Unhappy families

While Peter Beattie obviously could have hoped for a smoother start to his campaign, The Poll Bludger is not getting too excited about either the Merri Rose resignation or Mike Reynolds’ localised troubles in Townsville. Taking a step back for a moment, one need only look at the last two years’ Newspoll results to get an inkling as to why the Coalition can’t get a sniff no matter what disasters befall the government. Throughout that period the senior coalition partner, the National Party, were lucky to make it into double figures, and despite edging upwards in the past few surveys they are currently on a well-short-of-respectable 13 per cent. Even though the conventional wisdom says that the Liberals have been performing little better, they have left the Nationals in their wake in each survey, the current margin of 22 to 13 being the closest the Nationals have managed to get during the period in question. Put simply, the National Party has no business being the senior partner and the Queensland Coalition will not become competitive until this archaic anomaly is corrected.

In theory the Goss government’s introduction of one-vote one-value should have done the job by now, but the Nationals have carried on in their time-honoured habit of winning more seats than the Liberals from fewer votes. To an extent this can be explained in terms of the geographically concentrated nature of National Party support relative to the Liberals, an invaluable asset in single-member electorate systems, as well as the deep-rooted institutional dominance the Nationals attained throughout the long years of National/Country Party hegemony, notoriously secured by a system of malapportionment and gerrymandering that did more damage to the Liberals than Labor. This was in part perpetuated by National members lingering on in seats that could theoretically have been won by the Liberals, but weren’t due to the convention that challenges not be made against sitting members. However, attrition (and there was a great deal of that in 2001) should have rectified this over time.

The fundamental reason for the Liberals’ failure to assert themselves has been the devastating effect of the Pauline Hanson phenomenon upon their representation over the last two elections. The outcome of the last election left no room for argument about the necessity of avoiding three-cornered contests, but with only three MPs to show for themselves the Liberals entered negotiations from a pitifully weak position. The deal that was cut allowed the Liberals to contest 43 of the 66 Labor-held seats, which sounds good until you go through the Mackerras Pendulum* from The Australian on Wednesday and mark the electorates being contested by the Liberals (and if there are any eligible ladies out there, yes I’m still available). In the unusually well-stocked section of the pendulum featuring electorates held by Labor with margins of 20 per cent or more there are 16 seats to be contested by Liberal candidates against five allocated to the Nationals. Moving down to the other end of the Labor column, let’s say Malcolm Mackerras is right and there really is a uniform 7 per cent swing to the Coalition (yes I know he doesn’t really say that, but indulge me here). Assuming no changes to the One Nation and independents situation (and it would be to the Nationals’ benefit if there were) that will mean an extra eight seats to the Nationals and only six to the Liberals.

It could be that the significance of recent poll results is that those six electorates (Noosa, Clayfield, Kawana, Indooroopilly, Aspley and Mudgeeraba) are more likely to fall the Coalition’s way than the eight in the Nationals’ firing line (Burnett, Burleigh, Toowoomba North, Charters Towers, Broadwater, Thuringowa, Burdekin and Redlands). Certainly the Poll Bludger hopes this is so because a rejuvenated Liberal Party is the essential element for a revival of Queensland as a two-party state. At present though it appears it will take more than one election to effect this outcome.

* By the way, Mackerras has some different figures from the ones used in my list as he is using projections to calculate two-party Labor versus Coalition results in many cases where the ultimate two-candidate preferred outcome included independents, One Nation or both. I’m sticking with what I have because I’m interested in how close the seats came to changing hands last time, rather than the two-party contest.

Administrative affairs

The Poll Bludger’s long-awaited domain name is now in business, so amend those bookmarks to www.pollbludger.com. Big up to Crikey for their Poll Bludger awareness-raising efforts in this week’s sealed sections. Apologies to Townsville Greens candidate Theresa Millard whom I falsely accused of being a marine scientist. Her party’s website has her as a "former journalist, academic and government adviser". Thanks to Millard, Antony Green, Malcolm Farnsworth, Troy Reeves and Charles Richardson for their error-spotting and fact-pointing-out – keep them coming here.

Bronx cheers all round as the ABC finally gets it together to post Antony Green’s Queensland election guide on its website. Loud boos for their removal of the archived guides to previous elections going back to 2001 – express your displeasure to Aunty’s minions here. And as the campaign moves into full swing, keep a regular eye on Peter Brent’s observations at Mumble.

Theresa Green

The Queensland Greens went into the election suffering internal problems that would have derailed the campaign of a major party, but The Poll Bludger is calculating that bedlam and disarray are not entirely unattractive to the Greens’ constituency and the party’s candidates will not suffer much damage to their primary vote. For the time being two Greens candidates appear of interest – ABC broadcaster and household name Andrew Carroll in Mount Coot-tha, and Theresa Millard in Townsville.

The media spotlight is today upon the latter contest following Millard’s claims she had been approached by operatives for Mike Reynolds, her Labor opponent and erstwhile employer, offering her a deal in which she would "run dead" in exchange for support for her tilt at a spot on local council. But Millard had already proved that she had learned a thing or two in her capacity as Reynolds’ media adviser by achieving a sensational amount of local coverage in her pre-election campaigning, making almost daily appearances in the Townsville Bulletin throughout December and the early part of this year. The Poll Bludger wondered how well Millard’s vocal advocacy for the area’s "marginalised" citizens would play in regional Queensland, where the cause of drunken itinerants is not normally considered a vote-winner, and still does. But she had certainly filled the vital prerequisite for success for non-major party candidates in establishing her presence within the local area. The current media frenzy should consolidate this achievement and perhaps establish her in the mind of her electorate as a paragon of non-partisan purity who stands above the cynical deal-making and sordid politicking that give the major parties a bad name.

Her chances of actually getting elected depend very much on what ends up happening with Liberal preferences. Greg Barns recently argued that a mooted ALP preference deal would put them out of the hunt by robbing them of Liberal preferences, and if he’s right the party’s state director Drew Hutton will indeed have a lot to answer for. The Greens haven’t run a candidate in Townsville since 1995 when they polled a very healthy 13.8 per cent, their second best performance in the state. Millard’s first challenge is to beat the Liberal candidate into second place, which looks like a pretty big ask given the Liberals polled 35.5 per cent of the vote last time around. It’s certainly not impossible though, provided Liberal preferences flow to her rather than exhausting once she’s over that hurdle. That of course depends largely on how things end up on the Liberal how-to-vote card – more details on that as the situation unfolds.

Merri, Merri, Quite Contrerri

Day two of the Queensland election campaign had been dominated by point scoring over child abuse, accusations of financial irresponsibility, the land clearing debate, and other matters The Poll Bludger would be better off leaving to people who know about such things. Then in the early evening the campaign suddenly came to life, from both a psephological and political perspective, thanks to that incessant source of bad news Merri Rose (the Minister for Racing, Gaming and Tourism). Most of the headaches Rose caused during the current term related to her extremely liberal attitude as to what constitutes proper use of her electorate car, but there was also the problem of her evidently imperious attitude towards the many lesser mortals who worked for her. Reports of Rose abusing drivers and intimidating staff members emerged in mid-2002, just in time for the launch of a nanny state government awareness campaign about workplace bullying (for more on Rose’s travails, check the profile of her electorate of Currumbin in the Poll Bludger’s guide to the Queensland election).

Late today the workers’ compensation regulator, Q-Comp (here I must say that I am willing to lend public support to any party promising to abolish proactive new-age names for government agencies like this one) found that Rose had pressured a staffer into falsifying documents, a matter that will now be investigated by the Crime and Misconduct Commission. Attempting to recall historical parallels for the current state of affairs, two events spring to The Poll Bludger’s mind – Phillip Lynch’s resignation as Treasurer going into the 1977 federal election, and Victorian Shadow Treasurer Robert Dean being ineligible to stand in 2002 because he was falsely enrolled. Readers are invited to email me here if they can think of others.

This doesn’t help us much, because Lynch’s party romped home in the first case and Dean’s was annihilated in the second. But this is Peter Beattie we’re talking about here, and whether it’s genius or dumb-ass luck we’re dealing with, you can take it for granted that the former example is likely to be nearer the mark. For one thing, the loss of Rose might be described as a mixed curse. To lose even one minister always looks like carelessness, but in one sense Beattie must be relieved that his cabinet is no longer carrying Rose’s baggage. Presumably he had at least some inkling that the release of a Q-Comp finding was afoot and calculated that such an event early in the campaign would be quickly forgotten. If so he was most likely correct – despite headlines like "Minister resigns, rocking Beattie" (from NineMSN, who surely don’t need a link from little old me), the fate of the state tourism minister is unlikely to cause the electorate enough alarm to sustain them through even this brief an election campaign.

From an election buff’s perspective though, Rose’s Gold Coast electorate of Currumbin is looking more interesting than ever. It shouldn’t be, with her margin of 14.5 per cent, but the area in which her electorate is located is more ripe than most for a correction at the coming poll. Last time around the swings to Labor in this neighbourhood ranged from a modest 10.3 per cent in Burleigh to a mere 18.4 per cent in Mudgeeraba. These people have voted conservative before and can very easily do so again, especially if the opinion polls continue to make an overall Labor victory appear a foregone conclusion.

More comment tomorrow on the Theresa Millard situation in Townsville, providing I wake up early and unhungover enough.

Queensland election: Day 1 highlights

Queenslanders, pundits, opposition MPs and Poll Bludgers alike were caught on the hop when news emerged around 11am that Peter Beattie was interrupting his holidays to pass on his personal regards to Governor Quentin Bryce. The outline of Beattie’s strategy has been quick to emerge – catch the Opposition on the hop, keep the campaign short and aggressively push the message that the Government will do nowhere near as well as everybody says.

A mark of his success on the first point was the manner in which the National Party website, dormant for a fortnight, suddenly spluttered back into action yesterday. The party still hasn’t nominated candidates for a number of seats allocated to it in the coalition agreement, including theoretically winnable Thuringowa and Hervey Bay. As for the Liberals, if you’re in the vicinity of their head office in the next few days and have nothing on in the coming weeks, you might want to volunteer your services as candidate for one of the many unwinnable seats the party won the right to contest as part of the coalition agreement (more on that at a later date).

It remains the conventional wisdom that One Nation will only cause trouble in a few regional seats, but it would be putting it mildly to say that the Hanson phenomenon has thrown up surprises before. One Nation are calling for their former messiah to "play a role" in their campaign, while Hanson herself is not ruling out the possibility of entering the ring as a candidate, although most talk since her release from prison has been that she would either run for the Senate or indulge in a spiteful, pointless gesture by standing against Tony Abbott in Warringah. Unless Hanson involves herself personally, the conventional wisdom is hard to fault on this occasion.

The Poll Bludger has long assumed that shrill child protection advocate Hetty Johnston would take advantage of the current political climate by running as an independent, as she has done in previous elections. But she is instead talking about running for the Senate, surely an act of folly unless there is a double dissolution. In any circumstance, the last thing Australian parliaments need is another Franca Arena.

News flash: Beattie calls Queensland election

News.com.au reports that Peter Beattie is on his way to Government House to call a state election for February 7. Both the date and the announcement have come earlier than most expected, fortuitously on the same day that the Courier Mail reported the Government would enter the campaign with a $400 million stamp duty windfall to play with.

For more information on the contest now at hand, pundits are once again reminded to look no further than the Poll Bludger’s seat-by-seat guide to the Queensland election.