The hole where Queensland Labor used to be

Suddenly Kristina Keneally’s performance doesn’t look so bad. What happened to Labor in Queensland on Saturday is without any precedent in Australian history – certainly not since the Second World War, prior to which the party system tended to be more fluid. Labor can be assured of only six seats, holds the lead in only seven, and on the best case scenario will win only eight, for a total of 9% of the Legislative Assembly’s 89 seats. That compares with the “cricket team” of 11 members that Queensland Labor famously managed to return in 1974, at what was previously the gold standard for Australian election massacres – and at that time the parliament only had 82 seats. As for Keneally, she managed to win 20 seats in a chamber of 93, albeit that she did so with 24.0% of the primary vote against a provisional 26.6% for Anna Bligh.

I don’t normally presume to tell the voting public its business, but this is an unhappy state of affairs. While it might be argued that a useful example has been set for future governments considering breaking election commitments, the result is an unmitigated disaster so far as the effective functioning of parliament is concerned. Lacking anything that could meaningfully be described as an opposition, its sessions will henceforth resemble those of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The problem is exacerbated by Queensland’s lack of an upper house, both as a venue for holding the government to account and for providing Labor with a second-eleven to fill out a shadow ministry. The precise dimensions of the problem can be detailed with reference to an online cheat sheet for British high school politics students, which tells us that parliament has five functions: legislature, representation, recruitment, scrutiny and legitimacy. I shall consider the first three in turn, while also shedding light on the last two along the way.

It might be argued that the Queensland parliament’s legislative functioning will be little worse than usual: so long as a disciplined party has a majority of whatever size, a unicameral parliament exists largely to do the bidding of the executive. However, the result will hamper the vitality of the committee system, which offers the public and interested parties a point of access to the legislative process, and helps iron out problems in legislation to the extent that doing so doesn’t tread on the toes of cabinet and the forces to which it responds. Each of the parliament’s 10 current committees have three non-government members from a total of six (seven in the case of the Committee of the Legislative Assembly), requiring 30 non-government members to maintain the existing state of affairs. Since the election appears to have only turned up 11 non-government members, it is clear that these committees will be dominated by the government, tending to make them both less vigorous and less representative.

This brings me to the second function of parliament, which is the one that presumes to make the system democratic: representation. While nothing should be taken away from the immense achievement of the LNP on Saturday, it has still not on present numbers cracked 50% of the statewide vote (although late counting may tip it over the line). However, such is the system in Queensland that it has emerged with very few fetters upon its power. This is not a situation Queenslanders tend to lament. The public is very easily persuaded that good government can be equated to “strong” and “decisive” leadership, rather than apparent abstractions like accountability and consensus. Media players are eager to fortify this view, knowing that systems which concentrate power are most responsive the pressures brought to bear by powerful interests. It tends not to register that such issues lay at the root of the abuses of the Bjelke-Petersen era – for which, incidentally, Queensland voters were far more forgiving than they were for Labor’s failings on Saturday. Opponents of reform may argue that such abuses are best addressed by extra-parliamentary accountability mechanisms such as corruption commissions, ombudsmen and auditors-general, but none of these is a substitute for parliament’s role as the expression of the sovereignty of the people. For as long as it plays this role, democratic principles demand that it be chosen by a system which produces representative outcomes.

There is plainly no clamour for these issues to be resolved by restoring the upper house, which Queensland abolished in 1922. The obvious alternative is to replace the single-member constituency system, which is increasingly a peculiarity of the English-speaking world, with proportional representation. Such a system in its purest form would have given Labor 24 seats, a suitably humiliating total that would nonetheless have left it enough personnel to credibly perform the job of opposition. An Australian public schooled in the notion that power should be wielded singularly and authoritatively would no doubt complain about minority government and the empowerment of marginal groupings, which we are told has had such a disastrous impact in Canberra over the past 18 months. However, there are ways in which such impacts could be limited. One that is very familiar from Australian practice involves dividing the state into regions represented by, to pick a fairly conservative total, five members each. On the basis of Saturday’s results, this would have had the LNP winning three or even four seats in each of the state’s regions, giving it a substantial working majority without entirely demolishing Labor.

There is another possibility which, although foreign to Australian practice, would put to rest any complaint about minority or coalition government. This would be to introduce a directly elected executive along American lines, balanced by a proportionally represented legislature. Such a system would do away with the anachronistic notion that those wishing to hold executive office should have to pay their dues through a lengthy parliamentary career. The limitations of this model were illustrated by the need the LNP felt to pursue its perilous Newman-for-Ashgrove strategy, with potentially disastrous consequences if it didn’t come off. How much more rational it would have been for Anna Bligh and Campbell Newman to have faced off in a direct contest for the premiership with all of Queensland given the chance to vote, together with a second vote to determine the composition of a legislature giving voice to a broad range of interests.

Finally, there is the question of parliament’s role in recruiting political talent. Partisan critics may scoff, but Queensland has been done no favours by the wipeout inflicted upon Labor’s ministry, which has between three and five members left standing out of 15 who were re-contesting their seats. The 43 incoming LNP members will no doubt include many conscientious local representatives and a smattering of stars of the future, but there will just as surely be a number of ill-prepared and under-talented accidents waiting to happen, who will in no way constitute a happy trade-off for Andrew Fraser, Cameron Dick and Stirling Hinchliffe. Even before the election, the LNP showed that its vetting procedures were rather less than fail-safe, with three candidates in seats it looked certain to win forced to withdraw at various points. As noted, the government will not even be able to keep all such members out of mischief by providing them with committee work. More broadly, the election’s demonstration of the remarkable volatility of modern voting behaviour will act as a disincentive for talented people wishing to enter state politics, given the perilous lack of job security involved.

Now then, to what happened on Saturday and why. The following list is by no means exhaustive:

Negativity. Many decades from now, election campaigners will still speak in hushed tones of the day the Crime and Misconduct Commission’s announced it would not proceed with an investigation into Campbell Newman, forcing Anna Bligh to concede: “Right now all I have is questions, I don’t have enough answers from Mr Newman or enough material”. It was then that the Labor’s position deteriorated from disastrous to catastrophic. It is rapidly becoming the fashion to view this election as a morality tale about the dangers of negative campaigning, but this needs to be kept in perspective. When I assembled links to both parties’ television advertising on an earlier post, I found that the LNP campaign consisted of five positive ads and five attacks ads, which is presumably no coincidence: it is exactly how you would expect a balanced and effective campaign to look. The issue for Labor was the entirely personal nature of its attacks, to the extent that it took the appalling risk of involving Newman’s wife. As Dennis Atkins of the Courier-Mail reported on the eve of the election, Labor’s assault did have the LNP spooked in the middle of the campaign, albeit that it clearly need not have done if Newman hadn’t set himself the bar of Ashgrove to clear rather than just the foregone conclusion of a parliamentary majority. So clearly attacks on personal probity can achieve their desired end, but only if they squarely hit their mark. If they don’t, watch out. And if such attacks are all your campaign has had to offer, don’t expect voters to be receptive if you spend the final week pleading for sympathy.

Ashgrove. Labor’s other giant gamble was its total focus on thwarting Campbell Newman in his bid for Ashgrove, on the basis that uncertainty over that result was its only weapon to encourage waverers across the state back into the Labor fold. So it was that Labor wasted little of its campaign breath on the more traditional type of negative advertising which might have done the job – cuts to services under a conservative government being the ever-reliable standby for Labor at state level. A more artful strategy might have integrated such attacks with its anti-Newman theme, portraying the well-connected wheeler and dealer as out of touch with your proverbial working families. The irony for Labor was that the very collapse of its get-Newman strategy was what drove the polling into a tailspin in the final week, which appeared to convince many Ashgrove voters that it would be highly indulgent of them to decapitate an LNP that was unquestionably going to win the election.

It’s time. I’m going to be provocative here and leave Labor’s broken promises and policy failures off the list. My rationale is that the Peter Beattie went into the 2006 election encumbered by the “Dr Death” fiasco, and emerged with almost all of his huge majority intact. The fact is that every government has baggage which accumulates throughout its time in office, and a tipping point inevitably arrives where it can no longer carry it all. As this election shows, the consequences can be disastrous if the government scrapes over the line for one last term in office, which it very often achieves on the back of promises it proves unable to keep. This leaves the government with the problems noted previously: unable to convincingly run on its record, desperate scare campaigns and personal attacks are all it has left. By very stark contrast, it is simplicity itself for the opposition to offer the balance of positive and negative which, as noted previously, is the cornerstone of a successful campaign.

Anna Bligh. Going into the campaign, Anna Bligh’s poll ratings were not impressive in absolute terms, but relative to Labor’s disastrous figures on voting intention they were remarkably strong – stonger certainly than Julia Gillard’s, who for all her much-touted difficulties leads a government with a two-party preferred rating in the upper half of the 40s. Clearly the shine from Bligh’s response to the floods had not entirely worn off. This made her a net asset to the party which, used effectively, would have been a key factor in any less-bad-than-New-South-Wales defeat. However, Labor demolished all that by not only pursuing its personal attacks on Campbell Newman, but placing Bligh at the centre of them. For Bligh herself to use parliamentary privilege to suggest Newman might be imprisoned jettisoned the fairly elementary axiom of political strategy that leaders should be seen to be above this sort of muckraking, which should instead be left to a designated ministerial attack dog. Labor’s contrary rationale seemed to be that Bligh was the only thing the government had going for it, and that she thus had to bear the whole burden of its public communications. The entirely predictable effect of this was that Bligh’s personal ratings tanked as the campaign progressed, taking with it one of Labor’s few remaining assets.

Federal factors. “This was a state election fought entirely on state issues”, went John Howard’s Sunday morning mantra throughout the 2000s, as his state counterparts mopped up the blood after yet another electoral drubbing the night before. Yesterday came the turn of Labor interviewees on Insiders and Meet the Press to trot out this very same line. Howard of course was routinely mocked for this, but he usually came up looking pretty good when his own time to face the voters came around. Are things any different this time? I tend to think that they are. “Voters are intelligent enough to distinguish between federal and state issues”, politicians are wont to say, by way of finessing state election defeats and flattering their target market besides. However, one politician who memorably demurred was an earlier Queensland Premier, Wayne Goss, who after losing office in the twilight of the Keating years remarked that voters had been “sitting on their verandas with baseball bats”, waiting to take a swing at the first Labor government that came along – which, through not fault of his own, happened to be his own. That there was an element of this on Saturday cannot be seriously disputed: the only question is how much. Certainly federal Labor is doing quite a bit worse in Queensland polling than John Howard was at the time the Coalition was crushed at the 2001 Queensland election. In the corresponding Newspoll result, Howard’s Coalition trailed in Queensland 54-46, while John Howard’s personal ratings were 37% approval and 53% disapproval. This hardly seems a ringing endorsement, until you compare it with the most recent figures for Labor in the state: a two-party deficit of 59-41, with Julia Gillard on 25% approval and 65% disapproval.

Electoral geography. Compared with NSW, Labor looks to have performed about 2.5% better on the primary vote and 2.0% better on two-party preferred (I believe they are shooting at a bit below 38% on the latter count), but on seats their performance is much worse. This is because Labor’s support in Queensland is spread more thinly throughout Brisbane than in Sydney and Wollongong, where Labor enjoys concentrations of support that translate into a greater number of unloseable seats.

The media. Well, no, actually. From where I’m sitting in Western Australia, this looked nothing like the 2008 WA election campaign, when barely a day went by without The West Australian deploying its front page in pursuit of a vendetta against the Labor government, entirely irrespective of whether or not the day’s events had furnished it with any material with which to do so. Far from being annihilated, that government actually came within a handful of votes of clinging to office. Murdoch tabloid though it may be, the Courier-Mail contented itself with reporting what was actually happening. No doubt it was a different story on talk radio, but that is a medium which preaches to the converted: it is monopoly daily newspapers which truly have the power to shape the campaign agenda, and the Courier-Mail exercised that power even-handedly and responsibly.

Women’s issues. Women leaders contesting state elections are now batting one from seven (although the picture is somewhat rosier at territory level). It’s true that this is partly down to Labor’s apparent habit of turning to women when their governments are running out of puff and headed for defeat in any case, but there might also be a peculiarity of Australian culture at work here. On a possibly related note, female representation has taken a knock with the LNP’s triumph, as only 16 of their 89 candidates were women.

Labor’s issues. Landslides copped by Labor tend to be a) bigger than those inflicted on the conservatives, and b) suffered from government rather than opposition. But that is a subject for a future post.

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.

683 comments on “The hole where Queensland Labor used to be”

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  1. This is a great post William. The only point I’m not sure I agree with you on is the directly elected executive. I’m not so sure a directly elected executive would be as accountable as a ‘Westminster’ executive, although Newman won’t face much pressure on this front.

  2. [Lacking anything that could meaningfully be described as an opposition, its sessions will henceforth resemble those of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The problem is exacerbated by Queensland’s lack of an upper house]

    Except it won’t be far left, but far right. Stewing together in a toxic slew will be

    • the influence of big wealth, corporate power,
    • a banana republic-style resources-based economy,
    • rampant anti-intellectualism,
    • religious nutbaggery,
    • oppression of dissent,
    • and of course the propagandisation delivered by the one-party media. Biggest sell-out of which is the public broadcaster, which is required by Act of parliament to be non-partiasan, but in many is an open cheerleader of the Right side of politics and unreasonable agenda-driven deprecator of the other.

    Check these characteristics against the definition of contemporary Fascism. Each one gets a tick.

    This ‘result’ is all the evidence you will need that a great number of bogans in Queensland and elsewhere (led by the nose by an unconscionable media) would love nothing more than right wing totalitarianism. I’ve always said the inclination to Fascism runs just under the skin of Australian politics.

    The Queensland imbeciles have just set to with a giant scouring brush on the skin of politics and exposed this throbbing fascist gristle for all the world to see.

    Well done to the unspeakably imbecilic right wing who’ve pooled their evil agenda and ignorant compliance to bring this shame on themselves and all of us.

  3. I have a feeling that Federal Labor was planning a similar campaign for the 2013 election.

    Now that we’ve seen the results of such a campaign, I hope they have a long, careful rethink of what they’re going to do instead.

  4. I come here to learn things about matters which interest me. I have learned a lot through your post, William.

    Outside your post I have learned that if you want 70+ of something, get Bruce Hawker on the other side:

    (a) want 70+ vote in caucus on a leadership spill – get Bruce to help your opponent;
    (b) want 70+ seats in an 89 seat parliament – get Bruce to help your opponent.

  5. Great article William but a directly elected executive? The rat baggery going on in the Republican primaries or the appeal to popularism by Sarkozi are enough to convince me that a largely disengaged electorate has the potential to be swayed by any demagogue who can shout loudest. An executive based in the legislature is a filter against extremism.

  6. William

    Thanks for a fab contribution. Your comments re female leaders is especially pertinent because of fed Labor and its implications.

  7. William,

    Don’t always agree with you, but great analysis on this occasion.

    Couple of other comments:

    Does anyone know what the proportion of the total of absentee votes (cast in another electorate) normally are? They seem to be the only major thing not yet counted by the electoral commission. Looking at just a few electorates, the overall turnout figures actually seem a bit lower than in 2009, so I wonder if this might have had some effect at the margins, but can’t really tell till everything is in.

    Comments above by Cuppa identify a number of worrying interests that will now be part of the government. However, most of these are fairly numerically small (eg religious nutters). The real issue is how Newman will deal with them – he may have a period where he can just override them but eventually I think they will start to exert themselves. Newman himself is not any sort of right wing neocon lunatic (although I’m a bit worried he might be a bit captive to the real estate “development” industry, especially given the family interests). If he starts giving big presents to a lot of these interests he will come under a fair bit of pressure I think.

    Result of the Brisbane City Council elections in a few weeks will be very interesting. For bludgers from other states, the Council covers not just the inner city but the first 15-20k or so of suburbs. It’s 20011/1 budget totals 2.92B for just council services (which do not include water or sewerage any more), compared to Tasmania which is $4.78B for a full range of state services, so it’s pretty big. Will be interesting to see if Brisbane voters go the same way as they did in the state election or decide to hedge their bets and hand over control of the Council and Mayoralty to Labor.

  8. Well said William.

    I’ve always thought the Tas system underrated. The other argumetn made in favur of SMDs is local representation, bt if yu ask me, the Tas system is even better on that particualr score: you get a bigger district, yes, but you can go and talk to an MP *from the party you support*, and is more likely to share your view.

    I’d call that superior representation. Plus you get a version of PR to boot.

    I salute Tasmania!

  9. William, your comments on the role played by the media raise a few issues. As you point out the Brisbane Murdoch paper did not run a campaign against Bligh, if anything they probably attacked Newman more, does this provide evidence that the media, or at least the traditional print media have close to no effectiveness in influencing public sentiment?

  10. I don’t think Newman is going to go for a directly elected executive. He spent his first term as the directly elected Lord Mayor of Brisbane battling a Council with a Labor majority and I don’t think he enjoyed it much!

    Also any proposal for PR and/or multi member electorates for Queensland will always run up against the fact that it would leave vast areas of the west without any effective local representative – people like to have reasonable access to an MP so I don’t think this one will every fly. Also, an upper house or topping up the parliament with “list” members will always run up against the “more politicians” problem. I suspect the system we have now is the worst possible one, apart from all the alternatives (apologies to Winton Churchill, I think). At least the huge zonal difference which supported the National Party governments is now long gone, although there is still a bit of regional weighting, mainly because of the local representation problem I mentioned above.

    The risk of the result we got this time is actually present in every single member system once you get over a certain level of primary vote, unless you have wide demographic variations which lock in certain seats for particular parties. On the other hand, it is theoretically possible for a government to be elected with much less than a majority of the popular vote. If a party had no support at all in just fewer than 50% of the seats but a slender majority in all the rest, it could theoretically be elected on a vote of somewhere between 25 and 30%. I know that is an extreme case but something a bit less dramatic could easily be the case, with a party being elected on (say) about 40%

  11. leftye
    [I’ve always thought the Tas system underrated. The other argumetn made in favur of SMDs is local representation, bt if yu ask me, the Tas system is even better on that particualr score: you get a bigger district, yes, but you can go and talk to an MP *from the party you support*, and is more likely to share your view.]
    Might work in Tasmania, but when the “local representative” is 1000km away as might be the case in Qld, this just isn’t an option. Maybe the NBN will fix this? (serious point).


    I don’t think a negative campaign would work federally either…

    [OPINION: Labor dirt campaign enraged voters
    by: Dennis Atkins From: The Courier-Mail March 26, 2012 12:00AM

    QUEENSLAND’S ground-breaking election at the weekend did one thing above all else. Voters had an overriding message about the nasty, relentless campaign from Labor during the past nine weeks.

    They said they hated what they saw and heard. The smash-up election result was always coming but its size was in doubt.

    Let’s look at the empirical evidence. Crosby Textor, the best polling organisation working in real politics, did a serious exit poll on Saturday and found a big result – the top issue that affected voters was the nature of this campaign.

    This, more than anything, was why Bligh Labor lost. It was why a premier’s super-safe 15 per cent seat was taken to the brink and severe doubts were raised.

    This was why Labor lost with a swing of about 16-17 per cent of the vote.

    Voters were awake to this. They knew what was going on. The dots did not need to be joined. They were already there.]
    more in the article


    [25 March 2012
    The work to be done in Queensland
    There are two aspects to the Queensland state election: the LNP has won it and the ALP has lost (and as usual, my predictions sucked). There is a lot of silly commentary about the Federal implications, with Coalition people dressing up their best-case scenario as “pragmatic reality” to the point where journalists accept it as a real story, and it’s time to have a long hard look at that.

    The size of the LNP margin puts such high expectations on them that they will be unable to meet them.]
    more in the article

  14. Labor won’t have major party status – no way they can form any sort of vaguely functional opposition with 7 or 8 seats.
    Newman will be Premier for the next 15 years.

  15. Very thoughtful stuff and the issue about the virtual death of an opposition it considerable cause for concern – regardless of which side.

    This is reminiscent of when the Australian newspaper did all it could to destroy the Whitlam government circa 1975, yet so shocked were Labor at the time, they got very sour with the whole process.

    The Oz then had the gall to turn around and lecture Labor on its duty of be “a good opposition” for the “continued welfare of democracy” to keep the “government to account” or wtte.

    I suspect we will see something along these lines soon – some kind of gee-up from the conservative media, recognising that all power on one party might not be such a good idea in the long term as it may not be necessarily at the bidding of the vested interests all the time and start doing things for itself.

    No chance in Queensland as Labor is essentially rubble at the moment.

  16. Makes Swan’s “Three Stooges” attck look mature: at least he’s having a go at someone besides Tony Abbott.

    On Insiders yesterday there was some talk of Labor’s “obsession” with Abbott. I agree. It’s embarrassing.

    Every second sentence that comes out of any Federal minister’s mouth contains the words “Tony Abbott”. It’s become a habit, and (worse) it shows they’re scared of him.

    Of course it’s unbelievable that Abbott ever got to where he is (think of the shock waves and then the laughter that swept the nation when he unexpectedly won by one vote), but he’s there now, and Labor needs to get over it. In many ways he looks like he was made for the part… but only when you view it in retrospect. Time to move on.

    The rosy opinion that the Carbon Tax rebates will solve all problems should also be dropped. Receiving a dollar in your pay packet this week will be appreciated, but the spending of that dollar a month later, when the initial thrill has worn off, on higher electricity prices will be lamented to a greater extent than the joy of receiving it. Unless the two are connected, concreted together in the public’s mind, the punters will tend to view that dollar earned as “the result of their own hard work and skill”, while the same dollar spent will be “all Julia Gillard’s fault”, only more so.

    If you doubt my word, look at the number of builders who believe they survived the GFC because they were simply better builders than the next bloke, the one who had to get that demeaning BER make-work.

    We need to feel a national pride in the fact that we are one of the first nations on earth to formally institutionalize carbon pricing and to start down the long, winding road towards less dependence on fossil fuels, cleaner air and more stable climate. This is as it should be, because we are one of the Earth’s greatest polluters on a per capita basis (and we supply nine out of the next ten greatest polluters).

    As long as the prevailing sentiment believes we are over-reacting to global warming at a time when we can least afford to, there will be an air of national resentment around carbon pricing that no personal attack on Tony Abbott can alleviate.

    The broken promise needs to be explained a lot better. OK, so a few here saw the Q&A when Gillard delivered her metaphor – wtte “When one road is blocked, you find an alternative route” – and that’s a pretty good one but, ever since, it’s been disappeared. If you listen to 2GB a lot (as I do in the car) you’ll know that that one parable from Gillard on a TV show months ago is more than outweighed by constant – and I mean every 10 minutes – replays of the “There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead” clip. They have it pre-cued, on a cart, ready to play out to the world like a Candelori’s commercial or a 30-second spot for Pain Away.

    I don’t think most people are against the idea of carbon pricing. This is why they are constantly told that it’s not the idea so much, as the way it was implemented that counts. This is repeated and repeated: how dare that woman break a promise (as if a broken political promise has never happened in the history of government).

    Gillard counters this by saying that she could either stick to her guns (or what are seen as her guns) on a Carbon Tax and do nothing – i.e. be in government for its own sake – or find another way to move forward and actually do something with her party’s time in office. She chose the latter and this must be hammered home: politics and government is not only about having elections. It’s about governing for the good of the nation too, more so in fact.

    Abbott’s counter argument – that we should have had an immediate second election (and that, by not having one, Gillard is running away from the people) – is easily countered. We have a system that has served us well. The system delivered an unusual, but not unpredictable situation to us (indeed there was much speculation on a hung parliament from about two weeks out). The snapshot is taken every three years. So be it.

    The Carbon Tax “debate” is poisoning everything else the government is doing.

    The Coalition’s anti-Carbon Tax message is essentially a negative one. It doesn’t concern itself so much with the tax, but with the meta-politics surrounding it (the anti-Global Warming argument is just tosh that I doubt a significant number of punters believe). The government should get back on message. Telling people they’ll be compensated is just another way of saying something bad’s just been done to them, but the government will smear the Pain Away cream on the wound and make it better. That’s back foot stuff, a quack cure. Get on the front foot Julia. Argue FOR carbon pricing. Make it a positive.

    Then we can get back to the stuff the public wants: the MRRT, tax reorganization, the NBN, health reform… all of which are being poisoned by the rotten tooth of the Carbon Tax that’s abscessed and is becoming a systemic infection. It needs to be pointed out that the public can’t have the things they want, without having one or two things that they think – for now – they don’t want; things they don’t want because of a meta-political argument about whether Gillard lied. Show them Gillard didn’t lie, explain the position, explain the dilemma of being in office but not in government, and then hit them with what we have to do to fix the planet. Make them want carbon pricing, or at least neutralize it as a negative issue on philosophical grounds, and they’ll be free to vote with their consciences for the rest of the goodies.

    It isn’t a Reality TV show where love, hate, tears and laughter – and voting – last only as long as the telly’s turned on. Political choices, as opposed to entertainment choices, have consequences: you can’t vote Labor out of office, and then get to keep the good bits. That only happens on TV, not in real life. It’s all or nothing at all. Make the “all” more attractive.

    Labor should get off Tony Abbott, stop mentioning his name (we all know the public doesn’t want him… enough with him!), and start with the positive waves. Explain, acknowledge that people are upset, but don’t then apologize… just keep explaining until it sinks in. Saying it once on Q&A doesn’t count as a genuine effort to do this. Hearing it once on Q&A doesn’t tick the “Problem Solved” box.

    Explain that voting has consequences, that things can go wrong if the government’s legislative program is dismantled in a festival of vandalism. Spell it out, item by item.

    The story is a good one that requires a warning first: we cannot live by digging holes and selling the dirt alone, then going out on a national binge with the proceeds. We need a sophisticated economy (the MRRT), one that’s wired (the NBN), one that has advanced technical manufacturing (even if it means a subsidized motor vehicle industry), one that has employment (5.1% as opposed to 10% for the rest of the world), cares for its sick (health reforms), has a stable political system (changes to electoral laws), provides adequate welfare for those who need it (middle class whingers decrying the Nanny State, while demanding subsidized nannies need not apply), has good roads and railways (infrastructure investment increases), great educational opportunities (universities stimulus, trades training), protects its borders from people smugglers without pissing off our near neighbours (Malaysian solution v. chesting up to Indonesia), cares for its environment and does its bit for the environment of others (carbon pricing).

    There’s your “Vision Thing”, right there.

    Do we want an Australia that looks forward and makes great strides in a modern world, that can take care of itself and adds value to its skills and resources, or one that wants to wall itself in against the same Boogey-Man it’s been afraid of since Federation, running to daddy’s arms – John Howard circa 2007 – every time it’s confronted by a difficult problem or a monster it’s convinced itself is hiding under the bed?

    Abbott is telling everyone they voted wrong in 2007. He’s telling them they were mugs; insulting them for their choice. Vote for him and he’ll bring it all back (to the future). Those days of wine and roses are gone, by the time of the 2013 election, six years gone. It’s Gillard’s job to point that out, and then show the way forward, to show us what we can be if only we have the guts to try.

    End of sermon.

  17. They can’t help themselves.

    In an article of almost mind-numbing ordinariness and predictability, Coorey warms up last month’s old Ruddstoration leftovers:

    [It was only a month ago this week that Rudd quit his post as foreign minister and made a play for the ALP leadership.

    Had he waited until after the Queensland election, as was the plan being pushed by his backers, the temperature in Canberra would be a lot hotter today.

    The momentum for a leadership change to a Queenslander would have been stronger – especially as it was noted yesterday that the swing against Labor in the five state seats within the boundaries of Rudd’s electorate was about half that of the average swing.

    By baiting Rudd and killing off the challenge so effectively when she did, Gillard and her supporters clearly won the tactical battle.

    But if things don’t improve for Labor north of the border over the next six to 12 months, there is every chance the issue will be revisited.]

    Read more:

  18. Bushfire Bill said: “We need to feel a national pride in the fact that we are one of the first nations on earth to formally institutionalize carbon pricing and to start down the long, winding road towards less dependence on fossil fuels, cleaner air and more stable climate. This is as it should be, because we are one of the Earth’s greatest polluters on a per capita basis (and we supply nine out of the next ten greatest polluters).”

    A comparison with all the other OECD countries would show that the appropriate words might be: We should feel ashamed as a nation that while most other OECD countries have long been reducing their emissions we have for so long ignored the problem and our emissions have increased. Even though we are one the Earth’s greatest polluters for most of the time we have sided with the US (and against Europe) in expecting China and India to act before we will commit to any international agreements.

  19. Great post William. Thank you. On direct executive – I get the feeling that plenty of my fellow Quincelanders feel as if they do directly elect their premier. I would suggest the level of understanding of how Westminster works is so limited that many simply approach it as personality contest. There is evidence for this in both K07 and in CanDo. More concerning is I also think that CanDo may well believe he has actually been directly elected…

  20. Posted this in t’other thread.

    [Ha, how soon some forget. This is not a bad result for Federal Labor. Quite the opposite in fact. The next Federal Election is at least 18 months away. All the same rubbish was sprouted about the HUGE Labor victories leading up to the 2001 Federal election. The circumstance are so similar it’s scary.

    Howard was going into the 2001 widely reviled (Stone’s Mean and Tricky memo), a long way behind in the polls, off the back of a near loss at the last Federal Election (hanging on with only 49%) of the vote, and facing a massive resurgence of Labor at the state level.

    Carr in NSW had started the trend back to Labor with minority government just before Howard came to power (similar to Barnett in WA in the early days of the Rudd Government), before every single state and territory fell like dominoes to Labor leading up to 2001.

    Rann and then Beattie followed Carr with a minority wins in 97 and 98, and Bacon in Tasmania secured a majority win in 98. Carr won again in 99 to secure a majority in the LA, and Bracks stunned Kennett to form a minority government.

    Howard’s 2001 Federal chances were being written of as first Gallop rolled Court in WA in February and then a week later Beattie destroyed the NatLibs (49% primary to 28% primary – almost exactly Saturday’s result reversed), and then just three months before the Federal Election Clare Martin did the unthinkable and won the NT assembly.

    Reams were being written about the death of the Liberals and their structural problems and how they were in danger of collapsing, blah, blah, blah. The huge wins to Labor in all those states and territories after 2001 too would lead the uncritical reader to assume there was truth to the BS as well. Except of course for the fact Howard secured a swing to him in the 2001 election, picked up a couple of seats and governed for a further 6 years.

    There are of course other parallels. The ‘weak leader’ and ‘stopped listening’ memes and the hatred of ‘Juliar’ were just as strong back then amongst the ‘Howard Haters’ (of which I to this day remain proud to be a member). Didn’t win any elections though did it? Both opposition leaders were recycled ministers of the former government looking to turn back the clock a few years and roll back the biggest and hardest fought part of the terms legislative agenda, but had nothing to offer for the future.

    So supporters of the government, fear not. We’ve been here before (although on the other side of the fence). Like Howard I have no doubt that Gillard will use the power of incumbency to redefine the argument when the moment is ripe. I noted someone in the Herald was musing about Gillard using Howard’s 2004 reconfiguration on ‘trust’ – an idea I have also had previously and one which used well will have devastating results on someone like Abbott.

    We’re only just coming up to half time oranges. The Government has been kicking into a gale in the first half, but has put some good points on the board. This six week break before the budget kicks of the second half of the term will be used to regroup, look at what’s working in attack and defence, get set for a strong finish. Labor will have the breeze at their backs (even if it’s not as strong). So long as they don’t worry about being a few points behind and play to their strengths they’ll finish the stronger and win on the bell.]

  21. [A comparison with all the other OECD countries would show that the appropriate words might be: We should feel ashamed as a nation that while most other OECD countries have long been reducing their emissions we have for so long ignored the problem and our emissions have increased. Even though we are one the Earth’s greatest polluters for most of the time we have sided with the US (and against Europe) in expecting China and India to act before we will commit to any international agreements.]

    If you want a response: too negative.

    The theme of the moment in Australian politics is “Exceptionalism”. We need to view ourselves as positive contributors to the world, not cowering thieves who don’t give a stuff about it.

    Exceptionalism doesn’t need to be negative. It can be positive. It’s just as easy to be proud of ourselves – not jingoistic, but proud – as it is to be ashamed.

    Any politician who went to the people telling they should be ashamed of themselves would last about 10 seconds.

  22. BB: I’ve been saying for ages that Labor need to stop talking about Tony Abbott.

    Talk about “The Coalition” only. Or, better still, “The Opposition”. Remind them what side of the house they are on.

    This has a dual effect:

    Firstly, it tars the whole Opposition with Abbott’s brush. Every time he has a brain fart, make them ALL responsible for it. It makes it harder for them to back away from if it is THEIR stated policy, rather than the brain fart of one particular leader. And we’ve all seen recently how they react when the rural socialists hear something coming from the urban tories they don’t like.

    Secondly, Tony Abbott is a supreme egotist. He likes his name in lights. He likes people talking about him. Think of how pathetic and impotent he looked during the week of Labor leadership squabbling. His attempts to insert himself into the narrative was frankly embarrassing. Expect more of that if Labor stops talking about him. Trust me, he will do one “look at moi!!!” too many.

  23. William

    Good article, I am wondering if the ALP are so good in sandbagging their seats, that they often wins one election too many and that is the cause of their bigger landslides, and I am thinking it will happen to them in NT, Tasmania and SA in the next few years

    The ALP will need to rethink their strategy on blaming every one of their mistake on Abbott, I think most Australian can see through the politics of it and it will hurt the ALP electorally

  24. And here we go again …………Labor, federally, on the brink.

    Let’s see. How many so-called experts have predicted the demise of the Federal government from Day 1?

    They have all been wrong.

    The classic was Peter Costello’s “Another election before Christmas.” In this he was partly right – Christmas 2013 not 2010.

    As so it has been – on and on about “the next election is all death for Labor” stuff.

    We have to remind ourselves that Queensland is not, and never will be, the only Australia we live in.

    It is a-typical in many respects – a larger than normal number of largish regional towns stretching thousand of kilometres north up the coast, for instance. Then vast swathes of agricultural hinterland and isolated mining towns. With Queensland it seems with the electors there, it is all or nothing.

    Mind you, living in WA is odd too.

    We have an island capital – and island surrounded by land rather than sea – more like Singapore in some respect.

    The joke here is those who live in Perth – nearly 90% of the total population of WA, talk of the 1/3 of the Oz land mass as if it is their personal property to be protected from those thieves from the East.

    As a result Labor currently holds just 3 of the 15 HoR seats. This is a common low water mark and Labor always struggles to get more than 5 or 6 so, to all intents and purposes any gain here, and there could be two, is neither here not there.

    The biggest joke of all is when the media here on election night come up with the “The election could be won or lost in WA” whereas is nearly all the elections I can remember, the matter is settled in NSW and Victoria – and to a lesser extent Qld and SA – two hours before polling closes in WA. For many years, no election coverage here could begin until after the polls closed.

    This farce no longer occurs.

    In today’s West, just one page devoted to the Queensland election with Probyn again making some good points about negative campaigning – and he points the finger at both sides.

    I predict by Wednesday, the Queensland election will be a total non-issue anywhere else but Queensland despite the conservatives hoping, hoping, hoping.

    What has really changed?

  25. OK, have I finally found out where all the cool kids are hanging out?

    One day William says we’re only to comment on Queensland election on the Queensland election thread. The next, all we have is Queensland election threads.

    It’s getting very confusing – I’ve been carrying on about fhree different conversations….

  26. Wading through Katharine Murphy’s turgid metaphors this morning is a bit of a chore. But there is this gem:

    [Politics in Australia right now is like a reality television show that never stops. There’s a new opinion poll published at least once a fortnight. It’s Survivor across the dispatch box in the House of Representatives. It’s so reductionist, fragmented, shrill and gladiatorial that some days you fear the roadies might get electrocuted.]

    Then she goes and ruins it with rubbish like this:

    [In the five minutes Carr spent pontificating on the interchange bench, the game got faster, more unremitting, more shallow, more punishing and more magnified. I was thinking of Carr, blinking under the stadium lights with his vintage acoustic guitar, on Saturday night as I watched Anna Bligh enduring a rout so large that we who watch politics are still struggling to absorb it.]

    Something about Bob Carr, Marshall amplifiers, stadium lights and… Anna Bligh. youse can figure it out.

    But there’s more…

    [When politics takes no prisoners, the voters take no prisoners in return. Survivor politics has practical consequences. Call it returning the sentiment in spades.]

    She agrees it’s all a Reality TV show, but she gets her consequences, or at least their priorities, mixed up. It’s because she only sees the voting aspect of it, the politics thing, not the consequences for voters. The consequences, in Murphy’s mind, of treating politics like a Reality TV show is that you can get voted off the island. Well, hit me with a baseball bat. I never knew! No mention at all of what’s good for the state or the nation.

    We get all baby, and no bathwater from Katharine.

    And then we have the regulation Ruddstoration bit:

    [And Julia Gillard won’t be deaf to the profound echo of herself and her destiny in voters’ treatment of Anna Bligh. Her caucus colleagues won’t miss it either. Will some wonder whether they made the right call on the leadership a few weeks ago? Some might, given the ascendancy of Survivor politics, and its creed of craven, cynical thinking. (Could destiny be avoided somehow if we just constructed a different facade to present to voters?)

    But the only way out is telling the truth, having some values and, if the tribe wills it, taking your lumps.

    The Queensland result is like a premonition for federal Labor. Call it time travel into the bleakness of the future. That’s some wasteland to look into.]

    Sure, she speaks about values”, but only as if they are as disposable as how-to-vote cards on a Sunday morning: vital documents one day, landfill the next.

    “Values! Values! Where can I find some values!” says Murphy. Get some values, and their hearts and minds will follow.

    Murphy is still seeing politics as an end in itself. The consequences of voting in the Political Reality Show are… more politics.

    Start thinking about the people Katharine. Stop treating policy as incidental to the main game, as some sort of collateral accoutrement that’s far less interesting than who’s up who. Go on, give it a go. Try writing about policy as something that has consequences, not just as a fashion accessory. Forget the Island and remember its people… and you might still be able to do some good around the place, besides warming a seat, that is.

    Read more:

  27. Michael Wilbur-Ham (MWH)

    Why Australia is one of the world largest per capita polluters had been well documented:ie
    -density of population ie shipping food from Qld to Victoria and WA
    -we have a large mining sector, ie we subsidise other countries’ CO2 emittion
    -we have a large agricultural sectior, ie we subsidise other countries’ CO2 emittion

    The Greens can continue their job destroying policies, but Australia is waking up. Not only did the Greens not receive a single % of the 16% lost by the ALP, 15% of their previous votes left them. The Greens had a disaster, and Australians are waking up.

  28. and let me add my appreciation to Billbowe’s lead post. Excellent analysis.

    Bushfire – get a job in JG’s office will ya.

  29. BB

    I do like the disconnect there.

    On the one hand, Labor MPs should be rethinking their support for Gillard, because the Queensland result is proof (PROOF, I tell you!) that Federal labor is on the nose.

    (As I’ve pointed out on the other threads, back in 2009, when Federal labor was polling 56% + with a QLD PM, Queensland Labor was polling 41%. No one was drawing comparisons between the two then).

    On the other hand, they should have values, which they stick by through thick and thin.

    Just a slight contradiction there, surely?

  30. Over at the ABC Kristina Keneally sheeted home the blame to
    1. kevin Rudd’s illtimed leadership challenge
    2. anna bligh attacking Campbell Newman
    3. not explaining sale of state assets
    4. loss of support from powerbase of nurses and rail workers
    5. it’s tim efactor

    Is there still a gerrymander in Queensland where the party with 40% of vote gets 10% of the seats?

  31. dovif

    nonsense. Australia is one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases because of its reliance on coal for electricity – and particularly, of brown coal.

  32. [But the only way out is telling the truth]

    If that’s what Katharine Murphy wants then let’s have the Canadian system of media responsibility which means all reporting has to be truthful and factual. Betcha Murphy wouldn’t want ‘the truth’ to apply to her profession.

    Qld Bludgers – Is there any particular reason why so few women stood as candidates for the LNP?

  33. Any one else noticed that whilst Julia is at an international conference with Barak Obama and Tony Abbott is off for a week cycling that the Liberal Party have released policy
    1. subsidy for nannys
    2. restrict foreign ownership of farm land – that would be a first after 200 years of colonisation
    3. miners state MRRT won’t hurst them as they minimise their tax bill

    Start of issue policy, listen to feedback, refine loop

  34. @BH

    All I can think of is that the LNP love portraying themselves as the “family values” party, with the husband in parliament providing for his household and his wife is dutifully at home raising children in a happy christian family.

    I only hope things don’t go nasty up there, I heard rumours that LNP supporters were going around calling Labor ‘faggot-lovers’ in some backwater regions. If true, it’s shocking just how many parallels Queensland has with the worst of the US deep south.

  35. BH wrote:

    [If that’s what Katharine Murphy wants then let’s have the Canadian system of media responsibility which means all reporting has to be truthful and factual. Betcha Murphy wouldn’t want ‘the truth’ to apply to her profession.]

    Katharine Murphy has got it half right. It’s IS a Political Reality TV show.

    Her problem is that she sees consequences accruing only to the tribe, not to the viewers.

    D’oh! We know there are consequences for the tribe, that’s why the tribe goes on the show, but what many don’t realise is that in the Political Reality TV Show, there are real consequences for the viewers as well, depending on how they vote.

    Murphy suffers from seeing politics as only politics. She treats policy as an afterthought. That level of brain-deadedness is exactly what the producers of Reality Politics to possess. They can vent their spleen, express their love, laugh and cry and then vote: and it’s all justa bit of fun. Once you have voters in a democracy believing that, you’re in trouble.

  36. Great post William. I would like to know the stats on OPV, ie how many people in Qld only marked a single preference, compared to those who went full preferential.

    Presumably the OPV vote was very high. In the abstract, I am a supporter of OPV at all levels of govt, including federal, because it tends to deliver unequivocal results, and most importantly, it loosens the stranglehold of the two-party system, which is not serving the Australian electorate well any more.

    It can be argued that OPV enforces major political party renewal after slam-dunk defeats, and opens up space for the formation of new parties.

    The downside is that it is probably marginally less representative than FPV, but given the way electoral politics is trending internationally (with less and less public engagement) perhaps it is time for a kick up the pants of the body politic.

    And both major parties desperately need renewal. They are clearly dying in the arse, as evidenced by the increasingly malign influence of the IPA, Clive Palmer etc in electoral politics. Big money moves in when the people no longer feel any connection. Just look at the USA, where the corporations rule.

    I understand your preference for PR, and in an ideal world I would agree (and it certainly works in smaller electorates like the ACT and Tasmania) but the truth is it ain’t gonna happen in the larger states, or federally in the lower house without major constitutional reform. Howard killed that off for a generation at least.

    Legislative reform to introduce OPV federally for the lower house is a possibility, however difficult. Both major parties might be persuaded to consider it, after digesting the Qld result. After all, those internal reports on how to renew the major parties, delivered year after year, never really see the light of day, because the imperative is always business as usual with the next election in sight.

    OPV federally would be a rocky ride federally, with governments thrown out more often (so that longer parliamentary terms would be a necessary corollary), but at least it would deliver clear winners with an engaged electorate, not unstable minority governments like we have at present, where the implementation of government policy is hostage to a single vote on the floor.

    And most importantly, it would force the major parties to properly rethink their “business models”, so that voters can feel directly involved with the electoral process, instead of being pushed aside by political fixers and corporate shills.

    The two-party system needs a genuine shake-up at the federal level. PR will not work, but OPV might. And a bipartisan effort to make the change is not beyond the realms of possibility (absent Dr No, of course).

    End of rave.

  37. [Murphy suffers from seeing politics as only politics. She treats policy as an afterthought. ]

    As did Fran Kelly this morning altho I thought Grattan was more reasonable.

    [The ALP review will similarly need to examine closely the party’s decision to personally attack Campbell Newman and his family. I understand the data will show that this backfired. Some strategists urged me and Sussex Street to deploy a similar attack against O’Farrell last year. We refused. The view (NSW Branch general secretary) Sam Dastyari and I shared was that playing the man, and not the ball, would only alienate the electorate. It also would have been an uncomfortable fit for a leader, as it clearly was with Anna. ]

    I find Kristina Kenneally to be more a true believer than some of the old ex Labor pollies. Every media appearance by her is constructive and thoughtful. I will be sorry if she is lost to Federal Labor.

  38. Went over to the Courier Mail and had a look at Campbell’s ‘checklist’ of stuff he’s going to fix…gee, freeze car rego fees for three years, ‘action’ (love that one – on water and electricity costs, hire more police over four years and a couple of motherhood statements.
    Golly that’s some revolution here’s talking about there. Poor Queenslanders wont recognise the place.

  39. A bit of a tangent here:

    1. Labor electoral reviews are always (to my knowledge) conducted by Labor insiders.

    2. Labor insiders are where they are as a direct outcome of the very strategies, rules and proceedures they then judge to be flawed.

    3. Why should those Labor insiders be any more objective/insightful than the rest of the ‘faceless labor machine’ (of which they are a part)?

    Yet their pronouncements get treated as if they’re Holy Writ (particularly by people who aren’t actually involved in the Labor party).

    Yes, there are a lot of Labor renewal documents scattered around Labor party offices which have never been implemented. Largely because no one other than the people who’ve written them think they will work.

    Surely if there are problems with the internal workings of the party (and I’m not saying there aren’t) the last people who should be asked identify them are people involved in the internal workings of the Labor party?

  40. Thanks Bushfire Bill. That is one sermon I have enjoyed.
    The exploitation by the media of peoples’ insecurity and the scientific anomalies that have become evident is a problem for all governments of a democratic persuasion. The anomalies that are becomng apparent in the development of capitalism in to corporatised capitalism are being shown to be a road to inequality.
    Science through our better understanding of longterm affects of Carbon pollution are questioning the fundamental sources of energy that we have all depended on for lifting of millions of people to rise above their poverty and starvation existance.
    These quandaries are challenging many peoples’ acceptance of our old paradigms of constant expanding development and are challenging to our accepted ways of ever increasing exploitation of the planets finite resources.
    Considering some hundred odd generations since the industrial revolution have accepted this exploitative paradigm it is perhaps going to take a couple of generations to come to a rational acceptance of the facts and adjust to the new realities in both economics and scientific understanding of the limitations our productive systems must adapt to.
    We have all held dear our intergeneral responsibilities as evidence by our care and efforts for our children and this philosophical and ethical value has now to be adapted to a broader perspective to facilitate the maintanence of the himan species on this planet.
    The media and our business leaders have an important part to play in these changes that our scientists and economists are advising.

  41. zoomster @ 45

    Surely if there are problems with the internal workings of the party (and I’m not saying there aren’t) the last people who should be asked identify them are people involved in the internal workings of the Labor party?

    So who do you recommend? Boston Consulting Group or similar?

  42. Great posts by William and Bushfire Bill. The carbon tax is toxic for Labor. Everyone seems to believe that because of it:

    1. Power prices are soaring.
    2. We cannot compete on world markets.
    3. Juliar cannot be trusted on anything.
    4. Gillard is a prisoner of the whacko Greens.
    5. We are out of step with and far in advance of the rest of the world.

    Don’t know what can be done about it, but that’s what the hoi polloi believes. They say that global warming – if it’s not a myth – is impervious to our silly tax, which simply burdens the Australian people while the big polluters overseas make hay.

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