Queensland 2012 Archive

QLD 2012: A broken system

In my previous posts I examined the results of the Queensland 2012 election and what it means for the ALP to be so decisively defeated.

The defeat of Labor by such a massive margin raises other questions about how well Queensland’s electoral system represents the will of the people, and whether it will be able to produce fair results in a multi-party system.

Our single-member-electorate system tends to produce results in Australia that are not proportional, but still give a solid proportion of the seats in parliament to the defeated major party. While the winning party usually wins a majority of seats without winning a majority of votes, the other major party (counting the Coalition as a single party) usually wins enough to be able to form a credible opposition. The lack of proportionality falls hardest on minor parties, who are usually locked out.

Yet there is nothing about single-member electorates that ensures such a balanced result, with one party winning a solid majority, but leaving the party enough seats to function in Parliament and serve as an effective opposition. The distribution of swings can mean the same statewide result can produce wildly different outcomes.

This can be seen in Queensland, where Labor managed 7/89 seats on 26.6%, compared to New South Wales a year earlier, where Labor managed 20/93 seats on 25.5%.

A large part of the explanation as to why Labor was hit so hard can be found in the high vote for minor parties. The Greens and Katter’s Australian Party together polled over 19%, with an additional 4% for other parties and independents.

When large minor parties take a large part of the vote and fail to win many seats, the result is that the dominant major party can win a super-majority with about half of the vote. This is particularly the case when most of those minor-party voters choose not to preference, as they did in Queensland.

A single-member system can become much more severely disproportionate and produce more lopsided results when a large number of voters cast their ballots for minor parties, and then choose to exhaust, effectively taking their votes out of the race. Katter’s party polled 13% and the Greens polled 7%. While there was a small number of seats where these parties were in the top two, most of these votes ended up exhausting, taking a fifth of Queensland’s voters out of the game.

As long as there are two large minor parties, a large proportion of voters will be taken out of play, and as long as those two parties take a large chunk of Labor’s vote away, the party will find it hard to compete. Even if the party can win back many of its seats in 2015, it will find it very hard to return to a majority without working more closely with either of those minor parties.

If Queenslanders continue to vote in such large numbers (over 23%) for candidates outside the major parties, the issue of proportional representation isn’t going to go away. We will continue to see around a quarter of the voters barely represented in that Parliament, and if the voters that Katter’s party and the Greens have taken from Labor don’t go back to Labor as preferences, it becomes very hard for the ALP to build the numbers needed to win government. This is going to be a long-term structural problem for Labor in both New South Wales and Queensland.

I think it’s a mistake for people to focus on campaigning for a proportional upper house. It is difficult to explain why we would create a second, less powerful house that would be elected by a different system. If the current system is unfair, why not change it? Extremely lopsided results like this one can make the issue of electoral reform relevant for people who wouldn’t normally see it as something that affects their lives.

In 2001, the governing centre-left New Democratic Party was decimated at the provincial elections in British Columbia, only winning 2 of 79 seats in the Assembly. The new Liberal government held 77. The extreme result was such that the issue of electoral reform took off, and a referendum on electoral reform almost passed at a referendum in 2005, only failing due to a 60% threshold imposed by the government.

History of electoral reform campaigning in countries like New Zealand suggests that the issue gains power as minor parties grow stronger, and in different parts of the political spectrum. At the moment the issue of electoral reform in federal politics largely benefits the Greens. If a significant right-wing minor party was to emerge, the issue would have a much large base of support.

I don’t think Katter’s Australian Party are going to disappear overnight. Australia’s right-wing minor parties remain divided and scattered, with different parties in each state. As long as there isn’t a right-wing minor party with similar levels of success to the Greens, able to win ground from the Liberals and Nationals, issues of electoral reform and fairness will be confined to the left. If Katter’s party is able to replicate its success on a national stage, or could bring in people who have supported other small right-wing parties, it may well produce the kinds of results that usually force a change on this issue.

If Labor continues to have its base eaten away on the left by the Greens and on the right by parties like the KAP, the electoral system will become a long-term problem for the centre-left. If the issue is no longer seen as one that only benefits the Greens, we may see some real movement on it.

QLD 2012: Surveying the wreckage

As of this morning, the result is Liberal National Party on 76 seats, the Labor Party on 6, Katter’s Australian Party on 2, and two independents. This leaves three seats too close to call: Bulimba, Mackay and Yeerongpilly. At the moment the ALP is ahead in Bulimba and Mackay and the LNP is ahead in Yeerongpilly.

Considering the scale of the Liberal National success, I’m going to focus instead on the other parties. Needless to say, the Liberal National Party gained seats everywhere. They gained Labor seats on the Gold Coast and throughout Far North Queensland. They knocked off the last Labor seat on the Sunshine Coast and 1-2 of Labor’s three remaining seats in Central Queensland. Meanwhile they well and truly dominated the Brisbane area. Before the election the LNP held only six seats in the greater Brisbane area: now Labor only holds 4-5.

The LNP also managed to regain the seats of Burnett and Beaudesert off defectors Rob Messenger and Aidan McLindon, and regained the seats of Nanango and Maryborough off other independents.

Labor now holds 6-9 seats after the election. These seats are:

  • Bundamba – Ipswich suburbs, 21.2% margin.
  • Inala – Brisbane suburbs, 21.5% margin.
  • Mulgrave – Cairns suburbs, 8.1% margin.
  • Rockhampton – Central Queensland, 17.9% margin.
  • South Brisbane – Inner Brisbane, 15.0% margin.
  • Woodridge – Logan, 25.4% margin.

And they might also win:

  • Bulimba – Inner Brisbane, 7.8% margin.
  • Mackay – Central Queensland, 16.7% margin.
  • Yeerongpilly – Brisbane suburbs, 8.7% margin.

If you look at these seats on the pendulum, it is a clear result. Bundamba, Inala, Rockhampton and Woodridge are the party’s four safest seats, with margins over 17%. The next two most marginal are Ipswich and Mackay. Mackay is currently undecided, and Ipswich was lost with a massive 20.8% swing, as predicted by commenters on this blog. South Brisbane is not much further down the pendulum. After South Brisbane you pass another ten seats before you reach Yeerongpilly, Bulimba and Mulgrave, which all had margins of 7-9%. Curtis Pitt’s survival in Mulgrave is largely due to a massive vote for Katter’s Australian Party undermining the LNP swing, while in Bulimba and Yeerongpilly the Labor MPs managed to keep the swings to lower levels from which they have a chance of survival.

Labor’s defeats put them in a severely weakened position. They now hold no seats north of the Brisbane, all the way until you get to Mackay and Rockhampton. They also hold no seats on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast or in Townsville. In the area of Brisbane south of the river, Ipswich and Logan, the party has been reduced to 4-6 seats, compared to 19 before the election.

In addition, the party holds 1-2 seats in Central Queensland and only one in North Queensland. In 2009 Labor won all three seats in Townsville, as well as all four covering Cairns, and Mount Isa. Out of these eight, Labor has held on to one, losing six to the LNP and one to Katter’s party.

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QLD 2012: Labor crushed

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.

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QLD 2012 – Final predictions

As is tradition on this blog, I’ve put together my prediction of the results. I never put much stock in these – it’s always very difficult to judge what will happen in individual seats. However I do consult the polls, the pendulum and try and factor in individual seats’ conditions. Often I’ll read through the comments feed on key seats to see which Labor seats have had hard-fought campaigns, which doesn’t always match with what the pendulum predicts.

You might be interested in reading my prediction for the 2009 Queensland election. It appears in two parts.

For the record, last time I predicted a hung parliament (so trendy!), with 42 Labor, 42 LNP, 5 Independents and no One Nation or Greens. I overestimated the LNP total by 8, the independents by one, and underestimated Labor by nine. It wasn’t a great prediction.

The time I’m predicting a massive defeat for Labor. The overall figures are:

Liberal National 68 (+34), Labor 15 (-36), Katter’s Australian Party 3 (+3) and Independents 3 (-1)

I’m predicting that the two sitting KAP MPs, Shane Knuth and Aidan McLindon, will hold on to their seats of Dalrymple and Beaudesert, effectively making them losses for the LNP, who won them in 2009. I also predict that Katter’s Party will win Mount Isa, where Robbie Katter is running. I predict that three of the four independents will hold their seats, but that Dolly Pratt’s seat of Nanango will return to the LNP, although I think this will be the next best seat for the KAP.

I then predict that the Liberal Nationals will gain a further 35 seats from the ALP, on top of the ALP’s loss of Mount Isa to Robbie Katter.

I predict that, after a close race, Campbell Newman will win the seat of Ashgrove and become Premier. Kate Jones has been a strong opponent, but I haven’t seen a single poll that has had her in the lead, even if they have been very close. I just can’t see her holding on against the tide.

It will be easier to list all the fourteen seats I expect Labor to hold on to, and these are Algester, Bundamba, Capalaba, Inala, Logan, Lytton, Mackay, Nudgee, Rockhampton, Sandgate, South Brisbane, Stretton, Sunnybank, Waterford and Woodridge.

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Queensland election: March 24

Today Anna Bligh announced that the next Queensland state election will be held on March 24 2012.

This is an unusually early announcement of the election date, which is due to a number of complicating factors. Bligh has stated that she had intended to call the election for March 3, but these plans came apart after the inquiry into the handling of the Queensland floods disaster delayed the release of its report until March 16.

Another complicating factor is the impending Queensland local government elections. These were scheduled for March 31, less than a week after the three-year anniversary of the last state election. It was not considered practical to hold both state and local elections in such close succession.

The state government has the authority to postpone the local government elections by regulation, and Bligh has announced that the council elections will be postponed until late April or early May. The government is planning to consult before announcing the election date, with a decision presumably needing to be made before the election is officially called on February 19, when the caretaker period will begin.

The Bligh Labor government is expected to struggle against the Liberal National Party, now lead by former Brisbane mayor Campbell Newman. Some have suggested that a longer campaign may help Labor against the LNP, but polling has the LNP well in front.

You can read about each electorate, and post your own comments about the campaign in each electorate, by going to the Tally Room’s Queensland election guide.

State electorates in south-east Queensland.

In addition, I’m announcing today that I have posted a complete set of Queensland local government ward boundaries as a Google Earth map. You can download the ward map for 2012, along with the current local government areas, the current state and federal electoral boundaries, as well as old sets of electoral boundaries for all three levels of government. You can download them all from the maps page.

Ward boundaries in South-East Queensland for the 2012 local government elections. Brisbane City Council wards are coloured blue for LNP or red for Labor.

Queensland election guide finished

Just in time for the end of the year, the Tally Room guide to the Queensland state election is now finished.

Profiles have been written for all 89 seats, as well as a summary of the last century in Queensland state politics, a summary of recent political events, and a summary of the key seats at the election.

I will continue to make updates to the lists of candidates and to the political analysis where the situation changes, and please feel free to engage in discussion in the comments section for each page.

The Queensland state election is due some time in the first half of next year, with the most likely dates being in February and March.

Now that preparations are finished for the Queensland state election, I’ll be moving on to preparing for the local government elections due in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and the Northern Territory in 2012. I’m unlikely to put together a guide for these elections as I have done for recent state and federal elections, but I will be hoping to put together new ward maps for all of those councils facing election.

Introducing the guide to the Queensland election

A state election is due in Queensland in the first half of 2012. As part of the Tally Room coverage of this election I am currently producing a guide for that election.

This follows on from guides I have produced on the 2010 federal election, 2010 Victorian state election and 2011 New South Wales state election. I will be producing a guide for each individual electorate, including history, lists of candidates, previous results, booth breakdowns and a series of maps. It is also possible for readers to comment on individual seat profiles with corrections or information about how the campaign is going in that seat.

So far I have written guides for eight seats – the eight most marginal Labor seats in Queensland. I’m planning to prioritise writing guides for Labor marginal seats before eventually writing guides for all 89 electorates. I’ll also do some general writing on the election campaign. I’m hoping to have the entire guide finished before the end of 2011.

At the moment it appears that Anna Bligh’s Labor Party is headed towards defeat after being in government for all but two years since 1989, and winning eight elections in a row. Bligh succeeded former Premier Peter Beattie in 2007, and then won another term in office for the ALP in 2009. She will be facing off against the Liberal National Party, created by a merger of the National Party and Liberal Party before the 2009 election. The LNP is now led by former Lord Mayor of Brisbane Campbell Newman. The LNP has bucked Australian political tradition by selecting a leader who is not already a member of Parliament. If Campbell Newman is to become Premier, his party doesn’t only need to win a majority of seats in the Queensland Legislative Assembly, but he will need to win the Labor seat of Ashgrove off former Environment Minister Kate Jones.

There are two points about these profiles that I would like to draw your attention to. Firstly, the list of candidates for each seat is unclear. The LNP and Bob Katter’s new political party have both posted lists of announced candidates on their website but I can’t find any definitive list of which ALP MPs are running for re-election. So if you have a reference confirming that someone is running as a candidate please post as a comment and I will update the profile. It’s also worth noting that the Electoral Commission of Queensland does not provide two-party-preferred data per booth. Because of this it is not possible to produce booth breakdowns or booth maps based on 2PP figures, so these are all based on primary vote figures.

You can start reading the profiles right now here at The Tally Room. I plan on tweeting from @thetallyroom Twitter account with links to each seat profile, with two new seat profiles being posted to Twitter every weekday.

Bob Katter launches new political party

Yesterday’s political news was dominated by the announcement by federal independent MP Bob Katter’s announcement that he will be forming a new political party to contest the next Queensland and federal elections. Katter has imaginatively called the party “Katter’s Australian Party”.

Katter has served as an independent since 2001, when he resigned from the National Party in protest at the Coalition’s neoliberal economic policies. He had previously held Kennedy as a National since 1993 and previously was a National state MP from 1974 to 1992.

While there have been comparisons to One Nation, Katter’s position does vary from that of Pauline Hanson when she founded One Nation in 1997. For a start, Katter has demonstrated a different attitude towards the indigenous population. More significantly, Katter has served almost continuously in federal or state parliament for the last 37 years. He also has ministerial experience.

Looking at Katter’s new party website, the party’s agenda is clearly aimed at a combination of economic protectionism, anti-neoliberalism and anti-environmentalism. His policies include stopping the sale of Queensland’s electricity assets, stopping the carbon tax, reducing the power of Coles and Woolworths and allowing people the freedom to fish wherever they wish.

The combination of right-wing stances on many issues with opposition to electricity privatisation and big business confuses many political commentators used to a simpler political spectrum, but it is definitely a niche that has been lacking in Australian politics.

Since the collapse of the Democrats, the Greens have close to a monopoly on progressive minor party voters. While small parties regularly contest elections with left-wing positions, only the Greens have representation in Parliament, and now have representation in almost every parliament in the country.

On the right-wing side, it is a very different picture. One Nation dominated right-wing minor party politics in the late 1990s and early 2000s but quickly fell away. We now have social conservative parties like Family First, the Democratic Labor Party and the Christian Democratic Party, who respectively have representatives in the upper houses of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales. Each has dominated this niche in their own state, and the DLP will have a federal senator from July 1 after narrowly defeating Family First’s Steve Fielding.

There are another group of right-wing political parties that are largely based on opposition to environmentalism. The only one of these to have parliamentary representation is the Shooters and Fishers Party, which has two seats in the NSW Legislative Council. Other small parties in this niche include the Fishing Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Outdoor Recreation Party. They generally support gun rights, oppose marine parks, and oppose protection of the natural environment if it impinges on the ability of people to use that space. You could also include the Climate Sceptics, as most of these parties tend towards denial of climate change science.

The third group I would classify to cover groups focused primarily on immigration and nationalism. These include the remnants of One Nation, Australia First and the Australian Protectionist Party. None of these parties have parliamentary representation. You could also say that Fred Nile’s Christian Democratic Party has taken on much of this agenda in New South Wales.

All of these parties tend to overlap on their agenda. While the Shooters and the CDP are elected on very different platforms, they usually vote together in the NSW Parliament, with the Shooters taking social conservative stances and the CDP supporting anti-environmentalist positions.

Generally, anti-environmentalist parties’ votes are concentrated in the country, while social conservative parties tend to do better in the outer suburbs of major cities.

I think Katter has a lot of potential to slot primarily into the niche currently occupied by the Shooters, as well as expanding it to cover a broader agenda of opposition to economic rationalism. His support is also likely to be concentrated in the country.

There is certainly potential there for Katter to build up a new minor party that could become dominant amongst right-wing minor parties, but it would take a lot of work. Katter has a reasonably high profile (probably much higher in rural Queensland) but he is no Pauline Hanson. The recent NSW Legislative Council election demonstrated the power of Hanson’s celebrity. A decade after her peak she still managed 2% of the statewide vote with practically no campaign.

For Katter to have any success he will need to work hard, building local branches campaigning on the ground and finding strong candidates to run. He’s unlikely to build much momentum if he only wins seats through defections from the LNP – these people will usually lose their seats at the next election. The question is whether he will have the commitment to do this.

It would be a massive victory for his party if he gained a single seat at the 2012 Queensland state election, but I think many would see this as a failure and you could well see Katter lose commitment to the idea of the political party if it doesn’t have an immediate payoff. Katter is now 66 and may not have the time to wait until he is in his 70s to see a real payoff. It will also be made hard for his party in Queensland due to the fact that Queensland does not have a proportional upper house. I think Katter’s best chance of gaining a seat will come in the Queensland Senate race in 2013.

If he does stick around and commit to it for a number of election cycles, I think he has got a set of political principles that could well allow a more powerful right-wing minor party develop in the way the Greens have developed on the left. The party that Katter reminds me most of is New Zealand First. New Zealand First was founded in 1993 by Winston Peters, a former minister in the National Party government. The party was based on opposition to globalisation, immigration and free trade and largely opposed to the fierce wave of economic rationalism that spread across New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s. Like Katter’s party, however, it avoided going ofter the indigenous population as a target for the party. While NZF now lacks any representation in the New Zealand Parliament, for a long time it was the clear third party and Peters has been a very influential figure in New Zealand politics.

The real question is whether Katter’s effort will move all of the small right-wing minor parties closer to forming a more significant national force that can compete with Labor, the Coalition and the Greens. This would have an interesting influence on the balance in the party system, but it would also put more pressure on Australian politics to see electoral reform, with minor parties on both sides of the spectrum suffering from the unfairness of the current single-member electoral system.

Can Campbell do it?

While we were all distracted by the recent NSW election, an interesting psephological story broke in Queensland with relatively little fanfare.

The Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman, has announced that he will contest the marginal Labor seat of Ashgrove at the next state election, and if elected will become leader of the Liberal National Party, leading the LNP into government if they defeat Anna Bligh’s Labor Party. Just yesterday Newman resigned as Lord Mayor to focus on the state election.

A lot of the details are unclear, as to who made the decision that Newman would lead the party, or the status of Jeff Seeney, who has taken over the role of leading the LNP in the Parliament due to Newman’s lack of a seat. The basic idea, however, is that the LNP will be running a candidate for Premier who is not currently a Member of Parliament, and has no previous parliamentary experience.

It is certainly unprecedented in Australian politics, but in a sense it makes sense. Brisbane City Council is unlike any other local government body in Australia. It covers a population of over 1 million residents and covers the bulk of the Brisbane urban area. A similar council in Sydney or Melbourne would cover dozens of currently-existing local government areas. This also means that the body covers services that would be the purview of the state government in any other major city.

The local government structure in Brisbane is therefore more similar to those of big cities in the United States, as well as other big cities in Europe where the Mayor covers most of the city and is a prominent figure in local and regional politics. Think of Michael Bloomberg in New York or Boris Johnson in London. Unlike Clover Moore, who has a citywide profile but only has power over the very inner city, Newman is clearly the most significant political figure in Queensland outside of the state cabinet.

Apart from two years in the mid 1990s, the ALP has held power in Queensland since 1989. There is little experience of government in their parliamentary ranks. In this context, Newman is clearly the strongest figure in the Liberal National Party to challenge Bligh, and the one with the most experience to lead a conservative government. While he may not be able to lead the party’s offensive in Question Time, my experience indicates that Question Time in state parliaments plays less of a role in the election campaign, and Newman is far more formidable in the media than a relative unknown figure like John Paul Langbroek.

While the move is unprecedented in Australian politics, it does have many parallels in similar countries. In Canada, it is not uncommon for political parties to choose someone from outside Parliament to lead them. Current leader of the left-wing New Democratic Party, Jack Layton, was a member of the Toronto City Council and deputy mayor in 2003 when his party elected him as the party’s national leader. A year later he found a seat in the Canadian House of Commons.

In US politics, it is not uncommon for big city mayors to be elected Governor without any experience in state politics. It is common for state Governors to be elected President without ever serving in the federal legislature. Recent examples include George W Bush, Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter.

In both these systems, the party’s leaders are chosen in some way by the public or by the party’s rank-and-file membership. In Canada conventions of the party’s membership elect all major party’s leaders, while gubernatorial and presidential candidates are chosen by primaries in the United States, and become their party’s de facto leader after winning these primaries.

If the example of Campbell Newman is the beginning of a political party exerting its power to choose its leadership over the wishes of the parliamentary delegation, that’s probably a good thing. Newman was not selected by a vote of his party’s members, but there appears to have been a push from outside the Parliament to bring him in.

I’ve argued before that political parties in Australia would be well served by having members choose their leadership, rather than parliamentarians. All political parties in Canada and the United Kingdom choose their leaders through some system which gives ordinary members a say.

As the Labor Party deals with its continuing decline in membership numbers and involvement of members, the rank-and-file selection of the leader has occasionally been raised as a way to reconnect the party with its members. While all those state Greens parties that have chosen to have a leader (Victoria, Tasmania, ACT) have gone with the elite model, as well as the federal Party Room, there remains many Greens members who believe that leaders of the Greens should be chosen by the rank and file, not imposed by a handful of parliamentarians.

If Newman’s selection is the beginning of a push by the Liberal National Party to take over this role of selecting leaders from their parliamentarians, it can only be a good thing for internal democracy in all Australian political parties.