September 09, 2006
Just say "Yes"
Bruce Flegg just couldn't bring himself to say it. "Yes, I take responsibility for the poor performance of the Liberal Party." He was questioned relentlessly about it by the press corp and his standard answer was "That's for others to judge." There is no harm in taking responsibility, even if you're not totally to blame. Premier Pete does it all the time, and look where he is now.
Probably the biggest contributor to Flegg's poor performance was an inability to give a straight answer.
The second biggest contributor was a tendency to blame the press. He did both tonight as he segued from refusing to directly accept responsibilty, to saying that he had been frustrated by the press refusing to cover the issues that were important. They did to some extent, but better not to complain about it. By now, the Liberals should have had a strategy to deal with it.
Despite a mediocre performance Flegg is safe as leader. When they lost the seat of Chatsworth, the Liberal Party lost the only viable alternative to Flegg in the next term of parliament - Michael Caltabiano. At least that should guarantee unity in the parliamentary Liberals.
Beattie concedes nothing
Well, he wouldn't, would he, when he's just won. But perhaps he could have taken a leaf from Lawrence Springborg's play book, and told it like it really is. He sort of alluded to the fact that voters wanted neither side to run the government when he said that his government had been given "one more chance" to fix the problems. That's why he said there was no protest vote.
The crowd in the tally room certainly knew he hadn't won, but that the opposition had lost. I've been to a few of these now, and the winners are normally much more ecstatic. "Subdued" is the way that the Labor crowd was this evening.
Beattie himself was sombre, but the words misaligned with what voters know about why they voted as they did.
It would have been a better start to his fourth term if he had fessed up completely.
Another slightly off-note was when he said that the Coalition would have done better with Quinn as Liberal Leader. Better to have left it alone, true though it possibly is.
The premier also had an appreciation of the way three high profile deaths - Brock, Irwin, and Springborg's father-in-law - had aided his campaign. When he was asked whether he might run for federal parliament he said that if he did there would be a state funeral "because my wife would kill me."
Springborg on message at last
Lawrence Springborg gave a very gracious and honest concession speech. He said what our polling had been saying for some time - that the people of Queensland weren't happy with the Labor government, but they weren't convinced that the Coalition would be any better.
He said that the Coalition would have to work harder before they were acceptable as an alternative government. Self-evident perhaps, but not something that had been admitted during the election campaign. If it had been, in the appropriate way, results might have been better.
That said, a few candidates were saying things like that, for example Shane Moon in Pumicestone. He actually got a pretty creditable result - only .5% swing to Labor according to Anthony Green - which is a lot lower than many other metropolitan seats, although I notice that Glasshouse, also in the same general area, had a swing to it.
Posted by Graham at 08:13 PM
Cassie was right
In the quest for the perfect focus group last Wednesday I asked Cassie, one of the staff at the gym, what she thought of the election. At that stage she was pretty full-bore on the prospects for the "Broncs" and Collingwood, but hadn't really thought about the election. Channel Nine isn't covering the election, because they're too busy screening football games, so perhaps they consult Cassie on elections like I do.
This morning I saw her there again. She couldn't wait to tell me that she knew what she was going to do - she was voting for Peter Beattie. We then had a discussion about what electorate she was in, and whether that was indeed possible. In fact I think she was probably going to vote for Andrew Fraser in Mount-Cootha.
I asked her why. She told me that she didn't want anything to change. That appears, at this early stage to be the story of this election. Incumbents in most cases look like they've done well. A few seats are changing hands, but essentially the status quo will more or less prevail in terms of overall numbers.
Cassandra's not a propitious name when it comes to people taking notice, but at election time, all the Cassie's count.
Posted by Graham at 07:35 PM
Live blogging from the tally room
[Mark Bahnisch writes:] Graham and I are set up in the tally room to live blog the election. So far there's not a lot to actually report as figures are very early. If you look at the ABC's scorecard, the Nats are getting a 14% swing in their favour. Nats supporters shouldn't get too excited by that as all it means is that the only figures we've got so far are from small country booths.
It's an interesting atmosphere here at the Convention centre. Pollies, former pollies, and journos mixing and gossiping, in the absence of any real take on what's happening. Lawrence Springborg popped in at about 20 past six, and former National Party Premier Russell Cooper arrived soon after. Barnaby's running around giving interviews, but interest in the views of his senior colleague seem less sought after. Anyway, welcome to a night of election live blogging, fuelled at least on my part by generous amounts of caffeine...
7.03pm - The Poll Bludger is also live blogging the tally here.
7.12pm - The story so far is that there's no story. Looking around at the seats we suggested that people should watch, it's hard to see any significant movement on the early figures. Bundaberg is looking good for Labor, though perhaps the strength of the dissident ALP candidate will need watching. You certainly wouldn't want to make any predictions about much of a statewide swing any way at this stage. Basically, at this point, our feeling that there won't be too much movement in the vote from 2004 looks like being born out. But it's early days yet.
7.20pm. The Libs are performing very poorly in Brisbane. One key to the large Green vote in some electorates (for instance Catalbiano's seat of Chatsworth where he's looking in deep trouble) might be the predicted protest vote against the Opposition - Liberal or undecided voters marking their ballot papers 1 Green and not allocating preferences at all.
A bit of tally room colour - Dave from Big Brother - the gay aspiring Nationals candidate is in the room - obviously the Nats have given him a pass. Discredited health minister Gordon Nuttall, with his trademark red rose in his lapel, is rivalling his leader Premier Pete as a media tart.
7.54pm. National Deputy Leader Jeff Seeney keeps being asked if Springborg will leave politics. The story is still little movement in the vote and few seats changing hands. Labor doesn't look flash in Clayfield, and Catalbiano is looking better in Chatsworth. Labor has lost in Kawana, but is looking like holding Toowoomba North and Bundaberg. Gaven can definitely be given away as a Labor gain from the Nats - perhaps the Libs had a point about this seat being handed to the Nats in the by-election.
7.58pm. We're hearing that Catalbiano has conceded in Chatsworth, though the latest electoral commission figures show him in with a show still, and Labor scrutineers have been pessimistic. The Quinn dumping looks to have led to a big backlash in Robina, with the Lib candidate Stevens behind.
8.00pm. I've just heard that Beattie will claim victory at 8.15pm or shortly afterwards.
8.02pm. Springborg is conceding defeat - he has just rung Beattie. He looks like he was expecting to have to make this speech, doesn't seem surprised.
8.03pm. He shouldn't be thanking Flegg!
8.04pm. Springborg is quite right to say that Beattie has a strong mandate, and also that Queenslanders weren't enthusiastic about voting for Beattie. But he's spot on as well to say that the Opposition didn't do enough to convince voters Beattie was losing to go with them.
8.06pm. A graceful concession speech.
8.07pm. Springborg says he intends to recontest the leadership. His performance over the campaign has been pretty solid, and the alternatives in the Nats are very uninspiring. It'll be interesting to see what, if anything, Flegg has to say. The Nats would have every right to be angry with the Libs - though it doesn't appear that they've done too well in the seats they targetted either.
8.26pm. Beattie is claiming victory.
8.27pm. The Labor campaign team believe they have won 56 seats, with 4 in doubt. Likely Labor seats - probably around 58. Cleveland was the surprise - it looks like the polling leak was accurate there. Bundaberg is being given away by Labor, Hervey Bay, Cleveland and Clayfield in doubt. Kawana's gone. Labor has won back its three by-election losses over the term. As I predicted, the outcome is basically going to be status quo 2004.
8.30pm. Beattie does sound like he will hang around. The big danger for Labor is that it takes the wrong message from this result, and that complacency sets in as it did in the third term. The best outcome in the longer term might be a transition to Bligh this term. Beattie is sounding the right notes, but there'll be little tolerance from the electorate if he doesn't take full advantage of the "one last chance" he's correct to say the electorate have given him.
8.33pm. Beattie is also 100% correct that the Libs would have done better with Quinn as leader. The proof of that is the huge collapse in the Lib vote in Brisbane and parts of the Gold Coast, and Labor looking set to be at least competitive in Robina.
8.34pm. Beattie is also right - as we've been suggesting from our polling, Howard should be well aware that WorkChoices did play a factor in the backlash against the Libs, as well as the protest vote against them for being such a hopeless opposition.
8.49pm. Flegg will be coming out in about two minutes.
8.50pm. Labor figures are describing the Robina result as effectively being a by-election after Quinn's knifing. Labor is also reasonably confident of holding Hervey Bay, less so in Clayfield.
8.51pm. Flegg's here.
8.52pm. Of course Flegg didn't campaign alongside Springborg literally the whole time. It is to Springborg's credit that he did come back to Brisbane and SEQ in the last week rather than staying in the bush to defend Nat seats.
8.53pm. Flegg's also speaking quite well - perhaps he could have grown into the role had he not been thrown into a campaign a week after taking over as leader. Surely the calling of the election by Beattie was the masterstroke which set up this result.
8.55pm. He's right about the need for Coalition unity. But it's hard to see the patched up unity that characterised the campaign holding while the knives come out both within the Libs and between the Nats and Libs.
8.57pm. Just as an aside, long time Queensland politics watchers would have enjoyed the strange sight of BB Dave deep in conversation with former Minister Vince Lester.
9.03pm. A Labor campaign strategist said to me before that the Labor people here would have to clap Flegg when he completed his appearance - there are very very few Liberal figures in the tally room. People can draw whatever conclusions from that they wish to. But in the end, Flegg got only minimal applause from those of us at the press table. A sad end to the campaign for him.
9.09pm. I wonder why Stephen Loosley is up here in the tally room - at the moment deep in conversation with C-M journo Denis Atkins, whose campaign commentary was consistenty the closet to what was actually going on of any op/edder in the MSM.
9.38pm. It's been all over here in the tally room for a while. Most of the pollies and campaign types have moved off to victory or defeat parties. But a while back I walked past the area screened off for the Liberal Party and it was interesting that they had almost all gone (the sole survivors being Senator George Brandis and a few young blonde things) with a large amount of rather spiffy looking alcohol left on the table undrunk.
Graham and I have just done an interview with Election Tracker which is a site supported by the electoral commission to engage young people in politics - through Vibewire.
I just had a chat to a few more Labor strategists I know and we agreed that the interesting thing to watch and analyse will be the composition of the Green vote in Brisbane and also the changing demographics driven by intensive apartment development in some inner city Labor seats. In Anna Bligh's electorate of South Brisbane, for instance, the Greens have almost outpolled the Libs. But there are also some traditional inner city Labor booths which have now changed to Liberal in federal elections. But I'll have a look at this next week.
9.44pm. There's a journo standing behind me recording a blurb for radio - "by 9 30 the tally room was all but empty as the politicians headed to their after parties to commiserate or celebrate" - and that's my cue to sign off as well and go off and have a celebratory drink myself as I step out of commentator mode and into citizen mode.
Seats to watch
This list is distilled from what the parties are telling us, or others, are the seats that are in play. Mark may have some additions, and we'd also be interested in comments from others:
Some comments on these possibles. The inclusion of Aspley and Clayfield reflects an assessment by the parties that Labor is travelling worse on the north-side of Brisbane than elsewhere. Indooroopilly, which ought to be safe Liberal is conceded as likely to stay with Labor. Seats like Mansfield and Springwood are also apparently safe for Labor.
The two seats won in by-elections by the Libs - Redcliffe and Chatsworth - are on the line. History suggests that the Liberals will be lucky to hang on to Chatsworth because it has always been a strong Labor seat, but might have some prospects of hanging-on in Redcliffe which has been represented by both Nationals and Liberals. Gaven should also probably be on this list.
The Liberals are also supposed to be doing better on the Sunshine Coast than elsewhere, giving them a chance in Kawana and Noosa. Noosa is almost a certainty because of the failure of Labor, Greens and Independent Cate Molloy to swap preferences. This means that the Liberal candidate, Glen Elmes is in with a good chance if he polls one-third of the vote or better.
Liberal gains on the Gold Coast seem unlikely, with the possible exception of Mudgeeraba where Ros Bates has worked hard. One seat to watch will be Robina, the seat of retiring former member, Bob Quinn. The Liberals have a high profile candidate, but could still lose it.
Things also appear to be travelling OK for the Liberals in North Queensland where Steve Welsh is tipped to have prospects on his second attempt at this seat. Cairns would seem less likely, but with the huge demographic changes up there, anything is possible.
A couple of National Party seats are rumoured to be at play, including Hinchinbrook where sitting member Marc Rowell is retiring. However, the Nationals also expect to pick up some seats and rate themselves as chances in Hervey Bay, Keppel and Mulgrave. They also think they might do OK in Toowoomba North (also not on the list above).
Whitsunday appears to be a long shot, but anything could happen in a seat which is essentially four radically different areas ranging from the northern suburbs of Mackay, through cane fields to Airlie Beach and finally to Bowen. Labor incumbent Jan Jarratt has a great website (well, I would say that, wouldn't I?).
I've put Pumicestone in because the Liberal candidate Shane Moon is a hard-working guy with a theoretically small margin to over-come who has been doing some effective advertising.
Incumbency seems to count for a lot this election, which is why Capalaba is on the list as well.
I see a bad moon rising
From today's Crikey email, here's your guide to tonight's Queensland election.
Tonight there’s a full moon, which is probably apt for the more than usually lunatic election campaign we’ve enjoyed over the past month. Whatever else Queensland politics is, it’s never boring.
As I predicted earlier in the week, the Coalition has been playing the stronger Opposition card. Both Clayfield candidate Tim Nicholls and Chatsworth MP Michael Catalbiano have been interviewed in the last two days arguing that Beattie will be returned and that cutting his majority will be healthy for democracy. Catalbiano was also distancing himself from Flegg on ABC radio today, and running the "strong local member" line. The trouble is that this is probably too late to have much of an impact. The Nats, meanwhile, are accusing the Libs of playing the blame game, which has the added extra of diverting the blame from themselves.
Labor has countered by leaking some polling to the Courier-Mail showing their vote going backward in a few marginals. This is probably accurate enough, picking the small swing away from Team Beattie, but the Labor vote was never going to hold at a level where a larger majority could have been in the offing.
So what’s likely to happen on Saturday night?
The basic dynamics of the campaign were established in the first few days. Labor’s vote peaked last week, or more accurately, the Coalition’s vote hit rock bottom. There’s likely to be a bit of a correction, but although anything could happen, the most probable result – surprisingly for such a dynamic and odd campaign – is that not too many seats at all will change hands.
My reading of the situation is not too far from William Bowe’s at The Poll Bludger except that I wouldn’t be giving away Bundaberg to the Nats or Mudgeeraba to the Libs. Noosa, where former Labor member Cate Molloy is running is an Independent, is probably going to the Libs, but largely because a lot of votes will exhaust in a crowded field. But Cate Molloy couldn’t entirely be ruled out of contention. Claims that Family First are in with a chance in Gympie, where former One Nation MP Elisa Roberts has been withdrawing and re-entering the race more often than most observers can keep track of, are rubbish. It’s likely to be a Nats gain. John Bjelke-Petersen won’t have a show in Nanango, and the Libs will lose their by-election gains of Redcliffe and Chatsworth.
My best bet for the final tally? Labor 60, Nationals 17, Liberals 7, Independents 4, One Nation 1. That would leave Labor three down on its 2004 haul, and only six down on its 2001 landslide.
Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.
Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 12:33 AM
September 08, 2006
The virtual campaign and today's poll
In other election news, the latest Galaxy Poll shows Labor's primary lifting to 48%, while Peter Beattie and Labor leakers downplay the ALP's chances. The trouble with the polling leaked by Labor is that it focusses on the Sunshine Coast seats of Noosa, Kawana and Caloundra (held by Liberal Deputy Mark McArdle - but on a 1.3% margin). It's been clear from the start of the campaign that the Sunshine Coast was the one area in South East Queensland where Team Beattie had real problems.
Cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo.
September 07, 2006
Going for the sympathy vote
I heard Michael Catalbiano interviewed on ABC radio today. He was distancing himself none too subtly from Flegg, admitting that leadership had been a problem. Catalbiano spent most of his time stressing two themes - the need to cut Beattie's majority in the interests of democracy, and his own performance as a "strong local member". He conceded "Beattie will be returned". Tim Nicholls, another former Brisbane Councillor, and the candidate for the very marginal Labor seat of Clayfield, spoke in very similar terms on the 7.30 Report last night. In the meantime, Labor has been leaking polling showing its vote going backwards. There's no doubt going to be a small swing back but The Poll Bludger is probably right to be sceptical of the selectivity and implications of this polling.
The problem for the Coalition is that this card is being played probably too late in the day. I discussed the opposition's performance in my column for Crikey today, which is reproduced below. Graham and I also had some press in The Australian this morning. I should have made it clearer when talking on the phone to the journo that my first quote was more my opinion than a direct read from the focus group, but it's an opinion I'm happy to defend. I think that the Coalition are paying the price not just for a terrible campaign, but also for their performance over the past term. Springborg was quite right to push amalgamation, and the Libs totally wrong to dump Quinn. But importantly also, it seems like the hard yards of policy formulation just haven't been done, and the Springborg led Opposition has played into all the stereotypes voters have of being carping, critical and purely negative. Whoever's left standing are going to have to lift their game a lot in the next term to even be in contention, particularly if the Government renews itself and Beattie retires.
As we get to the business end of the Queensland election campaign, Graham Young and I took a slightly different tack on some of the questions for our third online focus group for The National Forum. This time we were interested in seeing how the sample participants responded to the campaign, and particularly how they viewed the performance of the opposition.
It’s likely that the pitch from the Coalition in the last few days will be that they should be strengthened in Parliament in order to perform better as an opposition. In effect this is a concession of defeat, but it’s not a bad tactic in the absence of any discernible momentum for a protest vote. The idea is that because Beattie has succeeded in making them the issue, they’ll leverage that focus onto process issues and suggest another huge majority is unhealthy for the State’s democracy.
The risk of course is that this tactic will only reinforce what has become the central frustration of many voters – those who would like to vote against Beattie can’t bring themselves to mark their ballots for the Coalition in case they get elected.
Many of our sample agreed strongly that the State needed a better opposition, but quite a few were sceptical of whether the Coalition could provide one. “Dump the lot and start again” was the suggestion from one Sunshine Coast 50 year old male voter, while another male voter aged 80 from Brisbane wanted a “different cast”.
Participants were specifically questioned about whether the Coalition deserved to be punished for their campaign. Some felt an election loss and the media focus on bungles were punishment enough, but some believed that the Coalition would be punished, with the “Beattie killed my brother” ad singled out by one participant. Interestingly, at this stage, voters in our sample had made up their minds, hadn’t been swayed much by the campaign launches, and were unlikely to change their votes.
The best the Coalition can hope for this late in the game is a small correction back in their favour. But given the odds against them in terms of seats held, this may not translate to very much. Beattie will most likely be returned with a slightly reduced majority, not the increase some commentators are now tipping. But it will still be a big majority and the Coalition’s challenge will be to do effective policy and communications work over the next term.
Cross-posted at Larvatus Prodeo.
Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 09:03 PM
September 06, 2006
Beattie's mastery of Queenslandism
My Crikey column today is on the website, as the full version was a bit long for the daily email, so you can go and read it there. Today's piece picks up some trends from the third focus group Graham Young and I conducted for The National Forum but segues into what's basically an opinion piece. I'll have more on the focus group results tomorrow.
In other news and commentary on the state election, The Poll Bludger gives his tips, and looks at the betting markets.
Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 11:36 PM
When the budget doesn't stretch to TV...
build an Internet site and screen all the ads from last election that you might have liked to run this election, but couldn't because you couldn't really afford to even run any new ads.
At least that appears to be the Coalition's solution, judging on the basis of http://www.sendbeattieamessage.com/.
They're hoping for a viral marketing coup in the last few days. Hope away. The ads aren't good enough for any but the nerdiest to distribute them. They certainly don't rate compared to this John West classic.
Oh, and by the way guys, you didn't even need to build the site - YouTube have done it for you. So you could have just uploaded the ads and saved the money for the website and spent it on some radio ads instead!
Queensland election third week
These are the notes used for our on-air discussion with Madonna King on ABC Brisbane's Morning Program.
“While the Government is incompetent and incapable of making decsions except on the basis of public opinion, the coalition is a basket case - an unelectable group of redneck career politician Nationals living in the 1950's and with policy that reflects it, and wimpish Liberals who are not preparred tot stand up for what they believe in. Beatty doesn't deserve another term, the alternative would be a disaster, and there is no viable third alternative.” Male, 41-50, Liberal going Labor, 4074
“Not voting for the idiots who have caused Qld to be in the current mess nor vote for the idiots who seem unable to mount a decent opposition.” Male, 41-50, Democrat going Democrat, 4074
“I see no real alternative to the Labor Party even though I am really dissillusioned re the health system, water supply, education system et al. I will however be voting for my incumbent MP Karen Struthers because she does accomplish a great deal in her electorate.” Female, 41-50, Labor going Greens, 4110
“In my humble opinion neither the Coalition nor Labour deserve to govern. If Queenslanders used hindsight it would show that when ever there is a large majority, either left or right in power, that power is abused. I will be lodging a protest vote this Saturday, and pray that others will do the same and in doing so show both the Labour and Coalition Party Leaders that they need to lift their game before I consider them fit to govern.” Male, 51-60, Uncommitted going Democrats, 4220
“I think I've been very consistant since before the by-elections, when the libs picked a couple of seats, that Beattie had to go and I am still very much of that opinion, I don't believe that Springborg & co could be that bad and do to much damage in 3 years, even if they just give the cage a rattle so the numbers were a bit more even. Ithink if things go as they would appear at this stage, the Libs should be looking for a seat for Can Do Cambell I think he has said a few times he has no interest but I think he could take it right up to old Pete” Male, 51-60, Labor going Liberal, 4163
“Peter Beattie has had more than enough time. These problems are serious. You may think the Coalition is not ready to Govern, but 'Blind Freddie' could do a better job than this lot! I can't believe that people will still swallow his'spin'” Female, 61+, Liberal going Liberal, 4218.
For the document containing the tables, click here.
Posted by Graham at 11:06 AM
Queenslanders and their baseball bats
It's almost proverbial these days to assert that State government is about service delivery, not big ideological issues. The big ticket economic and social policies are the domain of Federal politics. But it’s also always been the case that Australian electors like to balance a Commonwealth government of one partisan stripe with State governments of the other.
Recently, on Crikey, I wrote that one of the key issues Graham Young and I were picking up in our online polling for The National Forum was IR. Queensland voters were deeply worried about job security. There’s no real surprise there as Queensland has the highest level of casual employment and had the State IR system with the biggest coverage in Australia. And wages in Queensland have historically been, and are still below the national average.
As I predicted, Team Beattie is campaigning on Federal issues. TV ads push both the interest rates and WorkChoices buttons, and wrap the theme together with Coalition disunity. But interestingly, Lawrence Springborg has also taken a leaf out of the Federal playbook.
The Coalition’s campaign launch on Sunday highlighted promises designed to appeal to first home buyers and motorists, as well as a twist on the private health insurance boondoggle.
The Nats obviously think that Federal issues can play their way too. It was an interesting gambit to play with Howard and Vaile in the room. Howard must have brought his campaign launch spendometer with him, as the Coalition's promises now add up to $5.7 billion of new spending. And the figures don't add up. But then no one imagines that Michael Catalbiano will have to start doing the sums as Treasurer on Monday. He’ll be more likely calculating what his super payout is.
One thing is undeniable. Whatever Federal pollies will say on Sunday morning, it’s impossible to claim that this Queensland election doesn’t send a message about Australian politics. Political strategists should be pondering what the election portends for the many low income regional seats the Coalition hold nationally.
Posted by Mark_Bahnisch at 01:32 AM
September 04, 2006
Beattie as underdog? Nobody's buying it, Pete
After a scrappy week’s campaigning which featured Beattie’s indecision as to whether there was indeed a health crisis, while Springborg took time off after his father-in-law’s sudden death, Peter Beattie has been clutching at straws to paint himself as the underdog.
Beattie commented to journos that he wasn’t as good a premier as Wayne Goss, suggesting that Labor was still vulnerable to a 1995 style protest vote.
Denis Atkins recently argued in the Courier-Mail that the only protest vote around is the protest of the people of Queensland against the ineffectual Opposition. The weekend polls suggest Atkins is on the money. In two party preferred terms, Newspoll has Labor on 58% while the Sunday Mail’s TNS poll suggests the ALP is at 55%. A Galaxy poll in Saturday’s Courier-Mail of four key Labor marginals, Aspley, Broadwater, Clayfield and Hervey Bay, has a collective 2PP vote for Team Beattie across these for seats of 56%. Party strategists suggest these polls are about right, reflecting closely research on marginals by both parties.
Beattie claims that he can feel the protest vote coming. His political antennae are either sharper than every other Queenslander’s, or he’s making it up as he goes along. 1995 and 1998 were exceptions to the regular Queensland pattern, rather than the rule. The state’s electoral history shows that more often than not, voters deliver very healthy margins indeed to the winning party. The real interest now is in whether Beattie can increase his already swollen majority next weekend.
While the Coalition trundled out John Howard and Mark Vaile as its heavy hitters at its campaign launch yesterday, this is unlikely to set voters on fire. The comparison of Flegg with Howard works only in Beattie’s favour. The Liberals’ likely last shot in the locker to turn around the Beattie landslide that’s rolling towards election day is a controversial ad with a woman claiming that Beattie is responsible for her brother’s death, because of hospital waiting periods. But the focus on this emotive and desperate ad will also highlight the fact that health is not really the biggest issue in this campaign. The big issue is the quality of the Coalition parties.
Coalition loss decades in the making.
Can Peter Beattie sustain 56% of the two-party preferred vote Newspoll says he is winning? I think he can. As this election has progressed, more and more voters have come to regard Queensland as functionally a one-party state because there is no alternative to Labor.
The Opposition parties are seen as completely under-done and outclassed, like a couple of weekend warriors who have decided to turn up and play at the club finals after spending most of the season smoking behind the clubhouse – and that is what their fans are saying.
This defeat has been in the making for decades. In our polling voters cite past and recent history: “[Springborg] leads a rabble in Parliament…[i]f they act like hoons in opposition what would they be like as government. As well the shadow of the old corrupt national party is always hovering…”.
Then there’s the question of teamwork. “The lack of cohesion between the coalition…how could they possible rule together.”
These themes have always been there, but the last three years has accentuated them with a period of each going solo, two failed attempts at a united conservative party and one Coalition. And while the faction-ridden Liberals could have changed leaders anytime in the last six months, they did it just before the election.
Worse, when the whistle is blown to start the match, they don’t even have a health policy to bring to the pitch, even though voters have been telling us since last May, that Health was a number one priority.
All of this resonates with voters as the signs of parties that want to do anything to get into power, except the hard training of finding and grooming good candidates, producing policies, generating issues and refining it all into a message that will switch allegiances.
So, what to do when your legs won’t carry you as fast as you opponents? Slow the game down and use your superior tactical smarts. Well, that worked for the Coalition in 1995. A large protest vote swept Wayne Goss from office, but it won’t work this time. To win a protest vote you have to be seen as worthy of it.
The disdain for the Coalition is so high that voting for them is seen as sending the wrong message. However, there is a viable play. When we put the proposition to respondents “What would be better for Queensland – a larger government majority or a stronger opposition?” they select the latter. It’s similar to the protest vote pitch as it admits you’re unlikely to win. It won’t change government, but it could save them from the record worst wooden-spoon.
An edited version of this article was published in The Sunday Mail on Sunday 3rd September under the title "You can't succeed without planning."
Posted by Graham at 09:41 AM
September 03, 2006
The health of the health debate
If you drive around Brisbane at the moment, you can't miss huge billboards strategically placed in marginal seats with Peter Beattie smiling at you. Because business support for the Libs' fundraising efforts has been half-hearted to put it mildly, there aren't too many Coalition billboards. But one on Ann Street in the Valley features a larger than life Bruce Flegg and the slogan "We want real doctors, not spin doctors".
Therein lies the rub. Health is one issue on which Beattie should be vulnerable. But the Coalition's election material relies on platitudes suggesting that the election of a National/Liberal government will instantly see doctors and nurses flock to work for Queensland Health.
The online focus group research Graham Young and I have conducted for The National Forum suggests voters aren't buying this line. Both Beattie and Flegg have made big ticket promises on health. Voters are sceptical of both. While the Coalition relies on motherhood style claims that local community hospital boards would have somehow prevented the Dr Death scandal, voters have a much more sophisticated take on the issues.
It's clear to participants in our research that population growth and workforce shortages are the core of the hospitals crisis. Beattie has also successfully convinced many voters that Federal policy -- including a paucity of medical school places and the decline of bulk-billing and support for private health -- has accelerated the problems. Promising in tried and true National style to build shiny new hospitals everywhere doesn't cut the mustard when many voters are aware that existing wards are being closed or scaled down because of a shortage of staff.
While many Liberal voters in particular in our second focus group gave Flegg marks for his medical qualifications, his business experience was viewed as more important to managing health. The Coalition promises to put doctors back in charge of hospitals. But again it doesn’t take much insight to realise that doctors aren’t necessarily the best administrators. Particularly when some of the despised high profile “bureaucrats” from Queensland Health who covered up Dr Death were themselves medical doctors.
The Queensland electorate, more sophisticated in its understanding of health issues than pollies and the media credit, deserves a better debate on health than pie in the sky promises and the tabloid reporting of the crisis in the Courier-Mail.