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”

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  1. Queensland four year fixed terms will likely go down which is a shame. For critics who suggest the timing wrong, I ask when is the timing right? There are two Factors that will always favors the No vote:

    1) People are skeptical of politicians

    2) Its easier to sell a NO case, much harder to sell a yes case because you can play on people fears.

    The whole simplistic arguments ‘you can’t trust the politicians’ and ‘four year terms stops accountability’ have been played in the media at nausea and all for a referendum that improve public policy and makes it easier in terms of planning for (business, unions, farming groups) for change.

  2. I’m not in Queensland and haven’t looked very closely at the proposed changes, but I doubt I could support fixed four-year terms without a house of review. Reinstate the Legislative Council, and then it can be a conversation. I mean, there could have been a whole year more of the Newman Government, and no thanks to that.

  3. Fixed terms are a mistake – NSW and Victoria (and Queensland potentially as we speak!) have shown why in recent times.

    And what exactly are fixed terms supposed to “fix”? Minor annoyance that a government has gone a bit early? The voters can (and do – see Newman) punish such opportunism.

    Why handcuff yourself to an artificial schedule at the expense of having a parliament that cannot respond to changing circumstances just to put off voting for a while occasionally?

    As to 3 years/4 years – not a big deal either way IMO, although I do agree that the lack of an upper house does have special significance for Queensland possibly making 4 years a bit too long.

    If I were a Queenslander I’d be voting ‘no’ on this, but I’m not so I’ll leave it up to them to decide while I remain thankful this is almost certainly never going to happen at a Federal level.

  4. The big problem for me is the incidence of political leaders that make a set of strong promises and then proceed vigorously to do the exact opposite when in power.

    Being risk-averse I would even vote for 2 year terms.

  5. The fixed term has NO chance of success.

    No one is even mentioning it. It is a quiet embarrassment. No party is handing out any information. It is dead as a doornail – acltually even deader since the odd elctomagnetic current runs through a door nail (a metal one anyway).

  6. William

    Yes I can verify that in my ward at least Labor has way, way out campainged the LNP.

    The Greens have nearly equalled the LNP effort – hard to believe – may be not equalled but solid presence at prepoll – a two week arduous duty now de-rigour in campaigning in Qld State and local elections. I do not think it exists in the same way federally but prepolling is now HUGE and is indeed the biggest “booth.”

  7. I’m still undecided about which way I’ll vote on fixed terms tomorrow. In my opinion, the pros and cons are as follows:


    Well, there’s really only one argument against four year fixed terms in QLD, but its a biggie: the aforementioned lack of an upper house. Were it not for this, I’d be voting yes in a heartbeat. But the idea of another Newman-esque LNP government being able to run riot for four years is enough to give me serious pause.

    Now, as for the Pros:

    Imagine for a second that the Newman government did have an extra year before facing the polls. While they most likely would have been able to do a significantly more damage, I would have to think that the extra would have almost certainly allowed Labor to win a majority and avoid a lot of the issues the Palasczuk government is currently facing. Hell, if the Labor opposition wound up consistently ahead in the polls, we may well have seen Newman get rolled and the LNP descend into chaotic leadershit. Likewise, had Newman gone to the polls a little bit earlier, or had certain seats or preferences fallen a bit differently, the LNP could easily have scraped together a slim majority and still be in government for another three years. Or look at Anna Bligh: if, say, her first election as Premier had been in 2010 istead of 2009, that may well have meant Springborg won a narrow victory (or even ended up in charge of a (probably unpopular) minority government) then instead of the absolute slaughter Labor received in 2012. Now, I doubt an extra year would have done Labor any good in Bligh’s final term, but I can’t imagine they could have done any worse either!

    I’m of the opinion (and I fully admit I’m basing this primarily on observation and my own flawed feelpinions) that four year terms both give poor governments more chance of being kicked out in their first term and good governments facing defeat more chance of turning things around and being re-elected. After three years, a lot of voters will still be willing to give a new government – no matter how poorly they are performing – another chance. That extra year gives voters time to really get sick of the government – by the next election, the government and premier (or PM) doesn’t feel like first-termer anymore, but rather that they’ve been in power for a while. Likewise, that extra time until the next election means that new opposition leaders following a change of government don’t seem to be fighting such a losing battle.

    Additionally, I would note that the ACT has both four year fixed terms and a unicameral parliament, and hasn’t descended into a dictatorship just yet, though I daresay the ACT Libs are a bit more benign than the ones we’ve been gifted with here in Queensland.

    Oh, and correct me if I’m wrong here, but if the government loses a motion of no confidence or whatnot, there still has to be an early election, yeah? Its not like the election has to be four years later, no ifs or buts?

    I dunno, it’s still something I have to think about, but solely on the basis of our lack of an upper house, I’m leaning towards No.

    As for the Brisban City Council election, well that’s easy enough – I’ll just be voting 1 Green, 2 Labor as (almost) always. Most likely I’ll just exhaust after the Greens and Labor, since – going off of Antony Green’s guide – none of the independents in either my ward or the mayoral race seem worth preferencing.

  8. Asha, 7

    Regarding no-confidence motions, I think that it’s possible for the crossbench in the lower house to switch and support the opposition leader instead of the leader, and then they will be sworn in instead (like what happened in 1940 in the hung parliament). There was a Pyne/KAP pact that indicated if Palaszczuk went to an early election, it would result in them putting confidence in Springborg. It’s obviously possible for an early election to be called too, if the crossbench don’t put confidence in the opposition either.

  9. The situation in the ACT is a little different, because if the ACT Government did start rounding up dissidents into a gulag on Black Mountain Peninsula then the Federal Parliament could always pass legislation to abolish the Assembly.

  10. Just voted pre-poll in the Brisbane City Council election. HUGE. Had to queue for 20 minutes. If early voting is a sign of a mood for change, the LNP could be up for a nasty surprise.

  11. A unicameral parliament is great (preferable, in fact) provided that it is proportionally elected with a low enough quota to ensure parliamentary representation of a diverse range of viewpoints and interests in the electorate. ACT has a unicameral Hare-Clark proportional system. We ought to have this kind of system in all states and territories and at the national and local levels of government.

    Queensland has a single legislative chamber made up of winner-take-all single member electorates. This turns pluralities of the vote into lopsided parliamentary majorities. The parliamentary committee system is weak. The history of the rule of law in this state is grim. Corruption and abuses of power are major problems. The system has delivered several strongman style leaders: Gair, Bjelke-Petersen, Beattie, Newman. Minorities, dissenters, and whistleblowers are subject to harsh treatment. Fundamental freedoms such as those of speech, association, and assembly have a tenuous history and continue to be vulnerable.

    Queensland’s relatively short parliamentary term is one of the few checks on executive power. It needs to be preserved until proportional representation is introduced. Sequencing of political development matters a great deal. Lengthening the term before improving democratic accountability would be dangerous.

  12. Nicholas
    [Fundamental freedoms such as those of speech, association, and assembly have a tenuous history and continue to be vulnerable.]
    Haven’t been here recently, have you?

  13. ajm

    Ever heard of laws that target a class of people based on their associations? Anti-bikie laws are condemned by civil liberties and legal organisations as a breach of freedom of association and due process. Those laws were rammed through our winner-take-all parliament by people who lack respect for the principles and customs of constitutional democracy.

    This is a current problem in this state. The appointment of a highly partisan and woefully unqualified Chief Justice who did the executive’s bidding on anti-biking laws and tried to interfere in an election count happened in the past two years. Sure, he was kicked out due to a rebellion by fellow judges and the legal community, but it shouldn’t have happened in the first place. It wouldn’t have happened in a state with a strong constitutional democracy. The Gordon Nuttall corruption case is from the past decade. You are naive if you think that the violations of the Bjelke-Petersen could never recur.

  14. Nicholas

    And the people kicked Newman and his gang out in a democratic election for doing all that. Because we do actually have democratic elections, you know, with pretty fair electoral boundaries.

    No place is perfect but we seem to have avoided a lot of the problems that have afflicted other states.

  15. aim

    [No place is perfect but we seem to have avoided a lot of the problems that have afflicted other states.]

    You obviously have a bad memory if you don’t remember the Joh era of corruption, police brutality, hounding people out of work and the state, denial of the right to protest etc etc…

    Until Qld has a bill of rights to protect people from the politicians AND has proportional representation in Parliament, any extension of the term of Parliament should be opposed. Two years of brutal minded government is more than enough! Four years is appalling.

  16. swamprat

    Remember it well but that was a long time ago and many things have changed, not least a great maturing of civil society and an infusion of migrants from south of the border.

    Incidentally, I voted against the 4 year terms because I think that the argument that governments need to do unpopular things and hope they get accepted before the next election is false. Governments need to bring the people along with them and keep up the genuine conversations with the voters throughout their terms. Something the current government is doing pretty well, I think, in contradistinction to Newman’s mob. No doubt helped by their rathere precarious position in the House, but I think the Newman experiment will be a cautionary tale for Queensland governments for decades to come.

  17. And the people kicked Newman and his gang out in a democratic election for doing all that

    And now both major parties are trying to reduce the frequency of opportunities that Queenslanders get to do this. It’s a terrible idea for a state with weak accountability mechanisms.

  18. No upper house, no 4 year terms. Qld has very poor quality politicians. Very limited public policy knowledge. Both labor and LNP too beholden to developers: whether that be property, casinos or mines. The only avenue of recourse to interrupt this seems to be elections. Not that elections are effective in interrupting this. But heck. I won’t condone it for 4 yrs at a time.

  19. http://www.goldcoastbulletin.com.au/news/council/gold-coast-council-election-2016-exclusive-reachtel-poll-tips-gary-baildon-for-surfers/news-story/9382c4d0a7ebe94f38846eb33ab0de3f
    [Gold Coast Council election 2016: Exclusive ReachTEL poll tips Gary Baildon for Surfers
    March 18, 2016 8:39am

    FORMER mayor Gary Baildon is in the box seat to return to the Gold Coast City Council as the new Surfers Paradise councillor, an exclusive Bulletin poll has found.

    But more than one quarter of Division 7’s residents are yet to decide who they will support as their divisional councillor at today’s elections.

    An exclusive ReachTEL poll conducted for the Bulletin this week puts Mr Baildon as the frontrunner for the blue-ribbon council division, based on a survey of 602 residents across the division on Wednesday night.]

  20. [No place is perfect but we seem to have avoided a lot of the problems that have afflicted other states.]
    You must be joking. I suspect a Fitzgerald inquiry level investigation of what happened under the Newman premiership and Quirke mayoralty would unearth all sorts of unpleasant realities about Qld and Brisbane in recent years. Fitzgerald himself has expressed public concern.

    An extraordinary amount of money has been sunk into failed Qld infrastructure projects, and an extraordinary amount of latitude has been given to Brisbane developers with dubious project proposals. Billions have been made in the process. It is straight back to the Joh era, only changed political donation laws mean it was (probably) legal. We will never know for sure, because we will never find out who paid what to whom until it is too late.

  21. Just to be clear, the link above is not a dig at Labor. They have revealed the sources of their campaign funding before the election. Quirke has not.

  22. Could the government has just legislated in fixed 4 year terms rather than entrenching it via a referendum to alter the constitution?

  23. Went and voted at Mitchelton State School earlier. 1 Green, 2 Labor for both my ward (Enogerra) and the mayoral race (didn’t bother numbering any further preferences), and ended up deciding to vote No on the referendum.

    Speaking of the referendum, I wasn’t at all impressed with the ballot paper, which did not have a jot of information about what the referendum was actually about, simply listed my state electorate and instructions to tick Yes or No. The elderly woman in the booth next to me had no idea what she supposed to be deciding on, and had to ask me what the referendum question was (amusingly enough, when I explained it, she immediately said would be voting No because she wouldn’t have wanted another year of Campbell Newman, and they went on for a bit about “what a mistake voting for him was.”)

  24. Apparently I got a text message about an hour ago from “VotingInfo” to vote for “Team Quirk” and to “number just 1 square.”

    Don’t know how they got my number but I guess nobody got the memo that I left Queensland 6 years ago (or have clue where I stand politically).

  25. I am voting an emphatic NO to 4 year terms. And preferencing liberals ahead of ALP as Quirks team has personally done some very good ( non corrupt) things for my family and our area. Also the lazy ALP rep only started campaigning one week ago. Also extremely unimpressed with all of the. ALP BS over the past few weeks federally.

  26. I did vote yes on the four year terms. But it’s clear that the referendum will sink.

    The mayoral race looks interesting though – looks like it might be close.

  27. Certainly the Queensland parliament can do what the Con-Dems did and pass an Act requiring, say, a 2/3rd majority to approve an early election outside a vote of no confidence. That would provide political stability, but not be set in constitutional concrete.

    However there is a 50-50 argument that no further changes to the ‘constitution’ (of parliament) can be entrenched in the Constitution without referendum. (John Pyke’s text gives the reasoning). That’s because of a slippery move in Joh’s days. Slippery because it’s one thing to have an entrenched Constitution a la the Australian national one. And one thing to have a flexible, parliamentary based Constitution. But for Joh’s generation of MPs to pull up the gate on flexibility, without a referendum at the time, is pretty circular and dead-hand.

    I’m not proud to have run hard on the ‘No’ side, it goes against the grain. But the proposal was rigged and rushed. Then the 2 major parties sought to assert rather than argue its virtues. By rolling out business and union leaders asserting its virtues.

    If it fails, it will be proof of the problem. No upper house or PR, so no means to slow down the bill (which was forced through on the last sitting day of 2015) nor alternative voices to say ‘Whoah. What sounds good to the parties of government might take a wee-bit of voter education to prepare the electorate, especially one that’s just swung 15% both ways at the last 2 polls, and is not unaware of Queensland’s history of muscular, occasionally steam-roller government’.

    Instead we were treated to a short ‘campaign’, with nothing but the century-old black n white 1000 word cases in the letterbox. Followed by a flurry of A/G and Shadow A/G taxpayer funded travel in the last week, as the Yes case realized people weren’t mushrooms.

    Oh, and that the Premier threatening an early election rather undermined the case for fixing, longer terms in constitutional stone.

    If it loses there will be hand-wringing. And backroom talk about how the people are naïve and don’t know how complex modern government is…

  28. icancu
    [the lazy ALP rep only started campaigning one week ago.]
    Garbage. Rod Harding has been campaigning fo a year and in our are we have been campaigining (letterboxing, street stalls, doorknocking, phone calls, etc etc since well before Christmas.

  29. Jumped the gun there Airlines. Antony says it was rubbish data.

    I’d like to know if there is a broadcast for the BCC election, Antony says he isn’t involved in any live tv coverage.

  30. [Quirky Quirk looks safe.]
    Thee goes another few billion in funds. Expect the share price of tunnelling contractors to rise on monday.

  31. Results aren’t working at the ABC, and the ECQ results site isn’t happening for me either. But apparently it’s close in the referendum, and “LNP leads count in 13 wards. ALP 5. IND 1.”

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