-honoured Shepherdson inquiry fashion. Indeed, so convenient has this opportunity been that Graham Young asks, "will anyone believe that Beattie had nothing to do with it?".

As for the state of play in Gaven, a poll in the Gold Coast Bulletin gives us some idea how it, and by extension the rest of the Gold Coast campaign, is travelling. Despite having kept his thoughts largely to himself in the past three years, Poole’s vote is recorded at 47 per cent against Stevens’ 32 per cent, figures almost identical to the last election which Poole won on a margin of 7.6 per cent. Equally interestingly, and in contrast to earlier polls conducted before people had given the matter any thought, 71 per cent of respondents said they would not direct preferences.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.