August 22, 2006

The Nats are haunted by Pauline's ghost

Any Queensland election is a tale of two campaigns – not as Dickens would have it, of two cities, but of the city and the bush.

The Nats' weak position explains the leadership brawl. Not just because Springborg doesn't play well in Brisbane. Outside the south-east and the hubs of Cairns and Townsville, where they must win seats, is unfavourable country for the Nats, unless there's a big swing against Team Beattie.

Leaving aside the Gold Coast seat of Gaven, which the Nats wouldn't have won without the coalition agreement, and the Sunshine Coast seat of Maroochydore, where Fiona Simpson is a long term incumbent, Team Borg holds 14 of 32 regional seats.

The Nats face hurdles in increasing their numbers. Four of five Independents in regional seats are dug in, having built up very large margins. For instance, despite the supposed magic of his name, John Bjelke-Petersen will have a hard task taking Nanango off Dolly Pratt. In other regional seats, the Independents have soaked up the traditionally conservative vote. Just two Labor seats in the regions have margins below 7.3%. In Hervey Bay, ministerial hopeful Andrew MacNamara is an excellent local member.

The Nats' chances in Keppel, against a 3.8% margin, reveal one of the little told stories of this campaign. Keppel was the only seat Labor won off the Nats last time, and is a “sea change” seat. Bernard Galt recently highlighted sea changers and tree changers migrating to Queensland, and predicted they might bring Green politics with them. That's speculative, but what's certain is that they won't bring to the Sunshine State a pattern of National voting.

In regional Queensland, many seats are facing fast growing populations where necessary infrastructure doesn't exist. Queensland's growth is at the heart of all Beattie's service delivery woes. But ironically, rapidly changing coastal seats are unlikely to be tempted by the Nats' politics of the past.

The other wild card is Family First. Because the election was called early, they're running in just 40 (largely regional) seats. Many host large evangelical Christian churches. But FF are outraged at Springborg's soft stance on legal prostitution. In an optional preferential system where Beattie has created a “Just vote one” culture, Family First votes will largely exhaust.

Underlying the Nats' problems is the ghost of Pauline Hanson. Most seats the Nats don't hold but must win are electorates One Nation captured in 1998 or did well in.

The Nats are caught between the Scylla of modernisation, which benefits the ALP, and the Charybdis of traditional regional culture, which benefits independents. The post-election leadership stoush arose because the Nats are yet to either recover from the defection of much of their base to Pauline, or to present a more modern face to a rapidly growing Queensland.

Note: From today's Crikey email, this piece is also cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at August 22, 2006 08:18 PM
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