January 17, 2004

Media coverage Day 4 - Merri Rose again

Day is dominated by Merri Rose. “CMC cleared bully Rose” was the CM headline. Their writers, particularly obvious in an article by Sean Parnell, still think it is damaging to ALP election chances reporting Beattie raising the possibility that his campaign “might not recover from the blow”. However, by the evening Sean Parnell seems to have changed his opinion – see the Lateline report below.

The coverage has woken up to the possibilities of independents in particular areas doing well, and the paper highlights problems in the sugar seats. “Federal Independent Bob Katter is marshalling assaults on Labor-held sugar seats such as Burdekin, Mulgrave, Bundaberg, Whitsunday, Mackay, Hervey Bay and Burnett”

Policy reporting is starting to come through. There are clear signs that both sides see the job of government as redistributing wealth, not necessarily creating it. Peter Beattie announced a number of “job creation” initiatives at the same time that he took credit for national job figures. (Interesting division of labour, Howard takes responsibility for national health issues and Beattie takes them for employment). Most of the initiatives were training related, with apprenticeships (a touchstone for blue collar conservative voters) front and center. Part of the package was a payment of $450,000 to the Oakey Abbatoir. As the abbatoir is spending $50M on an upgrade and needs the extra 500 workers, you’d think they’d be able to afford to train them themselves.

The Opposition was at it too, promising to spend $30M a year to persuade people to live outside the South-East corner. These sorts of schemes never work in the long-term. People and businesses settle where the work and infrastructure is, and where they can afford to. The National Party has long been in the business of trying to make water run up-hill (sometimes literally) but it pains me to see Bob Quinn announcing this sort of nonsense.

He should be doing more announcements like the one on the Ipswich Motorway. While the Coalition can win government without seats in Brisbane, the Liberal Party can’t do well without them, and a Coalition too unevenly divided between Nats and Libs is unstable. Road expenditure like this can be demonstrated to create real jobs; it acknowledges that people have made a valid choice to live where they have chosen to; and it doesn’t play favourites in the way the $30M a year policy does. The promise is conditional on the Federal Government meeting the $600M cost, but if the $30M was applied to paying interest on borrowings, the Queensland Government could fund $500M of the project without being any worse off for cashflow. The increased economic activity would probably pay off the rest.

Courier Mail also reveals the depth of selfishness of Pauline Hanson. At the same time as her erstwhile party says it is almost broke after having spent $500,000 on her well publicized travails, it reveals she will be working in promotion and property marketing now and won't be doing anything to help them. Party Leader Bill Flynn puts a brave face on it and says that they deal with her through an “intermediary” anyway. Not for much longer. Support has probably moved on to Greens and Independents, and without the Hanson blessing it most certainly has.

The Australian has a better take quoting a very bitter Hanson who lambasts the Australian people: "Australians can be so stupid sometimes. They whinge and complain and every Anzac Day they stand there waving flags and say they love Australia. But when it comes to voting, they don't know who they are voting for or what they are voting for.” Yes, well a lot of those who voted for her would be wondering why they did if they read this, but then perhaps she’s learnt enough to know that they won’t read it.

pendulum tends to bear this out. A uniform swing of 10% would bring them government but only 6 seats in Brisbane. It would take a uniform swing of around 17.5% to win a dozen seats in Brisbane – a result similar to Beattie’s own landslide.

The show also featured a recap of the last 20 years of elections in Queensland. It was an interesting reminder of the past, and also how easy it is for researchers who weren’t there at the time to get things horribly wrong. After a clip of Joh Bjelke-Petersen resigning the voice-over said “And the electorate didn't want the party without him. In 1989, Russell Cooper had no chance.” Sorry. Play that one again. No mention of Fitzgerald? They didn’t want the party without him, and they would have wanted it even less with him.

They also got the technicalities of the 1995 election just a little wrong. Wayne Goss didn’t win because the judge found that Mundingburra, the seat he depended on for his victory, had been wrongly decided and ordered a re-election. They might also have mentioned that the reason that the Bordbidge government got the support of the independent Liz Cunningham was that they had in fact won the majority of the two-party preferred vote.

Posted by Graham at 10:47 AM | Comments (2)

January 16, 2004

It's looking more like 2003 than 1995

Our first qualitative research is in, and it suggests that everyone is analyzing this election in terms of the wrong one. While the armchair generals see parallels between this one and the state election of 1995, the closest comparison may well be with the NSW State election of 2003.

In 1995 the Coalition won the election on the back of the protest vote. It was a conscious tactic and it worked beyond our expectations. As Liberal Party Campaign Chairman I was responsible for a large part of the strategy and implementation. We conceived it and convinced the National Party to run with it. It obviously traumatized a generation of Labor politicians.

Watching Kim Landers tonight on State Line it appeared that every Queensland political leader is now pitching for business as a political commentator. Every one of them is conscious of the protest vote and keen to explain how they will win it, or not. Which just goes to show that they don’t really understand it. Protest voters do not reward cynical politicians who set out to manipulate. That’s why so many of them voted for Hanson. Whatever else she was, she was the real deal.

They also won’t reward political parties that don’t appear to come up to the mark – what is termed technically “minimum expectations”.

In the New South Wales 2003 election our research showed the Liberal Party did not reach minimum expectations. They weren’t honest with the electorate, their track record was uneven, the team fractious and no-one expected them to be able to deliver on their promises. They also suffered by being too much like the ALP. As a result the protest vote went to the Greens and Independents, neither of whom really made a pitch for it. Bob Carr was returned with essentially the same majority as previously because the Greens failed to win any seats, although coming close in Port Jackson. The Liberal Party was stationary.

The first indication that this was happening was in our first survey when we found a large Greens vote. Most importantly, roughly half the Greens voters claimed to be traditional Labor voters. Well, guess what? In the first sample from our qualitative polling in the Queensland poll, roughly half the Greens voters claim to be traditional Labor voters, and Greens represent 26% of the total sample. As well, while there is a lot of unease about Peter Beattie and Labor, there appears to be even more unease about Springborg, Quinn and the Coalition.

This is a first take on the research and I’ll go through it thoroughly before posting again, but remember you heard it here first – Greens and Independents have the potential to be the protest vote phenomenon of this election. By talking technicalities the way they are and making themselves look far too knowing, the major parties are helping this phenomenon along. If this election does play out like New South Wales then the result will be closer to status quo than many think.

Posted by Graham at 10:25 PM

Media coverage Day 3 - Confusion

Merri Rose dominates today’s media coverage, as she was always going to do. The question is – who gets the advantage from this? Peter Beattie has been trying to use it for expectations management. The ABC says “he [Beattie] is still concerned that the resignation of Tourism Minister Merri Rose will be very damaging to his re-election chances.” This is echoed by Sean Parnell’s analysis piece in the CM “Beattie sinks in wake of Merri Rose”. In some ways, Merri Rose appears to be just what Beattie needed, a crisis to remind voters that he is not invulnerable, to give him some of that under-dog status. I’ll be interested to see whether voters really care about it when we start our polling .

The Australian accompanies its article with a photo of Beattie and Rose conferring as she apparently tells him the news at a campaign announcement yesterday. This is odd. How did The Australian’s photographer know to take this shot, and how can the reporter be sure what they were discussing, and why was it that the complainant knew at 5:00 the day before, but the Minister had to break it in such a public way to the Premier? There’s more than a little media management going on here.

Photos dominate the coverage. The Courier Mail’s photo is of a blurred, lonely and distressed looking Rose shot through a window with a glass of wine in front of her. The only object in focus in the photo is the wedding ring on her finger. Channel 10 took their camera behind the glass and shot footage of Rose swearing at someone who tried to join her, as well as her boyfriend being restrained. She gives a brief and not very coherent interview.

In an interesting opinion piece in the CM Mike Kaiser predicts that Beattie can’t lose the next election. This contradicts the Premier and helps the Opposition, not that the Opposition appear able to help themselves on this one. Their main pitch is that Rose should resign from Parliament, something which I don’t think reasonable people would support, when they should be honing their lines as to what this says about the Premier and the substance of his government.

Federal National Leader John Anderson appears to know what he is about. The ABC quotes show him tackling the way in which Beattie called the election. “you can't [fail to] fix problems, such as really serious and endemic mistreatment of children for six years, and then con people by saying somehow or other that's a pretext for an election," and "This has been a six year story of the victory of style over substance".

Merri Rose is a distraction for the Government, but she is also a distraction for the Opposition. By talking about her they fail to talk about the legitimacy of the whole election campaign itself. They are making the mistake of focusing on one episode for quick gratification from instant media coverage to the detriment of the thematic consistency of their argument.

Beattie gave them an opening for expanding on the “style over substance” theme when he promised $3.75 B for transport on the Gold Coast. The CM played it up on an inside page with a picture of Kristie Goulding a Griffith University student who appears to think it is a “vital initiative”. Closer examination showed that only $3M is new money.

The Opposition had a big policy of their own - a “Kids First” policy which will provide “Tough new measures to protect children, mandatory prison sentences for pedophiles and indefinite jail for sex offenders who fail to complete treatment programmes…”. Releasing the policy at this stage of the election is strangely at odds with their position yesterday that Families wasn’t an issue. Presumably their reasoning was that they should get it out of the road at this stage before wheeling out policies they hope will change votes.

A couple of small snippets reveal interesting undercurrents. The Police Union has announced that it will not campaign against the government. This is another indication that Beattie is traveling relatively well. One of the factors in the 1995 Coalition win was the police union campaign run in the Mundingburra by-election which many of us found to our horror after the election had been purchased by the infamous “Memorandum of Understanding” which would have seen a number of police commissioners sacked.

Another shows some friction between the National and Liberal Parties over the Magic Millions. Liberal Leader Bob Quinn quite properly thinks that taxpayer money shouldn’t be going to inflate the profits from a horse auction run by a couple of multi-millionaires – Gerry Harvey and John Singleton – and calls for the withdrawal of its $1 M taxpayer subsidy. Beattie warns him against attacking an “icon” and Springborg sides with the Premier.

A battle about fiscal responsibility is also being waged with Treasurer Terry Mackenroth accusing the Opposition of planning to spend $1.6 B, while revealing that Labor promises to spend the entire surplus of $450 M. Expect this one to fizzle. Not only is the public wary about these sorts of arguments, but they probably regard the Opposition as being that far from Government that it doesn’t really matter what they promise, it’s the effort that counts.

I’m still waiting for anyone to seriously look at the Green and Independent vote. While The Australian and The Courier Mail have stories writing One Nation off, that doesn’t mean that we are back to Tweedledum and Tweedledee two-party preferred politics. Again, I’ll be interested in what our focus groups tell us.

Posted by Graham at 09:39 AM | Comments (1)
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