The lie of the land for Labor after the Queensland poll

The Bligh led Labor party’s devastating defeat in Queensland could present difficulties for federal labor seats. AAP/ Dan Peled

The Queensland election can tell us a lot about Labor’s electoral future. There is no doubt that if the Queensland state election landslide against Labor were extrapolated to federal boundaries, the federal Labor party would come close to being wiped out.

There’s a potential for nearly all of Labor’s Queensland seats to be lost with Kevin Rudd as the only likely survivor, and that would only be by a very tight margin.

Of course, lost state seats don’t always mean corresponding federal losses. Sometimes voters can make one choice at a state election and another at a federal election. But there is a correlation and often there is a bad association which spreads across both the state and federal parties.

If this were to happen in Queensland, many Queensland federal Labor members should be concerned. The area of Craig Emerson’s seat for example, had strong swings against Labor, meaning he is heading for a likely loss. Federal treasurer, Wayne Swan also should be concerned that he now doesn’t have a single Labor MP within his boundaries.

Of the five federal Labor backbenchers (not including Rudd) who have seats in Queensland, Bernie Ripoll in Oxley has the best chance of holding his seat. As well as having the biggest margin, there are still two state Labor MPs within his boundaries, including the potential new Labor leader Anastasia Palaszczuk.

His electorate neighbor, Shane Neumann in Blair, will have a more difficult task, with only part of the state seat of Bundamba lying within his boundaries serviced by a Labor member. The loss of Ipswich and Ipswich West gives the Liberal National Party a significant amount of extra firepower.

Kirsten Livermore still has one state Labor MP (in Rockhampton) within her boundaries, with only one other seat in the area (Keppel) lost at the election. Her task will still be difficult with a margin of less than 4%.

Labor’s two most marginal Queensland seats, Moreton and Petrie, will be the hardest to hold. Like electorate neighbor Swan, Yvette D’ath in Petrie has no state Labor MP within her boundaries, and to make matters worse, there are three new LNP members overlapping her seat. Graham Perrett, has parts of two Labor seats overlapping his boundaries, but there are three new state LNP MPs in other overlapping seats, with a fourth possible.

As I mentioned in my previous article for The Conversation, if Labor’s federal position were to improve, its best prospect of gaining a seat would be Brisbane (Liberal, 1.2%). This is the most marginal conservative seat in Queensland. However, Labor has lost all state seats lying within its boundaries, which makes this task all the harder.

An important indicator of federal voting intention is the quarterly state-by-state Newspoll, the last of which was published in late December 2011. This was an aggregation of individual Newspolls over the previous three months and it showed a two-party preferred swing of 3.9% against Labor, a swing that would see the LNP gain Moreton (1.2%), Petrie (2.5%), Lilley (3.2%), and leave Capricornia (3.7%) and Blair (4.3%) on a knife edge.

The next such poll, due in early April, is likely to show a similar result. The poll for the previous three months (July-September) showed a larger swing of 5.9%, which would probably take out Rankin (5.5%),and possibly Oxley (5.8%), leaving only Kevin Rudd in Griffith (8.5%) as Labor’s last man standing.

My own gut feeling is that if an election were held now, Labor would hold Griffith, Rankin and Oxley, and lose the other five seats.

While the crushing defeat of the Bligh government will damage Labor morale and boost the federal coalition and Tony Abbott, it remains the case that the news might not be all bad for federal Labor. There are still as remnants of representation in most Labor-held federal seats.

The loss of resources from state MPs will hurt, but it should not be assumed from this that Labor can’t win. After the 2001 Queensland election the Liberal Party held just one seat in the entire Brisbane area, yet at the 2004 federal election the Liberal Party held all its federal seats in Brisbane and even won a seat from a sitting Labor member.

There are serious hurdles ahead, particularly with the relative unpopularity of Julia Gillard in Queensland, but if Labor can focus its attention on some key seats in Queensland, it could limit the damage at next year’s federal poll.