You know it’s an extraordinary election when a party holds 73 of the 89 seats in parliament thanks to a record-breaking victory just three years earlier – yet there’s talk of that party losing government. Not only that, but there’s also a real threat to the state’s premier, with no Plan B for a successor.
That’s the state of play in Queensland, making Saturday’s election a must-watch for anyone interested in politics. (If you live outside Queensland, you can tune in on ABC News 24, as well as follow news and expert reaction on The Conversation.)
While most polls and my prediction is that the Liberal National Party (LNP) will retain power, it’s possible that there won’t be a clear result on Saturday night, especially given the popularity of pre-poll voting and that the predicted swing against the government is likely to vary greatly across the state.
So what are the people, places and issues to watch on election night and beyond?
1. Can the premier hang on to power?
There are two questions Campbell Newman has become sick of facing every day on the campaign trail: can he really win his seat of Ashgrove? And who will be the next premier if he loses but the LNP retains government?
For months, the polls have consistently pointed to Labor’s Kate Jones snatching back the seat she lost to Newman with a big swing in 2012.
Newman may be regretting that decision. After mostly out-campaigning Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk, he has hurt his own chances of victory, particularly over the past week.
Newman’s risky decision to respond to claims by Sydney broadcaster Alan Jones in the form of a lawsuit began the derailment of his campaign. Then he claimed in the first leaders’ debate that the ALP had received funds from motorcycle gangs, which could not be proven definitively and which he began to back away from within days.
By Australia Day, Newman swapped a long-planned appearance at the state’s official Australia Day ceremony in Townsville to go to a small citizenship ceremony in his own electorate. He has spent much of this final week in Brisbane.
Newman hasn’t been helped by the LNP’s campaign strategy. Six days before the public cast their votes, he toured Bundaberg, a seat that is always going to stay with the LNP, regardless of the outcome on Saturday.
On Thursday, with less than 48 hours before the polls opened, Newman scrapped a final blitz of marginal seats in north Queensland and returned to Brisbane. But it may be too late. Expect Queensland to have a new LNP premier by this time next week.
2. Who are the LNP’s premiers-in-waiting, and are they in danger too?
Treasurer Tim Nicholls remains the bookies’ favourite to replace Newman if Newman loses his seat. But as I’ve explained before, my tip is Health Minister Lawrence Springborg.
Are either of them at risk of losing their seats? No. Nicholls’ inner northern Brisbane seat of Clayfield is on a 20.6% margin, while Springborg is sitting on the largest margin in the Queensland parliament: 30.4% in his rural southern Queensland seat of Southern Downs.
You can read a full form guide on Nicholls, Springborg and the other unofficial premiers-in-waiting here.
3. Do Queenslanders oppose privatisation more than they support big projects?
In this election, there is clear choice for voters between the two major parties’ policies. The LNP has proposed long-term leases of state assets so that they can raise A$37 billion, mostly to pay off debt, but setting aside $8.6 billion for new roads, rail and other infrastructure projects.
Privatisation is unpopular with Queenslanders, which is why last year the LNP switched from pushing for asset sales to asset leases. The upside for the government is that it has a huge war chest for election promises.
In contrast, Labor has largely run on an anti-asset lease/sale platform: more popular, but leaving the party with only a fraction of the funds for election sweeteners, totalling a “deliberately modest” $1.6 billion.
In Ashgrove, the choice facing voters is just as stark. Early in the campaign Newman pledged $18 million worth of projects under his Ashgrove plan, which is far more than any of the surrounding Brisbane seats have been promised. Jones simply can’t match Newman’s largesse, so she hasn’t even tried, instead running on a platform of being “a local that you can trust”.
In an unusual and controversial move, the LNP have even told voters outright that they have to vote for a local LNP MP if they want to see their local projects delivered.
This election will provide an interesting litmus test of whether Queenslanders will accept privatising state assets in return for the promises of better roads, rail and other infrastructure.
4. How many victims of ‘Bligh’s Bloodbath’ will return?
The 2012 election left Labor with just seven seats out of 89 in parliament, earning them a nickname as the “Tarago party” because all their MPs could fit inside a people-mover.
Labor suffered many high-profile casualties in 2012, many of whom were considered potential successors to Anna Bligh after her inevitable defeat. Chief among them was Cameron Dick, the former education minister, who was defeated in the seat of Greenslopes (now held by the LNP with a 2.5% margin). He has now moved to the traditional Labor heartland seat of Woodridge (on a 5.8% margin), with an eye on the leadership.
Another ALP candidate with big ambitions is Sterling Hinchcliffe, the former state development minister. Despite the calamitous result for the ALP in 2012, many expected Hinchcliffe to retain his seat of Sandgate.
While Dick has the higher media profile, it would not be surprising to see Hinchcliffe succeed Palaszczuk as ALP leader at some time during the next parliamentary term.
However, Palaszczuk has more immediate concerns if she hopes to keep her job.
5. Will Palaszczuk stay as Labor leader?
The ALP has had a difficult campaign, but the opposition’s lack of resources throughout has meant that their errors have mostly been less glaring.
Palaszczuk has been a conundrum during the last fortnight. At times she has been unable to get any traction with the media, and yet at others she has been overly aggressive, almost as if she has been advised to match Newman’s demeanour.
On Thursday, she made headlines by being unable to say what the rate of the Goods and Services Tax is (which she put down to missing her morning coffee). Palaszczuk has also avoided difficult interviews throughout the campaign, and tellingly she did not launch Labor’s election costings, leaving it to shadow treasurer Curtis Pitt.
Assuming there isn’t a shock Labor win that elevates her to become premier, Palaszczuk’s best chance to remain leader in opposition is to win a number of seats in a variety of demographics. For her, the more regional seats the ALP can secure the better. Her fate will largely be determined by how many former Bligh ministers win seats on Saturday night.
6. Which are the key areas in south-east Queensland?
A number of seats in Brisbane’s southern suburbs represent margins similar to the state-wide swing needed for the Labor to win government.
Pay particular attention to Mansfield (LNP with a 11.1% margin), Albert (LNP, 11.9%), Sunnybank (LNP, 10.2%) and Stretton (LNP, 9.6%). They are all essential gains for the ALP if government is going to change hands.
Labor is also hoping to wind back the clock by capturing a swag of seats across Queensland’s south-eastern corner. This region, comprising Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, was almost entirely under the ALP’s control in the Beattie era, and formed the backbone of his landslide victories in 2001, 2004 and 2006. While it is extremely unlikely that Palaszczuk can match Beattie’s past efforts, Labor would need to dominate this highly populated region to claim an unlikely victory.
7. How big will the swing be in far north Queensland?
South-east Queensland alone is not enough to win government; regional Queensland is also crucial, and in this election there has been a fierce battle for north Queensland votes.
Labor is hoping to pick up a swag of seats in the north, particularly in the centres of Cairns and Townsville. The ALP’s shadow treasurer Curtis Pitt looks safe in Mulgrave (even with only a 1.1% buffer).
The ALP also looks set to pick up another Cairns-based seat in Cook (LNP, 3.7%) but it needs to pick up the seats of Townsville (LNP, 4.8%), Thuringowa (LNP, 6.7%) and Barron River (LNP, 9.5%) if the ALP wants to inflict serious electoral damage on the LNP government.
8. Which independent and minor party candidates will be elected?
The fate of the independents and minor parties will provide an interesting side show from the main event on election night, though it’s not widely expected that they could hold the balance of power in Queensland’s one-house parliament.
There will be a few seats that will return to the major parties. The two former LNP-turned-Palmer United Party-turned-independents, Carl Judge and Alex Douglas, will lose their seats of Yeerongpilly and Gaven respectively.
In Gladstone, the retiring Liz Cunningham will likely be succeeded by the ALP candidate Glenn Butcher.
One Nation’s Pauline Hanson has made another comeback, running in the safe LNP seat of Lockyer. Despite a preference swap with the Katter’s Australian Party candidate, it looks difficult for either of them to topple sitting LNP member Ian Rickuss.
9. Will Abbott’s ‘knightmare’ and other federal issues be decisive?
The impact of federal issues on state campaigns is notoriously hard to measure. After the Victorian election late last year, many state Liberals blamed their federal counterparts for their loss.
But as Michelle Grattan wrote about the Victorian result, it’s rarely that simple:
Voters were unimpressed with the state government’s performance and disgusted with its chaotic parliament. But the federal budget, with its array of nasties (many of which haven’t even been passed because of the Senate) and the general style of the federal government played right into Labor’s hands.
Less than a week after the January 31 election was called, The Courier-Mail newspaper dubbed Prime Minister Tony Abbott “ballot box poison”, after a poll showed significant voter dissatisfaction with the federal government.
Abbott has been conspicuously absent for the entire campaign.
Meanwhile, Labor has been working closely with unions across the state, including on linking federal and state issues. Australian Council of Trade Unions President Ged Kearney has talked about campaigning in a number of marginal Queensland seats on the issue of penalty rates, which has become a hot topic again thanks to the federal government. That could have an impact, particularly in far north Queensland.
Abbott’s decision to knight Prince Philip, less than a week before polling day, was a “bolt from the blue” that Newman didn’t need, especially because his seat of Ashgrove is unusually pro-republican for a Queensland electorate.
Bill Shorten and swag of other federal Labor MPs have been heavily involved in helping their state colleagues. At the moment, the LNP holds 73 seats, and they are bracing to lose about 20 of those. If the Newman government performs worse than is expected – any less than 45 seats and they can’t hold office in their own right – expect both the state LNP and federal Labor to lay the blame squarely at Abbott’s feet.
But the truth is, Saturday’s result will shaped more by Queenslanders’ views on Newman’s leadership, on state issues such as asset sales, and on local matters, far more than it will be about foreign knights or Abbott’s absence.
10. Will Ray Stevens repeat his chicken dance on election night?
Newman laughed it off, but Gold Coast LNP MP Ray Stevens’ “YouTube meltdown” would have had some within the party fuming.
A reporter approached Stevens to ask about his controversial role as an investor and adviser on a $100 million cable car project in a Gold Coast hinterland national park – while still working and being paid as a state MP.
The state government is also the main authority needing to sign off on the proposal.
For months, Stevens has refused to answer key questions about his role, and he tried to do that once again. Not realising he was being filmed, Stevens jiggled and flapped his arms at the journalist, in what quickly became a viral YouTube hit.
Stevens’ victory celebrations may be worth watching on Saturday night. I hope he’s bought new dancing shoes.
Read more of The Conversation’s Queensland election 2015 coverage.