January 23, 2004

Three reasons the Coalition can’t win the protest vote

One of Paul Keating’s most potent arguments against the GST was “If you don’t understand it, don’t vote for it”. You could reformulate this phrase as “If you don’t know what they stand for, don’t vote for them,” and apply it to political parties, and it would be the golden rule of politics. Incoherence has sunk more political parties than policies the voters didn’t like.

When John Moore was Liberal Party President he enforced a rule – while an election campaign is on at one level of government, all other levels of government should stay out of the way. It’s a good rule, because even a sharp message which voters like can get lost in the background hubbub of other issues. It is not one the Liberal Party is following this state election.

This is the “triple witching year” of Queensland politics with three elections all falling due, so it is asking a lot of politicians at two other levels of government to “keep the noise down” while the state team battles it out. Still, if they want to win, that’s what they need to do. With only three seats in the state parliament, and only one member recontesting, the Liberal Party has even more cause to observe the rule than most. But they’re not.

Yesterday Liberal Lord Mayoral Candidate Campbell Newman announced that white goods and electronic equipment would be added to Brisbane’s recycling programme. It scored the bottom of the inside front cover. The recycling piece is presumably a follow-up to revelations last week that council rubbish trucks were throwing recyclables in with general rubbish. Both should have been major pieces, but were never going to be with a state election campaign happening at the same time. Not only that, but they had potential to blur whatever message Springborg and Quinn were trying to get across on the days they were released.

Someone also needs to talk to Federal Transport Minister Ian Campbell. As noted in my previous post there are some possibilities for greater swings outside Brisbane than inside, but he is in the process of snuffing out some swings in both places.

A week ago he announced that he would be giving money to the State Government to study an alternative route for a road between Ipswich and Brisbane. This route happens to go through the state electorate of Moggill. This is one of the two seats that the Liberals just managed to retain last election (our pendulum has it on a 1% margin) and where the member is retiring. The Liberal Candidate, Bruce Flegg has been campaigning against this alternate route, with huge turnouts at public meetings.

The route is supported by the Liberal Member for Blair whose constituents would presumably all like to use the road, but none of whom have to worry about it being built through their backyard as they mostly live west, not east, of Ipswich. Michael Johnson, Liberal Member for Ryan doesn’t appear to have a position. Campbell has unnecessarily inflamed the situation. Even if he had decided this was in the national interest he could have waited another few weeks before announcing it. The ALP is opposed to the route and can be expected to use the federal announcement to make things difficult for Flegg who is by no means certain to win the seat.

Campbell also announced yesterday a commitment to a super highway which will connect Gympie to Geelong. This has enraged North Queenslanders who quite understandably want a decent highway from Gympie to Cairns. In the last three years the highway between Townsville and Cairns has been closed 19 times. 9 years ago when I was driving around the north, a series of thunderstorms meant that the Ross Highway into Townsville from Brisbane was axle deep on my Landcruiser, so it was too deep for many cars to traverse.

Labor figures in the north have predictably pounced on the issue. Isolation breeds a certain amount of paranoia, which Campbell should understand coming from Western Australia. He should have been aware of the potential for this issue to blow-up, particularly in an election.

The last bit of hubbub again comes from the Moggill/Ryan area, and this one is the least excusable of the lot. Pullenvale Councillor Margaret de Wit was quoted in her local paper as saying that the Ryan electorate needed more funding for child care and aged care and that local government needed more funds because it was being asked to take over more and more functions. This enraged the Ryan FEC Executive who voted to refer her to the Disciplinary Committee. (For an account of the committee's operation you might want to click on this post. de Wit is in good company because I’ve been referred there as well.) They’ll probably be sending their Moggill candidate off in due course, because he’s campaigning on much the same issues. Maybe the Liberals have turned into a real conservative party. At any rate it appears to be off-limits to campaign for improvements or change of any sort.

It’s this sort of nonsense that leads respondents in our focus groups to see the Coalition as not even being worthy of using as a tool to send a message to Peter Beattie. That’s one reason there isn’t much movement in the polls. It’s also another reason that the Liberals will have trouble in their second major engagement this year – winning Brisbane City Hall. If you don't know what they stand for, it's very likely they stand for confusion, and no-one votes for that.

Posted by Graham at January 23, 2004 04:30 PM

Graham Young is missing a very important point when he says the Brisbane City Council candidates are confusing voters by putting material out during the state election. Most of the State Liberal candidates across Brisbane do not even appear on the radar of voters. In my suburb of Kangaroo Point, I have been receiving a steady flow of material from the Liberal Council candidate, Adrian Schrinner, but I have received nothing at all from the Liberal State candidate. It's certainly not a case of conflicting messages because we haven't heard anything from the Liberal State candidate. I imagine a similar situation would exist in many other parts of Brisbane.

Posted by: Glen Stafford at January 27, 2004 04:21 PM

I've been getting material as well. If I were the state candidate I'd be having a hissy fit. They don't pay postage for these deliveries, they hand deliver them using campaign workers. So a delivery for the Council Candidate most likely deprives the State Candidate of the opportunity of a delivery herself (assuming that she has the funds to photocopy something for distribution).

Posted by: Graham Young at January 27, 2004 09:27 AM

Even at a more mundane level there seems to be a lack of co-ordination in the Liberal Party. I've received information from my local Labor candidate in my letterbox but none from the Liberal candidate. However, I have received a number of things from the local Liberal candidate for the City Council, starting just after the State election was announced! Perhaps some Liberal voters will turn up to vote for their council candidate in the state election!

Posted by: Alex McConnell at January 23, 2004 07:18 PM
Graham Young
John Black
Mark Bahnisch
Michael Lee