Queensland four-year terms referendum and council elections

A primer on tomorrow’s electoral events in Queensland: a referendum to introduce fixed four-year terms for the state parliament, and council elections that include the big prize of the Brisbane lord mayoralty.

Post-match report (posted late Saturday)

The referendum has passed with a modest majority, having recorded a 53.3% yes vote with 46.0% of enrolled voters counted. The yes vote tended to be higher and the city and lower in the country, but the range was fairly narrow, from 44.9% in rural Dalrymple to 64.7% in Surfers Paradise. The other big news is Labor’s surprisingly poor show in Brisbane, where LNP lord mayoral incumbent Graham Quirk ended the night with a raw 58.7% after preferences with 62.6% of enrolled voters counted. While this represents a swing against him of nearly 10%, it’s nonetheless a heavy defeat for Labor – and also a bad show for pollsters who had the LNP two-party vote 6% to 7% lower. The news gets even worse for Labor in the wards, where they actually look to have gone backwards from their disastrous 2012 result. The LNP appears to have retained its share of 18 out or 26 seats, and further looks to have nabbed Northgate with the retirement of Labor’s Kim Flesser. Furthermore, the Greens are leading in the Labor-held ward of The Gabba, with 33.0% of the vote to Labor’s 30.8%, and preferences certain to decide the result for one or the other ahead of the LNP candidate on 34.0%. Independent Nicole Johnston has been easily returned in Tennyson. The likely result is LNP 19, Labor five, independent one and Greens one, with the Greens’ win in The Gabba probably being the most doubtful.

Preview (posted Friday)

Queensland has some big electoral action in store tomorrow, with a statewide referendum on fixed four-year parliamentary terms, and council elections offering the big partisan prize of the Brisbane lord mayoralty. If the referendum gets up, Queensland will lose its distinction as the only state still hanging on to three-year terms, with elections henceforth set for the last Saturday in October, starting at the end of the current term. Should the term run to its natural conclusion in early 2018, the new system would kick in with the next election behing held in October 2021. Queensland-based electoral law authority Graeme Orr explains what’s wrong with this in Crikey – specifically, the weakening of electoral accountability in a state with no upper house, and the government’s failure to prepare voters for it through an adequate education campaign. A Galaxy poll of 540 voters in the City of Brisbane found respondents breaking 48-35 in favour, but there are views abroad that voters in the regions will be less keen, and that late deciders will break in favour of no.

In the City of Brisbane, whose million-strong population accounts for just under half the overall population of the metropolitan area, voters will decide whether to extend the Liberal National Party’s 12-year grip on the lord mayoralty, which began with Campbell Newman’s first victory in 2004. The current incumbent, Graham Quirk, assumed the role when Newman quit in April 2011 to make his run for the premiership at the next year’s state election, having first been elected to council at the age of 27 in 1985. Quirk won election to the lord mayoralty in his own right in April 2012, a month after Labor’s decimation at the state election, with 61.9% of the primary vote, translating to a 68.3-31.7 win over his Labor opponent after preferences.

The two published polls suggest it will be a great deal closer than that this time, with the aforementioned Galaxy survey of a fortnight ago giving Quirk a lead of 53-47 over Labor candidate Rod Harding, and a ReachTEL automated phone poll of 1116 conducted for the Sunday Mail last Thursday having it at 52-48. The big news of the late campaign has been the LNP cutting loose Tennyson ward candidate Ashley Higgins, over accusations he had sent sexually explicit images to a teenage boy from a Catholic school at which he served as a minister. Observers of the campaign also tend towards the view that the LNP has been outcampaigned by Labor.

Councillors will also be elected to Brisbane’s 26 wards, which also tend to produce rigid two-party contests. The 2012 landslide delivered the Liberal National Party 18 seats, with a former LNP independent winning the aforementioned Tennyson ward, and Labor managing only seven. Antony Green has a pendulum and accompanying ward profiles here. Elsewhere, the Sunday Mail’s ReachTEL poll indicated that incumbent mayors are set to be returned in the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, Ipswich and Toowoomba.

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.

129 comments on “Queensland four-year terms referendum and council elections”

  1. Wouldn’t Labor be just a mite disappointed about getting trounced for the lord mayoralty and going backwards on their already pitiful retinue of ward seats?

    Though with that said, the Greens’ grasp on The Gabba seems to be loosening. In today’s counting they’ve slipped from 33.0% to 31.2%, while Labor are up from 30.8% to 31.0%. Most of the damage has been from postal votes, of which there are presumably a lot outstanding. Their current lead is 34 votes, not accounting for the preferences of the 53 independent votes.

  2. Have to agree with you William I think this result for the ALP is not good 59% two party preferred to the LNP and the loss of 1 council seat to the LNP and maybe an other to the Greens Ok it is almost a 10% swing but given the state election result in Queensland and in Brisbane seats and Federal Government being of the LNP ilk I think they would expected it to be closer

  3. DTT,

    The point that is as clear as a sunny day in Brisbane is that, as a predictor of political outcomes, you wouldn’t know your arse from your elbow and the referendum outcome
    is just another failure by you in this regard.

  4. “If I was still in Queensland, I would have been one of those who were initially happy with a 4 year fixed term, but later convinced that maybe a no vote should be considered until something better comes along.

    You’d think that after the Newman super-majority, Palaszczuk would have came up with a better electoral reform than just 4 years fixed term.”

    Raaraa that logic is flawed for a couple reasons. There were Republicans who voted against the Australian Republic referendum in 1999 because they wanted a better model. They have never had a referendum since and some republicans have admitted they made a mistake.

    Also the last referendum four year terms for Queensland was in 1992 and went down narrowly. That was 24 years ago, if Queensland fails to carry this referendum they may never get another chance for a long long time.

  5. Wow. Nicholas’s outbursts on here are pathetic, delusional and extremely arrogant.

    Long story short, if the people don’t vote the way you want them to vote, the process was undemocratic, voters are sheep, mean ol’ major parties at it again (heaven forbid someone should actually support something you don’t)

    Also the delusional conspiracy about the referendum being flown under the radar and people voting yes because they’re blindly following HTV cards is not only the most elitist load of hogwash I have ever read, it also is in total contradiction to how referendums actually really turn out when few understand the issue.

  6. @David

    I think you’re misreading my intention. I only like the bit about fixed term elections. With any other states, I am indifferent with 3 or 4 year terms. A fixed 3 year term can also just be legislated in.

    I hate the idea of endless speculations about when the next election is going to be. Having grown up in a one party state like Singapore, I dislike long terms for unchecked Legislative Assemblies.

    Also I think the referendum is wasted on a single question when it offers the chance of fixing multiple constitutional issues. Australian referendums usually frame questions wrongly.

    My favourite model and I think the best example of referendum is the New Zealand change of electoral voting in the early 90s. It was framed in two questions.

    1. Does the system need to be changed?
    2. What is the preferred system?
    (I’m just summarising it. It was better phrased than that)

  7. Graeme Orr, constitutional law academic at UQ, makes a powerful and accurate point about the poor process of this referendum:

    “On issues that people don’t have a great deal of information on, they take their cues from their leaders.

    “And with the attorney general and the shadow attorney general barnstorming the east coast with taxpayer-funded flights and so on as well as support from the Courier Mail and so on, they’ve got it over the line.

    “It’s been a pretty unfortunate process, the whole thing, particularly the way they ran two distinct questions together when they could have fixed terms through legislation.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2016/mar/20/queensland-referendum-longer-terms-likely-as-yes-vote-ahead

    No public funding for the No case.

    No publicly funded community events across the state to discuss the proposal.

    No publicly funded citizen assemblies and deliberative polling exercises to raise public awareness of the proposal and provide impartial expert answers to voters’ questions.

    Wrapping a crappy idea (a longer term with no compensating accountability mechanisms such as proportional representation) in an appealing and sound idea (removing the government’s unfair advantage in choosing an election date) so that voters cannot consider and either accept or reject each one separately.

    Folding it into a local council election so that little attention is paid to the referendum.

    Getting a bunch of technocratic elitist hacks with a vested interest in limiting voters’ opportunities to fire politicians to get together and give the thing the appearance of being a no-brainer. The Queensland Council of Unions put its officers’ interest in securing cushy parliamentary careers ahead of workers’ interests in accountable government.

  8. In case anyone was paying attention, above where I said: “Their current lead is 34 votes, not accounting for the preferences of the 53 independent votes” — that should be 409 independent votes.

  9. “Labor and LNP voters are drone-like in following HTV cards. Put an HTV card in their hands that tells them to vote Yes for something they haven’t heard of and lack experience and considered opinions about and most of them will go along with it.”

    Nicholas this sour grapes. How many times do we have to tell you, there was NO ‘YES’ or ‘NO’ HOW TO VOTE CARDS ON THE DAY!!!!!!

    Also you talk about Labor and Liberal as drones. Only Townsville and Brisbane run under politcal banners for council. All the other cities and regions are independents, to suggest that politcal parties had any influence out the front of polling booths telling voters how to vote on the referendum is basesless and wrong.

    Truth is that this referendum was expected to be voted down. But voters to their credit saw it for its merits and voted yes. I was one on the day who was sure that it would go down.

    Even Robbie Katter seat of Mount Isa voted overwhelming ‘YES’ and Katter is one of the loudest voices for the NO vote calling it a “a terrible result for democracy”. So much for voters being drones doing what the politicians say.

    I’ll give credit to opponents of the referendum on this board such as Raaraa and daretotread who have been a bit more objective and philosophical in there comments on the referendum. Rather then painting the whole thing up as some kind of conspiracy.

  10. David

    Thank you.

    GG always takes a swipe so I ignore him.

    The fact is there was no campaigning at all, so I assumed that evedrone had given up on the referendum.

    It is an example of democracy in action – like the result or hate it. Those who advocate direct voting for policies and more referenda and plebiscites (there is one such party as a micro and one in Qld), should examine this referendum closely to understand why people vote as they do.

  11. Daretoread your prediction this referendum has ‘NO chance of success’ and ‘It is dead as a doornail’ is not really something to be used against you. I supported the referendum, but I was thinking the same thing on the day. Also history would have backed up those predictions- if this referendum carry’s it will be the first referendum that has carried in Queensland since 1910.

  12. I daresay a couple of motivations behind the ‘yes’ vote would probably be resentment over the last election, which was called in a snap over the Summer, so the Premier could fly under the radar and get another term due to apathy (which failed, of course – but only just) and uniformity with the other states*. Also, I’ve found one of the only political process reforms that the disengaged/mildly engaged seem to be interested in is that they hate when PMs can call an election whenever they want. PR etc. doesn’t even appear on their radars.

    *Yes, I know Tasmania don’t have fixed terms, technically. However, since 2006, they have had de facto fixed terms. Whether or not they cement that in law one day is up to them (although I wish they’d choose a different day!)

  13. I’m wondering if Federal Labor/Liberal Mp’s are looking at the QLD referendum and thinking about a referendum for four year fixed terms for federal politics as well. Critics against it wouldn’t also have ammunition claiming there is not enough checks and balances as the Federal parliament has a senate. However, senator’s terms would increase from 6 years to 8 years, for some that might be too long.

  14. Carey

    The last three elections have been held in terrible conditions. Hot summer state election, very hot 2016 council election and drenching rain 2012 council election.

  15. it looks as if the greens have a better chance of taking The Gabba Ward. Absentee votes heavily favoured Green

    Actually William if you are around, I noticed that in Qld LG election in 2012, absentee votes heavily favoured Greens by 5-10%. (or to be accurate, the Green vote in Absentees was about 5-10% higher than the orginary poll result. Postals are lower as are prepoll. Is this a common pattern elsewhere?

  16. Nicholas

    Do you know how those minors will go? Unless they heavily favour the ALP, it will be quite hard for the ALP to catch up now.

  17. Greens ahead of Labor in The Gabba by 270 after strong showing in absent votes and weak in postals. Greens must be winning from there but will be very interesting to see Labor preferences/exhaust.

  18. http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/brisbane-council-election-the-greens-claim-the-gabba-20160323-gnpe36.html

    [Brisbane City Council will have its first Greens councillor after Labor conceded defeat in The Gabba on Wednesday, four days after the election.

    While both Greens candidate Jonathan Sri and Labor’s Nicole Lessio trailed the Liberal National Party’s Sean Jacobs in the primary vote, the preference flow between the two left-leaning parties ensured Mr Jacobs was shut out.]

  19. Actually the green vote in the Gabba is VERY interesting.

    it rather looks as if in the short term at least Denatali has been clever.

    Compare the Councillor ans Mayoral votes. The ALP got 30.6% for both. This is the rusted on splid Labor vote.

    The greens got 23% in the Mayoral ballot but 31% in the local ballot. The LNP got 43% in the Mayoral Ballot but 33% in the Councillor ballot.

    In other words almost 10% extra votes for the Greens came from LIBERALS or at least from people who swing Liberal from time to time.

  20. Raaraaa, 126

    I think dtt is saying that there were ~10% of voters who voted for Quirk as mayor but voted for Sri as their ward representative (bumping their vote up from 23% to 31%)

    Of course it is always possible that ~10% of Harding voters voted Greens and ~10% of Quirk voters voted Labor, but in terms of the raw numbers it looks like that’s where the swing went.

  21. Airlines

    Thanks.

    Yes that was what I was saying. I am mildly surprised at such a strong vote for Quirke in West End. I very much liked Harding and thought he would appeal over in the Gabba ward.

  22. Thanks Airlines, sorry DTT. Completely misunderstood what you meant to say.

    Is is possible that voters like the direction the city is going, but want a bit more of their voice represented from their Ward.

    IMO West End has gentrified somewhat, with apartments going up both along the river and on the other end of Boundary St (or was that Melbourne St?) in South Brisbane.

    So the former Labor voters are slowly being replaced by both Green and LNP voters.

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