That’s how people in other states of Australia refer to Queenslanders. The state election on March 24, resulting in the biggest electoral loss for the Australian Labor Party in any election since the Second World War, says much about the people of this very enigmatic place, but has profound implications for Labor federally, and democracy in Australia more broadly.
The government of Premier Anna Bligh, which after the 2009 election held 51 of the 89 seats in the Brisbane parliament, have been reduced to a rump of probably only seven seats (currently eight, but Bligh herself resigned from parliament after the election, forcing the voters of her seat of South Brisbane to an immediate by-election, which Labor is sure to lose); a figure so low that under Queensland electoral law, they no longer even qualify as a political party for electoral purposes, starving them of funds at the next election. The Liberal-National Party (formed in 2008 by the merger at state level of the two parties which form the federal conservative Coalition), led by 48-year old former Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, have made a near clean sweep, winning 78 seats, or 88% of the vote; to all intents and purposes, that’s a one-party state.
“Can-do Campbell” as he became known during his mayoral term, an ex-army major and the son of two former federal government ministers from Tasmania, took the daring and unprecedented step of resigning the Lord Mayoralty and assumed the leadership of the state Opposition while not holding a seat in parliament. Spurning the safe LNP seat of Moggill in Brisbane’s south-west, he instead nominated for pre-selection of the neighbouring seat of Ashgrove, held by Labor’s Kate Jones with a margin of over 7%. This meant that potentially, the LNP could win government but Newman himself would be left out of parliament, and in fact out of politics entirely. As it transpired, Newman took Ashgrove comfortably, with a swing against Labor of 13.8%.
Historically, Labor have themselves to blame for the current civic arrangements. The Queensland Parliament, founded in 1860, was like all other states a bicameral parliament. However, the upper house (the Legislative Council) was viewed in the early days of Federation (more or less correctly) as a vehicle for patronage and the tool of wealthy landowners, in a state slightly larger than Alaska, or seven times larger than the United Kingdom. Having gained an upper-house majority for the first time in 1919, Labor Premier “Red Ted” Theodore organized his famous “suicide squad”, who in 1921 voted the Legislative Council out of existence. Despite entreaties of other political parties to the British government (specifically, the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill) it was decided the matter of Queensland’s constitutional arrangements was “essentially one for determination locally”. This resulted in Queensland becoming Australia’s first (and to date, only) unicameral state parliament (the territorial parliaments of the ACT and NT have always been unicameral).
This has important consequences arising from the electoral result in Queensland. Historically, in Australian state elections where one party has won a large majority in the lower house (Legislative Assembly), voters have tended to temper their enthusiasm with a more balanced vote in the Legislative Council. In the next Queensland parliament, however, Newman’s word is going to be uncontested law, for the next few years at least. The upside of this is there will be absolutely no legislative gridlock in the Sunshine State for the foreseeable future, enabling the LNP’s reformist platform to be implemented swiftly and effectively.
On the other hand, it has opened the way for calls for action on more controversial matters outside the LNP platform; matters which probably could only be seriously aired in a circumstance such as this. For example, there are calls for Newman to establish a full Parliamentary Inquiry into the Heiner Affair, about which LibertyGibbert will have more to say later this year. Further out, others, sensing a window of opportunity, are calling for issues like the re-introduction of the death penalty to be put on the legislative agenda—not that there’s any prospect of that happening. The emergence of the slightly embarrassing Katter’s Australia Party, which won two seats from Labor (one of which, the mining town of Mt Isa, was won by Katter’s own son) ensures that noise, if not pressure, on these types of issues will continue, at least until 2015.
According to all polls and surveys, the Queensland election was decided on a mixture of state and federal issues. At a state level, voters punished the Bligh government for misleading them prior to the 2009 election on the issues of fuel rebates and asset sales. If for no other reason, lying to the electorate is a sin which has terminal repercussions for the Gillard government in Canberra. It would be over-egging the issue to say that the Queensland election was predominantly a referendum on Gillard’s Carbon Tax and Mining Super Profits Tax, but the fact remains that, along with Western Australia, Queenslanders stand to bear the brunt of these two undemocratic imposts, and have let their feelings be known in no uncertain terms. Labor’s power base in Queensland is overwhelmingly concentrated in the small urbanized south-east corner covering Brisbane and the Gold Coast, but in reality, primary industry still forms the backbone of Queensland’s economy, and the majority of Queenslanders work in these sectors or their support industries. The end result could be seen a mile off. After all, the Maroons are a passionate bunch:
This is the stark arithmetic reality facing Labor. Last week, ABC TV’s resident psephologist Antony Green projected the Queensland results onto the 2013 federal election. This is actually a complex exercise as state and federal electoral boundaries do not match and a best estimate must be compiled on a booth-by-booth basis. Green concluded that, were Queenslanders to repeat their voting patterns in next year’s federal election, Labor would win ZERO seats; all eight of Labor’s federal Lower House members from Queensland, including Treasurer Wayne Swan, former PM and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd and Trade Minister Craig Emerson, would be out on their arses. Labor wouldn’t be decimated, it would be completely wiped out—finished, for all time, as a political force in Queensland.
The reasons are many, and I have detailed them last year back here; but now many intellectuals of the Left are saying the same thing. Rodney Cavalier, former NSW state Education Minister and historian of the Labor Party, said as much following the equally disastrous 2011 NSW state election. So did leftist Professor Robert Manne in a surprisingly eloquent essay in The Monthly recently. Labor is crumbling from the bottom up. Whereas once every small town and suburb in the country had a branch of the ALP, by 2012 the majority of them have either closed or are functionally useless, being mere puppets of the state and federal executive. Pre-selection battles are a sham that Labor no longer even tries to disguise, being either rorted by branch-stacking or over-ruled at the executive level. Unless or until Labor once again becomes the grass-roots organisation it began as, and re-discovers its core beliefs, it will become a spent force in Australian politics—a profoundly dangerous development in our democracy, as I have argued previously. Nature abhors a vacuum, and the void left behind by Labor seems certain to be filled by a party which is effectively a coalition of unreconstructed Communists and the wackiest fringe of the Lunar Left. Behold the coming of the Little Green Men.