Queensland Political and Election Briefing

1. Background

The Queensland State Election will be held on 9 September 2006.  The Government has opted to go to the polls early, with the election not due until May 2007.    Premier Beattie has explained the early election as necessary to gain a mandate for his plans for a water grid and to address problems in the health system.

1.1 2004 Election

Peter Beattie’s Labor Government secured a convincing re-election in 2004, consolidating the landslide victory in 2001.

While suffering an overall swing of around 3.5 per cent (after preferences) against the Government, this amounted to a net loss of only three seats.  The swing was far from uniform.  In many Brisbane suburbs the swing was larger while in traditionally non-Labor areas, such as the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, Labor held on to or built on the gains they had made in 2001.

1.2 State of the Parliament

There have been three by-elections in the last twelve months, all of which have seen Labor lose a seat. The state of the Legislative Assembly after these changes is 60 Labor, 16 National, seven Liberal, five Independents and one One Nation MP.

Labor could lose 15 seats and still maintain office on the vote of the Speaker. The loss of 16 seats would deprive Labor of its majority.  This would require a uniform swing of 7.3 percent.

With the National and Liberal Parties currently holding only 23 seats between them, they will need a large swing, probably around eight percent, to win more seats than Labor, let alone to win majority government in their own right.

1.3 The Government

Labor has governed in Queensland since 1989, other than a brief stint between 1996 and 1998 when Rob Borbidge led a minority National Party Government.  Many current Labor MPs, and quite a few Ministers, have been in Parliament since 1989, including Peter Beattie.

Following a landslide victory in 2001 and a strong performance in 2004, the Beattie Government has had a difficult term beset by a number of issues and a few self-inflicted wounds.

Labor’s position has been weakened since their 2004 electoral success with the loss of three seats in by-elections.  Speaker Ray Hollis and Deputy-Premier Terry Mackenroth retired in mid-2005 at the height of the ‘Dr Death’ revelations, resulting in Labor losing both Chatsworth and Redcliffe to the Liberal Party at August 2006 by-elections.  In April 2006, Labor lost a third by-election when Gaven MP, Robert Poole was pushed into resigning by Premier Beattie.

There have also been several Cabinet reshuffles since 2004, in part due to these resignations.  This could be perceived as a destabilising factor for the Government.  The reshuffles have included Premier Beattie transferring the Treasury portfolio to Deputy Premier, Anna Bligh, and more recently the Premier taking on responsibility for water policy.

Given the scale of the 2004 victory and their large majority in the Parliament, it is unlikely the Beattie Government will lose office.  However, the recent problems in terms of the delivery of services such as health, water and electricity, means a significant swing against Labor is likely.

In Labor’s favour is the continuing benign economic climate.  The failed attempt by Nationals Leader Lawrence Springborg and Liberal Leader Bob Quinn to merge their parties in mid-2006 will also benefit Labor.

1.4 The Opposition

In Queensland, relations between the Liberal and National parties have often been strained, especially between 1970 and 1992, despite at times governing in Coalition during this period.
However, in 1995 presenting a united front, they won government under Rob Borbidge.

The rise of One Nation in the late 1990’s again damaged the Coalition.  The National Party was forced to compete with One Nation for its own seats and in some seats resorted to swapping preferences with the new party.  Labor was able to capitalise on this in the 2001 election, winning seats in the traditionally conservative regions of the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.  Voters responded to the prospect of an unstable Coalition government dependent on rural One Nation MPs.

The proposal earlier this year by Nationals Leader Lawrence Springborg and former Liberal Leader Bob Quinn to merge their two parties as the New Liberals was squashed by party power-brokers.  This left both leaders humiliated and can only damage either party’s electoral prospects.

Shortly after, Liberal Leader Bob Quinn lost the Leadership to his deputy Dr Bruce Flegg in August.  Flegg was only elected to the Queensland Parliament in 2004.

The Nationals and Liberals are unlikely to lose many, if any seats in the 2006 election.  Their only real danger in this respect will be if they face a strong independent candidate in a marginal seat.   The National Party will be keen to try to regain seats lost to One Nation and Independents over the last three elections.

Recent confusion as to the status of the Coalition was exacerbated in the first days of the campaign with Springborg and Flegg struggling to explain who would be Premier in the unlikely event that the Liberals win more seats than the Nationals in a coalition government.

2. Key Issues

2.1 Health

Health has been a central and damaging issue for the Queensland Government this term.

Queensland’s decentralised public health system has been under pressure for some time with a shortage of skilled doctors, overcrowded emergency departments and waiting lists for surgery. A shortage of doctors and funding shortages led Queensland Health to rely heavily on overseas-trained doctors, some of whom had left their own countries due to blemished records and questionable qualifications.

These pressures culminated last year when multiple instances of serious incompetence at Bundaberg Hospital by one such surgeon, Dr Jayant Patel, were revealed.  His actions have resulted in a number of deaths and many injuries.  The so-called “Dr Death” revelations and consequent inquiries put a spotlight on the failings of the state’s health system.

The Government felt the extent of the political fallout of the health issue in August 2005 when it lost the seats of Chatsworth and Redcliffe in by-elections at the height of the controversy.  The timing of the early election is designed, to some extent, to avoid another damaging by-election in the seat of Bundaberg, following the resignation of the sitting member, Nita Cunningham.

2.2 Water

The water crisis has developed as a serious issue in Queensland.  So much so that Premier Beattie has added water policy to his portfolio responsibilities.

Water supply in the state’s south-east, in particular, has dominated the lead up to the campaign.  Dam levels in the area are at 28 percent and water supplies are set to run out by 2008.

The Government’s proposal for a Mary River dam has been met with some criticism, including within Labor ranks.  Noosa Labor MP Cate Molloy spoke out against the proposal, which led to her being disendorsed by Labor for the seat.  She will run for the seat as an independent, which will see her expelled from the Labor Party.

In Toowoomba, a local referendum on using re-cycled sewage to top up the city’s dwindling dams failed, increasing the focus on the water issue.

The central Labor policy regarding water supply is the implementation of a water grid in southeast Queensland, backed by mayors in the region.  It is also advocating water saving measures and recycling water for industrial use.

2.3 Petrol Prices

High petrol prices were undoubtedly a factor in the landslide Labor victory in the 2001 Queensland election, especially in the state’s regional areas.  Shortly after, facing a by-election in the Federal Queensland seat of Ryan, Prime Minister Howard attempted to respond to the anger over fuel prices with a shift in excise policy; cutting the excise by 1.5 cents and abolishing the twice yearly indexation.

With petrol prices now at record levels and showing no sign of falling, this may well be on the political agenda this election.  The Federal Government’s recent decision to abolish the fuel subsidy for rural communities may add to voter resentment.

Though this is predominately a federal issue, voters have demonstrated a tendency at times to punish parties at a state level for the shortcomings of their federal counterparts.

2.4 Electricity Supply

Power supply problems have been an issue early this term.

Brisbane’s 2004 storm season saw a spate of blackouts caused by trees bringing down power lines, exposing an inadequate network.  This became a political issue for the Government with the Opposition claiming that power line maintenance had been neglected by the state owned electricity supplier Energex.

Beattie responded by removing Energy from the multiple responsibilities of minister Stephen Robertson and made it the sole responsibility of John Mickel (who later also took on the indigenous policy portfolio).

However the fallout worsened as the year progressed with a number of senior Energex personnel forced to stand down under allegations of impropriety and Energex CEO, Greg Maddock taking his own life.

This has not, as yet, been a major campaign issue.  But within the broader theme of the inadequate delivery of basic services, the Opposition may make use of energy in the campaign.

2.5 Industrial Relations

While promising to campaign predominately on state issues, Peter Beattie has signalled that he will be asking voters to use the poll to send a message to the Howard Government about the public opposition to the new industrial relation laws.  Liberal Leader, Bruce Flegg, dismissed this issue as a red herring.

3. Key Seats

3.1 Brisbane and surroundings
Seat Held By Member 2006 Margin Notes
Pumicestone ALP Carryn Sullivan 5.4% Labor since 2001
Glass House ALP Carolyn Male 8.9% Though nominally safe, at risk due to local issues around Caboolture Hospital
Clayfield ALP Liddy Clark 1.2% Won by Labor from Liberal in 2001
Indooroopilly ALP Ronan Lee 2.1% Won by Labor for first time in 2001
Apsley ALP Bonny Barry 4.3% Won by Labor in 2001
Redcliffe LIB Terry Rogers 1.3% Long standing Labor seat
Won by Liberal in 2005 by election
Chatsworth LIB Michael Caltabiano 2.5% Long standing Labor seat
Won by Liberal in 2005 by election

The Liberals gained two long-standing Labor-held seats, Redcliffe and Chatsworth, in by-elections of August 2005.  This was largely a result of the “Dr Death” controversy that was prominent at the time.  The Liberal members will have to work hard to retain these seats.

Labor will be working to retain seats won in 2001 and 2004.

3.2 Gold Coast
Seat Held By Member 2006 Margin Notes
Mudgeeraba ALP Dianne Reilly 1.9% Surprise win for Labor in 2001
Held despite 4.9% swing in 2004
Will be hard for Labor to retain in 2006
Broadwater ALP Peta-Kaye Croft 4.1% Won by Labor in 2001
Increased majority in 2004
Will be hard for Labor to retain in 2006
Burleigh ALP Christine Smith 5.0% Won by Labor in 2001
Increased majority in 2004
Gaven NAT Alex Douglas 3.4% Won from Labor in April 2006 by election

The Gold Coast has traditionally been a conservative stronghold. Labor had never held more than two seats in this area until 2001 when they won seven of the nine (two of which have since returned to the Coalition).  A number of these seats will be under threat if a broad swing eventuates.

3.3 Sunshine Coast
Seat Held By Member 2006 Margin Notes
Kawana ALP Chris Cummins 1.5% Minister for Small Business
Labor since 2001
Not traditionally Labor
Noosa ALP Cate Molloy 8.7% Candidate will run as an Independent following dis-endorsment by Labor
Coloundra LIB Mark McArdle 1.3% Liberal Party Deputy Leader

The Labor Party’s landslide victories in 2001 and 2004 were largely due to their inroads into conservative territory on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.  The Coalition will be keen to regain some of this lost ground.  With a number of prevalent local issues working against Government members, and with Cate Molloy disendorsed by Labor, the Coalition can expect a swing towards them in this area.

Although Caloundra is the Liberal Party’s most marginal seat, it probably does not face much of a threat.  It is more likely that McArdle will increase his majority.

3.4 Far North Queensland
Seat Held By Member 2006 Margin Notes
ALP Lesley Clark 3.1% Sitting MP retiring
Cairns ALP Desley Boyle 3.9% Minister for Planning and Environment
Traditionally Labor, but margin has been slipping
Mulgrave ALP Warren Pitt 7.7% Minister for Community Services
May be more vulnerable than margin suggests

Despite the retirement of a local member and some slipping margins, this traditionally Labor region should be relatively safe.

3.5 North Queensland
Seat Held By Member 2006 Margin Notes
Townsville ALP Mike Reynolds 5.3% Child Safety Minister and former Townsville Mayor
Mundingburra ALP Lindy Nelson-Carr 6.2%

These Labor seats are potentially at risk, though it will local issues, rather than state-wide campaigns that largely determine the outcome here.

3.6 Regional Queensland
Seat Held By Member 2006 Margin Notes
Keppel ALP Paul Hoolihan 3.8% Only seat Labor gained from the opposition in 2004
Hervey Bay ALP Andrew McNamara 4.0% Retained despite 3.4% in 2004
Bundaberg ALP Nita Cunningham 5.3% Sitting MP retiring
Traditionally Labor
Survived 9.8% swing against in 2004
Vulnerable due to “Dr Death” issue
Toowoomba North ALP Kerry Shine 7.3% May be vulnerable due to backlash to sewerage recycling proposals

There will be a few tight contests in these seats.  Labor will be somewhat anxious about the result in traditionally Labor-held Bundaberg following the “Dr Death” inquiry.  A voter backlash may also be possible in Toowoomba North in the wake of the failed sewerage recycling proposal.

3.7 Pendulum

Inala  31
Woodridge  27.9
Bundamba  24.9
Logan  21.2
South Brisbane  21.1
Ipswich  21
Brisbane Central  19.6
Nudgee  19.33
Rockhampton  18.95
Bulimba  18.45
Algester  17.97
Lytton  17.87

20% 20% Other

Nicklin  -29.55
Southern Downs  -25.22
Warrego  -24.76
Callide  -23.6

Cunningham  -18.93
Maryborough  -17.98

Albert  17.27
Yeerongpilly  17.09
Waterford  16.52
Stamfford  16.34
Mackay 15.79
Capalaba  15.16
Stretton  15/04
Whitsunday  14.77
Ashgrove  14.69
Mount Isa  14.15
Sandgate  13.00
Kallangur  13.66
Ferny Grove  13.16
Murrumba  12.69
15% 15% Darling Downs  -17.77
Gregory  -17.37
Surfers Paradise  -13.91
Nanango  -12.73
Kurwongbah  12.45
Fitzroy  12.35
Mt Ommaney  11.63
Everton  11.6
Mt Coot-tha  11.54
Greenslopes  11.03
Mt Gravatt  10.32
Southport  9.99
Spingwood 9.72
Ipswich West  9.41
Glasshouse  8.94
Cleveland  8.66
Noosa  8.66
Mansfield  8.56
Redlands  8.46
Thuringowa  7.9
Mulgrave  7.72
10% 10% Tablelands  -12.41
Toowoomba South  -11.49
Gladstone  -11.25
Hinchinbrook  -10.88
Mirani  -10.64
Gympie  -10.05Robina  -8.79
Beaudesert  -8.06
Cook  7.45
Toowoomba North  7.29
Mundingburra  6.22
Pumicestone  5.43
Townsville  5.33
Bundaberg  5.29
Burleigh  5.04
5% 5% Mogill  -6.33
Aspley  4.32
Broadwater 4.06
Hervey Bay  3.96
Cairns  3.9
Keppel  3.78
1% 1% Burdekin -4.39
Lockyer  -4.12
Maroochydore  -4.06
Gaven  -3.35
Currumbin  -3.23
Barron River  3.12
Indooroopilly  2.08
Mudgeeraba  1.85
Kawana  1.48
Clayfield  1.17
Charters Towers  -2.71
Burnett  -2.56
Chartsworth  -2.49
Caloundra  -1.26
Redcliffe  -1.25

4. Polling

In general, polling over the last twelve months has indicated a decline in the Labor Government’s share of the vote and the Premier’s approval ratings.  This is not surprising for a government at the end of its third term.

While the various polls differ to some extent, they suggest that there is likely to be a swing against the Government on 9 September, but the Government is regarded as likely to be returned.  Premier Beattie’s personal approval ratings remain strong, despite falling slightly in recent months.

4.1 Two Party Preferred

At the February 2004 State Election, the ALP won, in two-party preferred terms, 55.5 percent of the vote, to the Liberal-National Coalition’s 45.5 percent.

After some very poor poll results for the Coalition earlier in the term, they have improved their position in the last 12 months while Labor’s share of the vote has fallen.

However, as of the latest Morgan Poll for July and early August, there are still 13 points between the Government and the Opposition on a two-party preferred basis.

According to the most recent Newspoll, the campaign is much closer than this.  Newspoll has the ALP and the Coalition neck-to-neck throughout most of the last 12 months, with the Government just moving into the lead more recently.

4.2 Voter Satisfaction with Premier Beattie

According to Newspoll, voter satisfaction with Peter Beattie has fallen in the last 12 months as the Government has faced a string of crises.  However, his standing has improved again more recently, indicating relatively good management of the prevailing issues.

4.3 Preferred Premier

Despite Premier Beattie’s rating as Preferred Premier falling in the last 12 months, he remains well ahead of Opposition Leader, Lawrence Springborg.  According to Newspoll, there are around 30 points between the two leaders.