Elections in Queensland began to take the form of clear party-political contests shortly after the turn of the 20th century. In 1915, Labor formed its first ever majority government in Queensland.
Since 1915, Queensland politics has been defined by three periods during which one political party dominated Queensland politics for a number of decades.
In the last 97 years, 19 premiers have governed Queensland, through three distinct periods.
Labor ruled Queensland from 1915 to 1957, barring a three-year interruption from 1929 to 1932. The Country/National Party ruled Queensland from 1957 to 1989, for part of that period in coalition with the Liberal Party. Labor has now been in power for most of the last twenty-three years, barring two years from 1996 to 1998.
Labor Party – 1915-1957
Anderson Dawson had formed the first Labour government in the world in 1899 when he was appointed as Premier of Queensland. Dawson’s government, however, was defeated in the Parliament only six days later.
For the next sixteen years, Queensland was governed by a series of Premiers at the head of governments with unstable and constantly shifting majorities.
TJ Ryan became leader of the Labor Party in 1912, and led Labor to power at the 1915 election. The Ryan government embarked on an ambitious reform program, with the state government making greater inroads into the economy and reforming industrial relations laws.
Ryan won a second term in 1918, and in 1919, at the urging of the ALP’s federal conference, he resigned as Premier and won the federal seat of West Sydney, which he held until his death in 1921.
Ted Theodore succeeded Ryan as Premier, after serving as Treasurer. He continued Ryan’s lead until 1925, when he attempted unsuccessfully to follow Ryan’s lead into federal parliament. He eventually succeeded in 1927. He went on to serve as Treasurer in the Scullin government from 1929 to 1931, although he stepped down for a period due to accusations of corruption when he was Premier. He lost his seat in 1931.
William Gillies briefly served as Premier from February to October 1925, but quickly resigned after struggling to work with the more radical members of the ALP.
William McCormack replaced Gillies as Premier, and led the government until the ALP lost power in 1929.
Arthur Edward Moore was appointed Premier at the head of a majority government formed by the Country and Progressive National Party. The CPNP had been formed as a merger of Queensland’s conservative parties.
In 1932, the CPNP government lost power in a backlash, and Labor returned to government, led by William Smith.
Smith led the ALP government for the next ten years, until his retirement in 1942. Frank Cooper served as Premier from 1942 to 1946, followed by Ned Hanlon from 1946 until his death in 1952.
Vince Gair took power as Premier in 1952. He served at the head of the Labor government for the next five years. In 1955, the Democratic Labor Party split away from the ALP, although the split was largely avoided in Queensland.
Gair continued to clash with the union movement and the party executive on a number of policy issues, which ended in 1957 with Gair’s expulsion from the ALP. Gair led half of the Labor Party’s MPs, including most of the cabinet, out of the party to form the Queensland Labor Party.
Having lost his majority, Gair went to an election, where a coalition of the Country Party and Liberal Party won a majority, ending 42 years of Labor domination in Queensland.
Gair continued to lead the QLP, which merged with the DLP in 1962. Gair led the DLP as a Senator from 1964 to 1973, when he was appointed as Australia’s ambassador to Ireland by the Whitlam government.
Country Party/National Party – 1957-1989
Frank Nicklin led the conservative opposition in Queensland for sixteen years, from 1941. In 1957 he came to power as leader of the Country Party, in coalition with the Liberal Party.
Nicklin led the coalition for the next ten years, retiring in 1968. He was succeeded as Premier by Jack Pizzey, who served as Premier for barely six months before dying suddenly in early August 1968. After a brief interregnum, Pizzey was succeeded by Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Bjelke-Petersen’s government perfected the style of previous Labor and Country Party governments, governing with an authoritarian style and benefiting from a malapportioned electoral system that gave more seats to rural areas where the Country Party (later renamed the National Party) won its seats. This system had originally benefited Labor, but over the decades the ALP’s vote had shifted in favour of urban areas, and the Country Party reaped the spoils.
A combination of malapportionment and the more efficient concentration of Country Party voters allowed the party to win more seats than the Liberal Party, despite winning less votes, and thus Bjelke-Petersen’s party remained the senior party in the coalition despite coming third in many elections.
This conflict created resentment amongst some Liberal MPs, and this came to a head in 1983. A number of Liberal MPs, led by minister Terry White, crossed the floor and voted against the National/Liberal coalition government. White was sacked as a minister, and then proceeded to win a leadership challenge. This resulted in the dissolution of the National/Liberal coalition, and a new election.
At the 1983 election, the Liberal was decimated, losing 14 of their 22 seats, while the National Party came within one seat of winning a majority. Bjelke-Petersen then gained a majority in his own right when two Liberals defected to the National Party. The remnants of the Liberal Party were locked out of government for the remainder of the National Party’s time in power, and the Liberal Party never recovered to the levels it was at prior to 1983.
Bjelke-Petersen won another majority at the 1986 election, but after this point his government began to decline. He launched the disastrous ‘Joh for PM’ campaign in the lead-up to the 1987 election, with little to show for it beyond sabotaging John Howard’s first round at leading the Coalition federally.
Also in 1987, the Fitzgerald Inquiry was launched to investigate allegations of corruption under Bjelke-Petersen’s rule. Eventually a number of ministers and the Police Commissioner were all jailed for corrupt behaviour.
Bjelke-Petersen began to lose the support of his National Party supporters, and he finally lost the support of his party when he sought to restructure his cabinet and sack dissenters. Eventually a party room meeting was called over his objections and the party replaced him as leader with Mike Ahern.
Ahern’s period as Premier was short and rough, with the National Party deeply divided and rocked by the Fitzgerald Inquiry’s exposure of corruption in Queensland. Ahern resigned as Premier in September 1989, and was succeeded by Russell Cooper.
Cooper served as Premier for barely two months, leading the Nationals into the December 1989 state election. At that election, the ALP won its first majority in Queensland since the 1956 election, with 54 of 89 seats.
Labor – 1989-2012
Wayne Goss led the ALP into the 1989 election, winning a majority. In the first term, the new Labor government reformed the malapportioned electoral boundaries that had maintained the National Party’s hold on power.
In the lead-up to the 1995 election, the government was mired in controversy over plans to build a highway that was expected to damage local koala habitats. This resulted in the government losing the support of Greens preferences, and Labor lost a number of seats in the area around the planned highway.
At the 1995 election, Labor only held on with a one-seat majority. The ALP lost this majority when the slim result in Mundingburra was overturned, and the ALP lost the by-election to a Liberal candidate. Independent MP Liz Cunningham opted to support the National-Liberal coalition, and Goss resigned as Premier.
National Party leader Rob Borbidge took over as Premier, leading a minority government.
Borbidge was in power as Pauline Hanson first rose to be a prominent political figure nationally, following her election as an independent MP for a Queensland seat in the House of Representatives. Hanson founded her One Nation political party in 1997, and the 1998 state election was to be the party’s first electoral test.
The National-Liberal coalition was split on how to deal with One Nation: whether to build alliances with them or to reject them, and these issues were exposed in making preference decisions, with both parties deciding to preference One Nation candidates over Labor.
The 1998 election saw a massive result for One Nation, with the party outpolling both the Liberal and National parties and winning a total of eleven seats out of 89. The coalition’s seat numbers dropped from 44 to 32, while Labor remained steady on 44.
While Labor did not win a majority in 1998, a new independent, Peter Wellington, agreed to support Labor in minority government, led by the party’s new leader, Peter Beattie. The government soon gained its majority after winning a by-election in a seat that the party had lost to One Nation at the election.
The Beattie government had come to power less than three years after the last Labor government had been defeated. The conservative forces in the Parliament were in disarray after this election. All eleven of One Nation’s new MPs had left the party by 2001, and nearly all lost their seats. Three new MPs were elected in 2001, but by 2004 only one remained, holding her seat until 2009.
Beattie governed in his first term with a small majority before gaining a large majority in a landslide victory in 2001. He repeated this result in 2004 and 2006, in the last two elections defeating a National-Liberal coalition led by Lawrence Springborg.
In 2007, Beattie retired as Premier, and was succeeded by Anna Bligh. In 2008, Springborg returned to the leadership of the National Party after two years out of the limelight, and set to work negotiating the merger of the National and Liberal parties.
In 2008, Springborg took over as leader of the newly-merged Liberal National Party, the third attempted merger of Queensland’s conservative forces, after earlier attempts in the 1920s and 1940s.
At the 2009 state election, Bligh was expected to face stronger opposition from the Liberal National Party, and for much of the campaign it looked possible for the LNP to win. In the end Bligh was re-elected easily, but with a smaller majority.
Springborg stepped down as LNP leader following the 2009 election. He was succeeded by John-Paul Langbroek, a former Liberal MP from the Gold Coast. Langbroek led the party until March 2011, when he was replaced by Lord Mayor of Brisbane Campbell Newman. Newman won popular election to the most important local government position in Australia at two elections in 2004 and 2008, and in 2011 took the unusual step of challenging for his party’s leadership despite not being a member of Parliament.
Bligh and Newman will be leading their parties to the next Queensland state election, in 2012.