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. [Does the referendum only need a simple majority to pass? Not much of a mandate for fixed terms by the looks of it.]
    A majority is a majority and thus a mandate surely. The size of the majority doesn’t make it a mandate.

  2. Quirk still 58-42, with just over a fifth of the booths reporting 2PP. Referendum with ~1/12th in has

    YES 126,834 52.05%
    NO 116,858 47.95%

  3. Labor look like they have got a swing to them of around 10% to them, big but not big enough. Greens PV stationary in the Lord Mayor race. Quirk should be safe

  4. 52% isn’t a mandate on anything. It’s a legal majority on paper, but in real life 48% is an almost identical mass of people. The difference is negligible.

    That’s why proportional representation is vital wherever possible. Obviously that’s no help on binary questions like this, but in no reality is 52% anything more than a strictly technical paper mandate.

  5. [Close three-cornered contest in The Gabba, with LNP/ALP/GRN all with roughly 30-35% of the vote]

    Yes, presumably it’s effectively a FPTP race between ALP and GRN, with whoever is ahead on primary comfortably winning on preferences.

  6. Seats like The Gabba show the absolute comedic shambles that is single-seat constituency systems.

    A community split equally three ways is supposed to accept an MP from any one of those groups as the legitimate representative of the entire area? Ridiculous.

  7. [That’s why proportional representation is vital wherever possible. Obviously that’s no help on binary questions like this, but in no reality is 52% anything more than a strictly technical paper mandate.]
    I just don’t get the problem. A mandate is a mandate, technical or not.

  8. [A mandate is a mandate, technical or not. ]

    Mandate theory is bunk, but insofar as it counts, it counts for policies argued by all contestants as central to a particular election. OTOH it tends to get invoked for marginal policies important retrospectively for the winning team.

  9. [Seats like The Gabba show the absolute comedic shambles that is single-seat constituency systems.

    A community split equally three ways is supposed to accept an MP from any one of those groups as the legitimate representative of the entire area? Ridiculous. ]

    I’m increasingly inclined to think the BCC should have a multi-member zonal system.

  10. Th LNP and Labor made this referendum as low key as possible, ensuring that the first time most of their supporters heard of it was when they stood in a ballot booth holding an HTV card recommending a Yes vote. The referendum process is flawed when it can be rolled into a local council election and kept on the down low. There needs to be a constitutional requirement or at least customs and conventions that relate to a lengthy debate period comprising town hall meetings, deliberative polling exercises etc. it’s too easy for the two major parties to stitch up a self-serving amendment with close to no scrutiny.

  11. @Gary
    The final vote that pushes a victory over the line is no more valid than every other vote that got them there, or any surplus vote that builds the margin, or any opposition vote that tried to hold them back. Every individual vote winning or losing has to be valued equally and every group proportionately or else the whole thing becomes a joke. If you start treating a bare majority like a 100% mandate you’ve missed the whole point of the exercise.

    A simple majority of 50%+1 does not equal 100%. 50%+1 equals exactly 50%+1 and there’s a whole other 50%-1 right next door.

  12. PhoenixGreen
    Maybe we are talking about different things here. I’m only referring to the referendum, a two horse race. Are you talking more broadly?

  13. Greens had a strong result – 6% swing towards them on a council level to end up on 14%.

    ALP also did very well with that 10% TPP swing to Harding.

    Both should be proud of their results.

  14. Besides Queensland, which other states and territories use single-seat electorates for local government elections?

    I’m getting quite used to the multi-member proportional seats in Victoria. Brisbane Council almost looks like a mini-Queensland.

  15. R 70. SA has mostly multi-member proportional for local government. I think there are a handful of 1 member electorate but they are exceptional.

  16. Raaraa, 70

    I think (but am not sure) that there are a few single-member electorates in Victoria still, but they’re far from the majority.

  17. Will be interesting to see how preferences run between Greens and ALP (and LNP if they finish third anywhere0 with Qld OPV voting. Test of the effect of the rather overblown rowing over issues over the last week or so.

  18. ‘Mandate’ is a theory of government.
    A referendum is a binary vote.
    Not that it needs to be. Indeed nothing stops a state treating electors like adults and running a preferendum.
    Or, today, a two pronged question.

  19. Tasmanian councils are all full proportional (no wards).

    It’s about interpreting results both generally and in two horse races.

    I suppose I should be clear that I’m not disputing the legislative effect of a simple majority in a yes/no public vote (of course a majority should win!), only stressing that there is a massive difference in how you read “the people’s verdict” between a sort of 53-47 result which is honestly pretty much an equal split and a 70-30 result which is a much clearer statement. If it is possible to make the extent of the win proportionate to the extent of the verdict you should always do that.

    It grinds my gears when a slim majority or a swing of a few percentage points is taken more seriously than it should be. I mean if 7 family members around a dinner table took a vote and split 4-3 it sounds pretty damn close. Convert that into a percentage system and it looks like a 57-43 landslide. The 3 sods on the losing side are still a sizeable chunk of the family and shouldn’t be lorded over and ignored.

    The same goes for huge chunks of the population who end up on the wrong side of the line, they should get proportionate concessions (where practical).
    It’s the old pluralist democracy vs elected dictatorship argument.

  20. Given the 53.31 YES % with 46% vote counted it appears the 4 year fixed term atrocity will be proudly implemented by the Anna P Labor government despite her government having NO mandate from the people to run this referendum. At no time was this issue mentioned as policy or objective prior to the last election but here we are with it given the highest priority in the first year of government.
    If I wasn’t already a rusted on Anti 2 party voter before I certainly am now.

  21. PhoenixGreen@75

    Tasmanian councils are all full proportional (no wards).

    Which I as a Tasmanian reckon is great. When someone proposes reintroducing wards I look at them like they’re a relic from the stone age.

    Fascinating result on fixed four year terms. I know voters like the “fixed” part but still didn’t think it would get up at all. And would have voted against it myself, because when you have no upper house you need as many chances as possible to give the bastards the boot.

  22. I think the Queensland Greens would be ecstatic at the result so far. There’s the possible win from mid-thirties in The Gabba obviously but also currently scoring mid twenties in Calamvale, Paddington and Walter Taylor as well as lots of mid teens elsewhere. It’s nowhere near inner Sydney or Melbourne, but it does look like they’re making some inroads.

    An indicator is that some booths are returning over 40% Greens vote (eg. West End, Dutton Park, St Francis in Gabba). Also plenty of booths mid-thirties Green in several wards. Also interesting how some wards are getting quite heavy Greens votes while many others stuck down at a flat 8, 10, 12%. Seems to be more evidence that Greens vote is concentrating into hotspots, presumably because they’re getting better at deploying campaign resources.

  23. It looks likely that the referendum will just got up. I was opposed to it so I find that a bit disappointing. Still it is worth noting that the Yes vote was supported by Labor & LNP, plus big business, plus the Qld Council of Unions, plus the Courier-Mail. It was lowballed through at the same time as the Council elections and there was virtually no signage or effort at polling booths encouraging a Yes vote.

    The no vote was supported by the Katter Party, the Greens, the Council of Civil Liberties and a few academics and the like. The Greens had a Vote No message on the reverse of their how to vote cards and a few Vote No signs at some booths here and there.

    Understandably many candidates and campaigners were focusing on their Council campaigns rather than focusing on getting the message out on the referendum.

    Despite all that, the Yes vote seems to be steady at around 53% – hardly a resounding victory.

  24. Airlines@76
    Wouldn’t the referendum’s success be an indication of Palaszczuk having a mandate?

    Yes – If the referendum had been adequately debated and publicised and given reasonable time to be considered. Also the donkey vote of course was Yes. There should have been a 50/50 split of yes and no voting cards with no at the top – not all Yes at the top.

    Unfortunately the Greens and a few other parties/organisations weren’t strong enough to get the No message out there in the short time frame involved. From memory the actual wording was only determined some weeks before the poll and the yes/no case mailed to voters only 2-3 weeks before. Very sneaky when it hadn’t even been mentioned as a priority by anyone.

    Amazing that of all the issues and problems out there and people everywhere with uncertainty in their employment positions the ALP and LNP decided this was the priority issue when not even mentioned prior to the election. Give themselves a nice cosy cushy secure 4 year contract. Great if you can get it!

  25. It is quite surprising the referendum yes vote got up.

    I can assure you that it was not a campaing topic. Not a single bit of paper was handed out, not one party even had a poster in support.

  26. “Given the 53.31 YES % with 46% vote counted it appears the 4 year fixed term atrocity will be proudly implemented by the Anna P Labor government despite her government having NO mandate from the people to run this referendum. At no time was this issue mentioned as policy or objective prior to the last election but here we are with it given the highest priority in the first year of government.
    If I wasn’t already a rusted on Anti 2 party voter before I certainly am now.”

    Nice try, but no cigar. The bill was actually was proposed in parliament by the LNP which Labor approved with bipartisan support. Suggesting that Anastasia Palaszczuk has done this and heaped this on the electorate without a mandate is garbage, considering the public gets to vote on it.

    Guys try and be a little objective in your posts. The likely ‘YES’ result is starting to produce posts that are looking like the case of sour grapes.

    Referendums are hard to get up, and easy to throw scare campaigns to produce No results- which was successful in 1999 with the vote on the Australian republic. If the referendum gets up I applaud Queenslanders who approved the move in the face of some of the simplistic ‘anti-politicians’ arguments to get it voted it down.

  27. I think that the referendum result is a real case where the people decided. They each go t a bit of paper in the mail with the yes and no vote explained. There was no other literature about.

    Blame climate change!!!! Seriously it was hot as hell yesterday and maybe people were angry about being forced to vote.

  28. DTT,

    Or, you could always admit that you got the result wrong and have proven, once again, that you have no idea about such things.

    53% is a fairly convincing result and just because the commentariat may not like the outcome doesn’t mean it was not the considered opinion of a majority of Queenslanders.

  29. GG

    Not sure what you are getting at. I thought that the referendum had no chance because NO party was supporting it. Sure they said they did, but seriously it go NO attention. I repeat NO attention.

    Let me assure you I spent 25 or more hours at out and about on polling and only twice did anyone even ask about the issue and then everyone scrabbled for the answer. There was NO information in the hands of party workers. None zilch zero, and this was true of blue red and green.

    I assumed that voters would react with a no vote, because of zero attention. Obviously I was wrong. People prefer 4 year terms.

    But hey stop being a whinger, because frankly it was no biggie as an issue for me or many others.

  30. However I will upset GG and nearly all the ALP hacks here. It would appear from the results that the Senate fracas has not hurt Greens and has damaged Labor.

    The final tallies are not yet in and I am having trouble getting swings, but the greens got some very high percentages. 12%-18% votes in Enogerra. Now for those not in Brisbane this is traditionally fairly ordinary suburban NOT inner city latte sippers. There has been a major expansion of medium density living in the area which may have attracted younger voters but that is the only obvious change I can think of. A jump from 11% to 18% since the federal election in some booths.

  31. 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.

  32. Does anyone know why there are no votes recorded yet for Brisbane City Hall for the Lord Mayor and Councillor election.

    Does anyone know what Greens preferences were distributed/suggested on HTV cards for Brisbane CC elections and what ALP HTV preferences were distributed for BCC elections.

  33. Wakefield, 93

    I think, in the end, the Greens preferenced the ALP on their HTVs. I’m not sure how effective that was, or what the ALP did with theirs.

  34. I think one of the things that is interesting from the referendum is how well the ‘Yes’ vote is holding up in regional Queensland. It was predicted that regional Queensland would be the most hostile territory for the referendum.

    “The Mount Isa electorate was among those to record a strong ‘yes’ vote in counting last night. This comes despite the area’s local member Katter’s Australian Party MP Robbie Katter helping lead the ‘no’ case.”


  35. When Annastacia said she would not let anything stand in the way of securing jobs for Queenslanders I didn’t realise she was referring only to politicians.
    Sour grapes … definitely … because it is unfair… simple.
    Why should I be happy that a government has changed my constitution with no forewarning or proper debate.
    Heavens forbid the discussion we have had about the senate reforms over the past few weeks. Now that really sounded like sour grapes!

  36. 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.

  37. What happened to the ABC election page anyway? Did it undergo a meltdown, or was the ECQ to blame for the API that it provided?

  38. @daretotread:

    [It would appear from the results that the Senate fracas has not hurt Greens and has damaged Labor.]

    To be honest, I think the Senate changes will have gone straight over most voters’ heads, and I would be very surprised if it had any effect at all on the local government elections. Far more likely, IMO, is that the polling leading up to the Lord Mayoral race had just massively overstated Labor’s share of the vote, rather than some sort of late swing back to Graham Quirk and the LNP driven by the Senate shenanigans.

    It was still a good result for both Labor and the Greens. The last Brisbane council elections resulting in an utterly enormous landlside in the LNP’s favor – enough to make Bligh’s thrashing the week before seem fairly benign in comparison – and Quirk has been nowhere near as controversial (or even particular visible) as Campbell Newman was as premier. Labor still managed around a 10% swing (I think… ABC’s results page is still suffering from seemingly endless technical difficulties) – nowhere near enough to win the Lord Mayoralty or take control of the council, but not a result I think they will be especially disapointed with either.

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