August 26, 2006

Leadership

Yesterday, Crikey reported on a rumour that the Courier-Mail has been setting up hapless Liberal leader Bruce Flegg for a fall. That's eminently possible, but he probably doesn't need much help. Bruce's latest campaign adventures have included the revelation that a June Dally Watkins stylist accompanies him on his campaign and an incident where a South Australian Liberal operative threatened a press photographer. An actual Flegg policy was announced and reported yesterday. Bruce wants restaurants to serve healthier meals. What the state government can do about this no one seems to know. Flegg suggests eateries can display a government logo if 20% of their meals are low fat.

But the Courier-Mail also reported a poll showing 57% think Flegg is getting a hard time. So Peter Beattie was right to say just that earlier in the week. The focus group research reported in yesterday's Crikey, facilitated by Graham Young and me for The National Forum, showed that participants largely saw Flegg's problem, not as his ineptness (for which they did have some sympathy), but his inexperience. Flegg was perceived as being too inexperienced, having no policies outside health, and being too new to politics. His main negative was the manner in which he took the leadership off Quinn.

But it's not just Flegg's leadership at issue. Leadership is key to this campaign.

Voters are sceptical of big ticket promises, and Beattie's gloss is wearing thin after eight years, but neither Flegg nor Springborg meet their minimal expectations for an alternative. Images of both Beattie and Springborg are well entrenched.

Focus group participants held strongly negative views of Springborg, with only one exception. He is troubled by the perception many opposition leaders confront -- that he is carping and being negative. But the language used was significant. A 24-year-old male Greens voter described him as a "sour little tantrum thrower". A female public servant, 45, leaning Independent, use the term "retard". A male undecided paramedic, 31, said Springborg stood for nothing and had betrayed the bush.

Springborg's presentation on tv was perceived as "ranting and raving" and "whining", and he was seen as a weak leader who was too comfortable in Opposition. There were few positives and those were qualified -- "genuine but naive" according to a Labor voter in his 50s from Ipswich. Springborg's claims that the Coalition had runs on the board and the experience to deliver were disbelieved by most.

By contrast, Beattie was generally seen as strong and hard working -- although he certainly had negatives, which were predictable for a leader in office for a long time. Many participants were tired of Beattie, but still saw him as the only viable option to lead. While we didn’t ask about Anna Bligh, her name was raised a few times, and positively.

In 2004, Springborg’s commercials heavily promoted him jogging in a singlet. These ads obviously had an impact, as participants searching for a positive quality to highlight about Lawrence mentioned he was a good runner. But it seems fitness and youth cannot overcome perceptions that he has no positive agenda and stands for little other than winning office. At this stage of the campaign, the biggest threat to the ALP remains a protest vote. The leadership race has already been run, and won.

Note: This article was published yesterday in Crikey, and is cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 01:56 PM

First Focus Group

We held our first focus group on Wednesday night. You can download the file by clicking here.

I haven't done a full analysis yet, but some things stand out.

There are two gorillas standing in the room that no-one is talking about. One is the Federal Government's IR laws. A number of our participants mentioned them, and one in particular seemed particularly obsessed. The other is population growth. Many, if not all, of our participants saw increase in the size of our population as being the root cause of the health and water problems that we face.

Both these issues work in Beattie's favour. Voters see a need to have a state government that will stand up to the federal government. They also don't blame the state government for the infrastructure problems, but rather wring their hands at the size of interstate migration.

All of our participants were analysing the election in terms of leadership. This represents a failure of the Coalition. If their leadership team was widely regarded as more commanding than Labor's then an election held on leadership would be what they wanted. As this does not appear to be the case, they should have been running on different grounds. While participants were annoyed at Beattie, there did not appear to be a high level of anger, suggesting that merely criticising Labor is ineffective as a tactic.

What did get some support, but which we did not explore, was the proposition that a large majority for Beattie was a bad thing. If the Coalition was running on the basis of wanting to win seats to provide Beattie with a more effective opposition, then they could well be in a better position than they are now.

Beattie, by contrast, is running the near perfect campaign. It might be slick and plastic, but voters like the idea that he is trying hard, and they are diverted from his faults by the bloopers of the coalition campaign.

Posted by Graham at 04:57 AM | Comments (6)

August 24, 2006

WorkChoices Beattie's secret weapon?

Kevin Andrews was going to be in Brisbane on Friday. Now he's not coming. But Kim Beazley's coming to Cairns today -- to talk about WorkChoices. Neither decision is at all surprising if the Coalition and Labor are getting similar results from their qualitative polling as Graham Young and I got from an online focus group we moderated last night for The National Forum.

There were two intriguing stories voters in the focus group told about federal issues and the state campaign.

Right at the start of the focus group, before any issues or leadership images had been raised, participants were asked to discuss the most important aspects of the state campaign. WorkChoices was the first issue raised.

And right from the start it was clear that it was a vote-changer. Opposition to WorkChoices was shifting votes to Labor and holding votes Labor would otherwise have lost on state issues. And Beattie's leadership was viewed by some participants as vital in standing up to Howard to defend state awards. These voters saw IR as the central bread and butter issue for themselves and their families.

Health and water, nominated by most commentators as the central issues of the campaign were indeed preying on voters' minds. But Beattie seems to have neutralised health in part by shifting blame to the Feds. Again, participants raised the Howard government’s role in health unprompted.

The fascinating thing about the discussion of these two issues was that in a sense they are not issues. Population growth was highlighted as causing most infrastructure problems, and climate and technological change respectively were identified as causes of the water and health crises. Voters were sceptical of big ticket promises from both sides, but the key factor is that the issues are being discussed in the terms in which Beattie has framed them.

Part of that frame is blaming Canberra. Beattie hasn't studied Sir Joh's career just out of interest. Having blown the opposition out of the water in the first phase of the campaign, Beattie can throw bombs at Canberra in the next.

Importantly, IR has not yet been raised as a campaign issue. But John Howard himself has sown the seeds in voters' minds, which state Labor merely needs to water for them to flourish and grow. If John Howard comes to Queensland, he should keep a sharp eye out for Queenslanders' proverbial baseball bats. And he shouldn't believe his own line on September 10 that the election was all about state issues.

Voters may be tiring of Beattie, but the negatives on the state Coalition are so strong that he can campaign on federal issues and leadership, and win hands down on both.

Note: This piece was published in today's Crikey email and is cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

The post is informed by an online focus group of Queensland voters moderated by Graham Young and I for The National Forum. All interpretation and comment is my responsibility, and no doubt Graham will be drawing on the research for his Sunday Mail column. This qualitative polling forms the basis for this piece and my article tomorrow (on leadership), and was particularly fascinating as an insight into the sort of polling that usually only campaigns themselves are privy to.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 06:49 PM

Liberals start to implode

The Sicilian faction in the Queensland Liberal Party is already looking to position itself post the election and post Bruce Flegg.

According to this article in The Australian by Matthew Franklin:

Liberal sources told The Australian yesterday the decision to replace former party leader Bob Quinn with Dr Flegg a fortnight ago had been a serious error.

And they blamed the so-called western suburbs faction, which controls the parliamentary partyroom but not the wider party.

.

Not hard to work out who the "sources" are, or at least what faction they come from. Matt's always been closer to Santoro than anyone else. What's more, the story doesn't make a lot of sense except as a post hoc re-writing of history.

Inasmuch as there are factions rather than social alliances in the Queensland Liberal Party, the Tucker faction has two definite parliamentary members - Quinn and Flegg. The Sicilian faction also has two bona fide members - Langbroek and Caltabiano. Stuckey is definitely non-aligned, Rogers was regarded as Sicilian, but may have shifted and McArdle is probably a corresponding member of the Western Suburbs group but I'm not sure. I should add here that, while I haven't played a part in Liberal Party politics for some years, I would have been regarded as a member of the Western Suburbs faction, although it isn't much more than a geographically pejorative phrase coined by others.

That being the disposition of parliamentarians, as near as I can tell it, can anyone explain to me how, if this was a factional stitch-up, the decision to dump Quinn was unanimous, with one abstention, when the party room was fairly evenly split?

It should be noted that the abstention was Michael Caltabiano.

According to businessman David Kemp, Caltabiano was approached by Kemp to be part of a coup about a week earlier, but said as a former party president he couldn't be involved. Kemp, who is not a member of the WS group, claimed this in an interview with Steve Austin on ABC Radio, and I have not seen it rebutted. At the time of the challenge Caltabiano was at a doctor's appointment.

Caltabiano's reasoning for not wanting to know, and his absence, seem just a little disingenuous as he has been urging Flegg to roll Quinn since at least the beginning of the year.

Still, Caltabiano did well out of this factional stitch-up that he had nothing to do with - he ended up as Shadow Treasurer.

What actually appears to have happened is that the Parliamentarians thought they were heading for a train-wreck with Quinn at the wheel and decided to roll Quinn for Flegg in the hope that Flegg could save a couple of them. My enquiries suggest that factional friends were caught by surprise by the move, almost as much as Quinn was. I initially thought that Caltabiano had also been caught by surprise, but this news story suggests that he was actually out buying insurance at the time!

Posted by Graham at 03:35 PM | Comments (6)

August 23, 2006

Beattie's backflips signal danger for Howard?

After the Queensland election, Peter Beattie’s political strategy may be judged on the basis of a cruise terminal. The Southport Spit north of Sea World is just about the last piece of oceanside natural bushland on the Gold Coast.

Until last Friday night, a cruise ship terminal was slated for development on the stillwater side. Indeed, Treasurer Bligh was extolling the economic virtues of the terminal in a pre-recorded ABC Stateline interview just as in real time Anna Bligh was releasing an impact assessment that nixed the development. Brisbane’s cruise ship terminal just hosted its first ship, and ads for the flash riverside shopping centre that goes with it have been everywhere in the glossy free press targeted to the Brisvegas inner urban crowd.

This vignette omits the context of Bligh’s interview. A large grassroots movement had formed on the Coast to oppose the terminal. The environment aside, it’s not hard to oppose when there would be few cruise liners stopping both at Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Labor is ahead in the nearby Broadwater because of the popularity of MP Peta-Kaye Croft, but other Gold Coast ALP seats with theoretically safer margins are in danger. Cleverly, the backflip can be turned into a positive by sending a message about the environment. The Greens are meant to listen, as they decide preferences.

Peter Beattie has made an art form of unashamed backflips. John Howard learnt a trick or two from Premier Pete when he discovered "listening" at the height of his "mean and tricky" 2001 electoral trough.

Beattie has not just consistently run presidential campaigns but has also governed presidentially, distancing himself from his government’s actions. When he discerns the public will, he apologises and reverses the offending decision (much to the ire of many Ministers). Similarly, any crisis can be instantly remedied by taking charge personally. That’s why he became Minister for Water a week before the election was called.

In 2004, the Nationals ran ads explicitly highlighting Beattie’s backflips. They sank without trace. In 2006, Beattie’s "listening" pose is less fresh, and his bag of political tricks much more transparent.

Emboldened by the cruise terminal backdown, every interest group under the sun is thrusting its pet peeves and projects at Beattie. This is a new dynamic for a Beattie campaign. It will be fascinating to see if the past political master can pull off this tactic once again after eight years’ power.

Another long-term leader, John Howard, should be watching Beattie’s ability to continue trimming his sails to the prevailing winds very carefully.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 11:32 PM

August 22, 2006

Blonde leading the blind

Is it a deliberate Liberal Party strategy to have Flegg make a mistake a day? It's beginning to look like it, if his "blonde" comments today are anything to go by.

Or are these indeed mistakes? Queensland has a history of cherishing the syntactically tortured and challenged. Frank Tanti may neve have won the Mundingburra re-election if southern journalists hadn't made fun of him. He might have been an idiot, but he was "our" idiot.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen was famous for his malapropisms and liberally sprinkling his sentences with and-don't-you-worry-about-thats when faced with a probing question.

It was also ridicule that fuelled the Hanson revolution. That and her red hair and non-pc opinions.

That might explain why the best student and practitioner of Queensland politics - Peter Beattie - today moved to protect Flegg. The ABC quotes him as saying:

Mr Beattie says journalists were too tough yesterday when they quizzed Dr Flegg about his knowledge of history.

"I think it was a bit unfair to be perfectly honest, the question about the second fleet yesterday," he said.

"It's not about rattling off historical facts - what it's about is understanding how we became a nation.

"I think history is important to be taught in schools, but I think yesterday was a bit rough on him."

Springborg was on message:

Mr Springborg has also come to the defence of the embattled Dr Flegg.

He says while Dr Flegg may not be a polished politician, he would make a good health minister.

Flegg asserts a right to make fun of blondes because he claims to be one. More a red head like Pauline, I think, going on the photos on his website.

Disclaimer: We built his website, as well as those of other state Liberal and Labor politicians including Bob Quinn (sadly underutilised), John-Paul Langbroek, Geoff Wilson and Jan Jarratt and we like to help our clients out with some free publicity.

In fact, I think that Peter Beattie's hair colour is closer to blonde than Flegg's, but if Flegg were on message he'd be claiming that rather than blonde Beattie is blind, thus explaining the fact that he's performed so badly on health, water, education etc. etc. etc.

Posted by Graham at 10:46 PM | Comments (1)

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 08:18 PM

August 21, 2006

Queensland turns to trivial pursuits

The media has got it in for Bruce Flegg.

Today he announced that English would be made a compulsory subject for all Queensland secondary school students. This was in the context of the federal government's decision to make Australian history compulsory for years nine and ten. I'm shocked. I thought English was compulsory.

But that wasn't the story that the media carried. One journalist asked Flegg who Brisbane was named after. He didn't know. For the record, the answer is Sir Thomas Brisbane. As a matter of full disclosure I should say that I thought it was someone called Lord Brisbane. Both Flegg and I were wrong. So I suspect would be the majority of Queenslanders, as well as the press corp, but it looks like instead of trying their hands at serious political analysis my journalistic colleagues are just looking to create the Flegg gaffe of the day and file that as their story. It's a bit of a gimme, but ultimately sells journalism and the voters short.

While we're on the trivial, all campaigns seem to have run out of puff. Peter Beattie's headline promise today was $52 million over five years to boost equipment and training for emergency services volunteers. The details as to how this will be spent are sketchy, suggesting that no-one has any idea. There's talk of building cyclone shelters, which is then qualified by saying they might be incorporated into new buildings. They have to be capable of withstanding winds of 306 kilometres per hour, so they're going to be expensive. Given that the number potentially affected by severe cyclones has to be in the hundreds of thousands is $52 million going to be enough? As far as I can tell, no-one asked that question.

Lawrence Springborg's promise was to reimburse employers the Workcover payments that they incur for employing apprentices, which the Coalition expects to increase apprentice numbers from 78,800 to 83,000. This hardly seems likely given that workcover payments, depending on the size of your business, are somewhere in the region of 1% percent. The problems with apprenticeships are structural - employers pay them a full-time wage only to have them away studying regularly. Again, I didn't hear any hard questions.

Maybe politics has always been like this. Afterall, John Hewson never did live down an inability to say how much GST would be paid on a freshly baked cake. Or maybe all politics is just reality TV and Bruce Flegg has become the weakest link.

Posted by Graham at 07:46 PM | Comments (8)

The Liberal implosion

After the first week of the campaign, Peter Beattie’s biggest problem is keeping his grin to manageable proportions while he claims underdog status. Liberal leader Bruce Flegg is trying to turn around his bad fortune by insisting that the media stop talking about the “process” . Flegg insists he’s not a polished politician. That much is true. But Flegg’s tactics highlight and reinforce the message about his inexperience which has been disastrous for the Coalition. The Libs have made themselves the issue.

Readers outside Queensland probably can’t see the exact dimensions of the total farce which has been the Liberal campaign. After spending days denying he could be Premier, and fuelling Beattie’s “can’t govern yourself…” slogan, Flegg’s subsequent appearances on the tv news highlighted his denial that he was kicked out of a shopping centre (despite vision showing he was). Then Mt Ommaney candidate Bob Harper tried to console him by reminding him that a lot of shoppers hate pollies thrusting their hand at them. And that was in the same news bulletin which exposed an “ordinary voter” talking to hapless Bruce as a former Liberal member.

The Liberals have cruelled the Coalition’s chances of putting any real pressure on a Premier whose familiar bag of political tricks has passed its use by date. Lawrence Springborg has run a better and more disciplined campaign than in 2004. But there are really two campaigns. The Nats will struggle to dislodge dug in Independents, and Labor is holding up its vote outside the South East corner. The Libs need to do the heavy lifting in Brisbane and on the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. But such has been the incompetence and disarray of their campaign, the only messages that are remotely cutting through are the Nats’ themes. And urban voters are unlikely to warm to the values displayed at Springborg.com which feature hard line moral conservatism, law and order and support for tree clearing in the bush.

The Liberal campaign is so messy that Liberal powerbrokers are already playing the blame game in the papers. The Australian reported that Flegg went into the campaign without a health policy, despite being health shadow. Blind Freddie could have predicted that health would be Beattie’s greatest area of vulnerability. But it’s being reported that Flegg hurriedly adopted National MP Rob Messenger’s proposal for a new hospital in Bundaberg (which is not needed – the problem is not facilities but doctors and nurses to staff them) and plucked a figure out of the air as a costing. Significantly, the story was leaked by Liberal sources. Flegg’s potential rival, Michael Catalbiano, was on Sunday representing the interests of the Santoro faction in a nasty preselection for Robina. Suggestions that Flegg will be a five week wonder as leader are only questionable because Catalbiano looks set to lose his own seat, and there might be few Liberals left standing to twist the knife when the dust of the election settles.

Last week, most observers were predicting Labor to win with a small majority. With the polls showing Team Beattie only 2% behind its 2004 vote, at this stage, many fewer seats than expected might be anticipated to change hands. There may be a swing back in favour of the Coalition, but if the election had been held over the weekend, I believe that Labor would have been re-elected with its majority of 16 cut only by 5. The Libs are in danger of repeating previous performances where their gains from Labor have been diminished by losing seats they hold.

Note: This post has been republished from the Crikey website and is cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.

Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 03:32 PM | Comments (2)

August 20, 2006

Sunday Mail polls

Treat with caution.

I wrote a column for this morning's Sunday Mail so perhaps I should be a little circumspect, but the polls that they published today have a limited ability to predict what is happening in the four seats covered:


  1. Broadwater

  2. Bundaberg

  3. Chatsworth

  4. Noosa
  5. .

There were many problems with the polls. One was that they asked for generic voting intentions and listed all of the major parties. So, in Noosa one could choose to allocate a first preference to "Liberal" and "National", amongst others, even though the Nationals aren't running. You could also choose to vote "Independent". Now I don't know how many independents are running in this seat, but this is a very imprecise category at the best of times.

Another problem is that they didn't use candidate names when asking for voting intention. In the case of this electorate the incumbent member is Cate Molloy who will be running as an Independent having been disendorsed by her party. It's likely that some people voting "ALP" will really be meaning that they are voting for Cate, as will a large number of those voting "Independent". So Molloy's vote is likely to be under-stated in some ways and over-stated in others.

Further, it's not clear that respondents were even told what electorate they are living in. So they may well have answered "Liberal" or "National" because that is what they normally vote, when if they had known they were in Noosa and Cate Molloy was available, they may have voted for her. Of course the same could be true for the Liberal and Labor candidates as well.

Another problem is that they have distributed preferences, but they do not appear to have allowed for people just voting one, as they are entitled to do in Queensland. That can have a significant impact on the vote after preferences.

The figures that you can take notice of are Cate's approval rating (43 percent with 26 percent disapproving).

Preferred Premier also needs to be treated with caution as it includes Bligh and Flegg as well as Beattie and Springborg. While we frequently ask this question in our "What the people want" surveys it will tend to understate the practical level of support for Beattie and Springborg by introducing another two names. There is no way of knowing whether those who support Flegg will also all support Springborg in a contest against Beattie, nor is there any way of knowing whether Bligh's support will all transfer to Beattie against Springborg.

We ask the question because we are interested in how strong support for the challengers is and want a indicator of that. In an election campaign it is probably more pertinent to ask for approval and disapproval of each leader in turn, which is what we have done in our latest questionnaire, which you can fill-in by clicking here.

Posted by Graham at 10:38 PM

Bad week benefits Ray Stevens

The Liberal Party this morning pre-selected former Gold Coast Mayor Ray Stevens to replace Bob Quinn in Robina. If the first week of the campaign hadn't been so bad for the Party it may have opted for former Liberal Party staffer, Mark Powell.

Powell was the candidate of the Caltabiano/Santoro faction, but faced with an election that is suddenly more difficult than they imagined they weren't prepared to take the risk of shoe-horning him into a seat that might now be more difficult to win than it looks on paper.

Polling in this morning's Sunday Mail looks bad for Caltabiano, and resources will be being diverted to shore his position up. That wouldn't leave much spare to get an acolyte up in a seat where he has no natural base.

Still, they must be keen on Powell. Imagine having him third on the Queensland senate ticket when he apparently lives and works in Sydney. I'm not sure whether senators are required to meet a residential requirement, but if they aren't perhaps Queensland can look forward to representatives who get a close up view of their problems from as far away as Tasmania, or maybe even Perth. [Apparently Powell only commutes to work in Sydney. He lives next door to a commenter below whose email address bounces.]

No wonder the Liberals had a shocker of a first week with this sort of commitment to the electors.

Posted by Graham at 10:17 PM | Comments (2)

Queensland Wrestlemania

A slightly edited version of this article appeared in today's Sunday Mail.

Before this election campaign started Queensland voters were interested in changing government. But that was before the Liberals changed leaders and State Governor Quentin Bryce rang the opening bell. Now I’m not sure that is still the case.

On Team Beattie’s side of the mat, things started predictably. Peter “Sorry State” Beattie has been doing all the work – creating the crises which he then promises to solve with a headlock here (water grids all-over the state) and an atomic drop there ($1 B to fix his hospital crisis). No small moves in his repertoire.

Voters are awake to the way this works, which is why he has Anna “White Lady” Bligh standing by. She’ll see less on-field action than a cheerleader with the Brisbane Broncos (recently Beattie didn’t even trust her to run a cabinet meeting while he was away). But she resonates well with women 20 to 40 – a key demographic that Beattie has to keep on side.

There’s only one thing that voters trust Beattie to do - say he’s sorry - but they can’t help liking him nevertheless.

In the other corner Liberal Leader Bob Quinn was neither liked nor respected - a “zombie…dead man walking”. That’s why his tag-team dumped him just before this gig and replaced him with Bruce “Mr Deeds” Flegg. Whether opposing Flegg’s fresh naivety to Beattie’s polished spin will lead to Flegg “coming to town” only the voters will decide.

It certainly has caused some problems with the “Country Cousin” - Laurence Springborg - a man who voters are coming to accept. Indeed, more Liberals preferred him as leader than they did Quinn. Springborg wants to be leader whatever the numbers, but that’s not how democracy works. Denying this made the Coalition the issue, stirring doubts about their fitness.

The winner of this election will be the side that can portray themselves as the “least worst” alternative. The Coalition has to prove to voters that Beattie is so bad, that there is no risk in trying someone else. They have to walk around the ring and really get the crowd whipped up. Beattie’s got to keep asking for forgiveness.

It will also be the side that campaigns best in the marginal seats. For many of the voters who have switched-off Beattie, the best result would be a Liberal premier and their local Labor member. That’s a problem for the Coalition, because local members decide premiers not voters.

Health and water are the two stand-out issues, but with differences. Health is a state-wide problem, while water is confined to specific areas like the south-east. Labor is seen as more likely to manage water better than the Coalition.

The other strategic consideration is the large number of independents in the state. There are 6 (or 7, depending how you count Cate Molloy in Noosa). If Beattie loses 16 or more seats then one or more of those Independents will become the king-maker. This gives Beattie another argument against the Coalition - give me a majority and you know what you’ll get. Vote for them and who knows what happens - will those Independents let them build a dam anywhere?

It’s too early to tap the mat yet, but the weight of money would have to be on Team Beattie.

Posted by Graham at 09:21 PM
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