After much speculation, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh has today announced the date of the up-coming state elections. The poll, now to be held on March 24, comes after a difficult year for the Bligh government.
The Liberal National party (LNP) seems to be on the front foot. Leader Campbell Newman is a strong contender, but doesn’t yet hold a parliamentary seat.
The Conversation spoke with QUT political scientist, Clive Bean, about the campaign ahead and the difficulties faced by the Labor incumbent.
What are the main issues in the up-coming election?
I think health will be a major issue. The administration of the Queensland health department has had a lot of recent negative publicity.
There’s also the issue of delivery of health services. That goes back to issues surrounding the matter of Dr Jayant Patel. And then there’s the very recent matter of an employee defrauding the Queensland health department, which only added to a perception that those running the department do not have things under control.
So the government will be on the defensive over many matters to do with health.
Other key issues include coal seam gas, which seems to be shaping up as one that could be harmful to the government. But it’s hard to tell at this stage whether it will become a really major issue throughout the campaign or not.
Another is the matter of leadership and trust. That relates partly to Premier Anna Bligh’s leadership. It relates to some of her policies in the last term of office, in particular the privatisation of Queensland government assets. This was done without prior consultation with the electorate and is very closely associated with the premier herself. The government will have to defend its record.
But the leadership factor also has an interesting twist: the leader of the opposition isn’t an elected politician. So the LNP has it’s own leadership matters to juggle.
What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate? How will they run their respective campaigns?
I think they’re both strong campaigners, they’re both good leaders who tend to lead from the front. They are both effective at putting their message across to the public, both through the media and in person.
I think Anna Bligh’s greatest weakness is the policy legacy of the party in government. [Labor] has been in government now for a long time, close to 14 years, and the public tends to get to the point where they get a little bit tired. They start thinking that change might not be a bad thing.
In the last few elections, the LNP hasn’t really been in a position to challenge strongly because the Labor party had such a big majority. But now it’s definitely within sight, and the opinion polls are showing that they have a very good chance of winning government.
So Anna Bligh will tend to be on the back foot. She will remind people about her leadership during the flood crisis last year. But I think the policy record of the government will be the thing that she’s often challenged about, particularly the policies she has enacted herself.
Campbell Newman is a very strong, positive speaker. He has shown a little bit of vulnerability in his transition from local government to state politics. He’s being asked more personal questions which he clearly feels aren’t appropriate. Sometimes his responses are a little bit defensive. He probably needs to concentrate on an ongoing, positive campaign message, not allowing himself to be sidetracked by things like that.
Bligh said she would wait until after the Queensland flood commission released its report to have the election. Will the report make a difference for voters?
I’m not sure it will make that much difference to people’s voting intentions. I think there is a perception that the government can’t be held responsible for these natural disasters.
It’s a relatively widespread feeling that the government responded well in the circumstances. On the other hand, the government probably won’t get a lot of kudos from the report because the kudos they got was around a year or so ago.
Some people may be concerned by the fact that not everything has been fixed up. But others will be moving on with their lives and not necessarily attributing great credit to the government for what’s happened in the wake of it.
What would a Bligh loss mean for Labor federally? What would it cost the Labor brand?
To some extent it depends how big the loss is. If there was a debacle like in NSW then I think Labor across the country would feel under a lot of pressure. That would probably have federal implications.
If the Queensland Labor government loses by a more moderate margin, after the long period they’ve had in office, that wouldn’t be seen as terribly significant in the long term. If the federal government doesn’t go to an election until next year, then all it’s likely to do is tell them what they already know: they will find it hard to garner strong support in Queensland in the next election.
How can Campbell Newman win the election if he’s not technically the opposition leader?
He can win because he’s the leader of the party and the party has agreed that is his role. But he must win a seat in parliament in his own right to be the leader of the parliamentary party. If he didn’t win the seat then the party would have to find somebody else to be the leader.
And it’s conceivable, although unlikely, that the LNP could win the election but the leader may not win his seat. It’s a complication and an interesting side issue to the campaign.
What role will Bob Katter’s Australian Party play?
Katter’s party will be the wild card in the election. I think in the absence of that party, we’d probably be talking about a fairly comfortable win by the LNP. The Australian party may make it a little bit more difficult for them but I think in the end that party will be nuisance value to the major parties, particularly the LNP. It may win a few seats, but it probably won’t stop the LNP from winning government.