This was no ordinary election defeat. This was no ordinary landslide defeat. It is quite possibly the worst defeat of a major party at any state election in modern Australian political history.
When you look at the voting figures, it is terrible, but not unprecedented. Labor’s primary vote of 26.6% is higher than the 25.5% recorded at the 2011 NSW election. Likewise, the two-party-preferred swing will result in a similar 2PP result to the ALP’s defeat in 2011 in New South Wales.
But when you look at the seat-by-seat results, this was devastating. The LNP’s vote was incredibly well distributed, and a primary vote of less than 50% allowed the LNP to win a massive supermajority in the Legislative Assembly.
As of 10:30 Queensland time, the ABC is projecting 78 seats for the LNP, 7 seats for the ALP, 2 seats for Katter’s Australian Party, and two seats for independents.
There are probably a number of reasons for this result. Part of it was caused by the high vote for Katter’s party. Along with winning two seats in far north Queensland, Katter’s party performed very strongly in a large number of seats, and outpolled Labor in many seats.
An immediate cause is Queensland’s electoral system. Optional preferential voting, single-member districts and a lack of ultra-safe Labor seats meant that a large LNP victory almost wiped out the Labor caucus.
This reminds me of a number of Canadian elections, including the 1993 federal election, when the governing Progressive Conservative party was reduced to only two seats. At the 2001 British Columbian provincial election, the governing New Democratic Party was wiped out, only holding two seats compared to 77 seats for the Liberal Party.
We don’t usually see these results in Australia, but there’s nothing about our electoral system that stops them. It’s possible for a single-member result to produce an overwhelmingly lopsided result which doesn’t reflect the votes. While we rarely get a result that proportionally reflects our vote, the result is usually diverse enough for both parties to remain viable. Both parties usually have a solid core of safe seats that sustain them in hard times.
In contrast, Labor is going to have an extremely tough time now. With only 7 MPs, they will be completely unable to serve as an effective opposition, and will have very few resources to keep the Newman government in check. It raises interesting questions about the need for proportional representation, but I will blog about that later.
I plan on writing a second blog post focusing on the pattern of results, but here I want to focus on the general trends.
First of all, as I said earlier, this is no ordinary Labor defeat. This is a severe defeat that will make it difficult for Labor to compete in Queensland in the coming years and will likely make life harder for Labor in Queensland at next year’s federal election.
As for the reasons, I normally shy away from mixing federal and state political issues, but I can’t imagine that the state of Labor federally didn’t play a role. Whether it is the Gillard vs Rudd feuding, the carbon tax or the hung parliament, Labor’s difficulties federally surely made life harder for Bligh and increased the walloping she suffered tonight. Suddenly it’s not so hard to imagine Labor getting all but wiped out in Queensland at the next federal election.
On a broader scale, I would argue that Labor’s collapse, both in NSW and Queensland, is in part the consequence of the ongoing crisis of identity that has racked the ALP, and this crisis of identity could see the federal ALP suffer a similar defeat in 2013. Greens preferences won’t save the ALP from itself – at some point the party needs to work out what it is about, and give people a positive reason to vote for them. Otherwise defeats like that seen in Queensland will be repeated across Australia.
It was clearly a brilliant result for the Liberal National Party, but I think it does indicate that, regardless of the details, the conservative side of politics was headed for a big win. I can’t imagine that the LNP wouldn’t have been able to win without Campbell Newman. Indeed I can’t see how Labor could have beaten an unmerged National-Liberal coalition, although they may have held on to a few more Brisbane seats.
It was an impressive result for Katter’s party. It is difficult for any minor party to win single-member seats, and they won two of them. They also won large proportions of the vote in quite a few electorates.
For the Greens, I think it was a decent result in a hard election. I’m certainly not going to claim it was a fantastic result. Overall the Greens vote went backwards and they didn’t manage to come in the top two in any of those inner-city seats where the Greens have tried to challenge the major parties. Interestingly the Greens came second in Noosa.
As I said after the election in New South Wales, I don’t believe that these kinds of elections are fertile ground for the Greens. The Greens’ big result in the federal election was in the opposite climate: where people are less focused on changing government and open to alternatives. Usually in elections like this one in Queensland people go straight to the major party headed for government.
After the New South Wales election, there was a lot of criticism, both internally and externally, blaming the NSW Greens’ structure, public image and ideological direction for the failure to win Marrickville and the relatively small swing gained. The Queensland Greens ran a very different campaign and work very differently to the Greens NSW, yet similarly were unable to turn a massive defeat for the ALP to their benefit. I think this suggests that greater forces are at play. This isn’t to downplay the importance of all parties being self-reflexive. It’s just important to understand that external factors can play a big role in electoral fates, particularly for a minor party.
Tomorrow I plan on posting some more information on the geographical breakdown, as well as some thoughts on what this lopsided result says about our electoral system. For now, here are some maps.
The following maps show South-East Queensland and Far North Queensland at the 2001, 2009 and 2012 elections. Red represents Labor, blue represents Liberal/Liberal National, light green represents National, light blue represents seats won by the LNP at the 2012 election, and purple represents One Nation in 2001, and Katter’s Australian Party in 2012.