Queensland voters have once again delivered a stunning, unprecedented outcome in a state election, voting out Campbell Newman’s Liberal-National Party (LNP) in a shock result that also has major implications federally for Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Three years ago, Campbell Newman created history by leading the conservative LNP to one of the biggest victories ever seen in Australian politics. Today, after just one term and less than three years in power, he has led his party to a stunning defeat against a resurgent Labor Party led by Annastacia Palaszczuk.
Newman entered this election ahead in the polls but behind his opponent Palaszczuk in terms of who would make a better premier. Unlike Palaszczuk, Newman also had a dismal approval rating (net disapproval of -13). It would culminate in a stunning and premature end to a tumultuous three years in office.
Many expected a close contest with a probable LNP victory. Nobody expected a Labor landslide and ALP return to power.
It stands in stark contrast to March 2012 when Newman rode into office on a wave of immense personal popularity and broad anti-Labor sentiment within the community. That combination allowed Newman’s conservative LNP to deliver upon Labor the greatest thrashing of a state government in Australian political history.
Today Newman wakes up the victim of a defeat just as humiliating as the one in 2012, albeit not as emphatic or brutal. Having won a scarcely believable 78 seats (of 89) in 2012, Newman’s LNP achieved the near-impossible last night by losing at least 33 seats on the night, and almost certainly 36 in total – all of them to Labor.
The scale of Newman’s humiliation is matched only by Labor’s rebound. It is unfathomable to think that a party reduced to a patently ludicrous 7 seats in the Legislative Assembly could somehow find the money, support and momentum to win government. Remember, this is the same group that came within an inch of losing its status as a political party.
Opposition Leader and Premier-elect Annastacia Palaszczuk looks set to lead a Labor minority or majority government.
Thus it becomes impossible to quantify the magnitude of this result, and even harder to convey in words the sheer disbelief that arises from a turnaround like this. There simply aren’t enough adjectives to describe it.
The statewide swing was at least 11% to Labor, with even greater swings of more than 20% in some electorates. No seat was safe. Not even those where the LNP held double-digit margins upwards of 15%, even 20%. In fact, the seat map illustrated a remarkable trend – Labor was achieving swings across individual electorates that were just enough to defeat the LNP regardless of local margins or the statewide swing.
In Bulimba, for example, Labor’s Di Farmer only obtained a 6.4% swing – almost half the state average – in a seat the LNP previously held on a 0.1% margin. Up north in Bundaberg, nobody expected the LNP to relinquish a seat they held on a margin of more than 18%. Yet Labor managed to turn almost a quarter of voters, registering a thoroughly unbelievable 24% swing that not even Labor had expected.
The swing against the LNP itself was almost 9% statewide. Three years earlier, the swing against Labor and Anna Bligh in 2012 had been more than 15%. But Labor didn’t need all 78 seats. They only needed 36 – and with the help of a 1% swing to the Greens and 10% against Katter’s Australian Party (KAP), they all but got there.
These sentiments in Ashgrove were reflected across much of Queensland.
The swings were brutal across Queensland, but varied in terms of source. In the far-north, much of the swing to Labor actually came from, whose vote across the state plummeted on the back of their decision to run just 10 candidates instead of the 76 they put forward in 2012. Instead of flowing to the conservative LNP as logic would dictate, those votes ended up with Labor.
Across south-east Queensland, however, the votes went straight from the LNP to Labor. Only in three seats were Labor truly reliant upon Greens preferences, another indication that this result like 2012 was a clear and unequivocal repudiation of the incumbent government. Forget minor parties and dodgy preferencing; the ability of Labor to achieve the necessary swing regardless of margin across the state meant that this was the definitive, textbook protest vote.
The only regions that remained relatively unscathed for the LNP were the coastal tourism spots north and south of Brisbane, with Newman’s party experiencing smaller-than-average swings and not losing a single seat on either the Sunshine Coast or the Gold Coast. It would be a pyrrhic victory for the LNP.
Outgoing Premier Campbell Newman calls time on his political career.
Newman himself remains as caretaker Premier until Labor forms either minority or majority government. He has already signalled his retirement from all politics, state or local, saying “my political is over” in what was all but a concession speech last night. He also declared that he had left Queensland in a better place than when he was elected, saying:
“I had to make tough decisions but they were necessary and I do truly believe they put Queensland in a far, far better place. We have put the state in a far better place than what we found it… When the history of this government is written people should look long and hard at a political team that did the hard yards, and didn’t leak, didn’t bitch and moan, they got on with their jobs. I just wish the community knew you were all men and women of conviction and I wish you the very best”
Newman didn’t stand a chance of keeping his seat anyway. He entered the election with a 5.7% margin over Labor’s Kate Jones, and was blown away with a swing of almost 10% to the former Labor minister whom he had beaten in 2012. On a two-party preferred (2PP) basis, the final result was 55-45 in favour of Jones – identical to the final Newspoll published on election day.
Kate Jones won back the seat of Ashgrove with a swing of 10%, after losing it to Campbell Newman on the back of a 13% swing.
Statewide, the numbers were almost identical to the newspolls and telephone surveys, with the LNP hovering around 41%, Labor on their typically election winning 38%, and the Greens around 8-9%. Palmer United gained 5% in their first outing as a party in Queensland, whilst Katter’s Australian Party plummeted to just 2%. Family First got the religious white idiot vote with around 1%, whilst One Nation sowed up the redneck vote with 1% (much of it for Pauline Hanson in Lockyer). Independents picked up the other 3-4%.
On a two-party preferred (2PP) basis, the numbers were slightly different to the poll results, with the LNP and Labor splitting the vote 50-50 rather than the 52-48 split in favour of the LNP many had predicted. Much of that was down to changes in preferencing, which saw a slight underestimation in Labor’s support, but a massive underestimation of the preference flows from traditionally conservative and anti-Labor parties towards the ALP.
Labor may well squeak over the line with a bare majority of one seat, but sometimes one is all you need to win power. Just ask Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who himself came within one seat of minority government and within three seats of majority government against Julia Gillard in the 2010 Federal Election.
He eventually won in a landslide three years later, but has governed so poorly that he too now stands to be annihilated in the coming 2016 election. This result now marks the third defeat for the Coalition in a state election since Tony Abbott’s elevation to the national leadership – two of which have happened to first-term governments.
Labor achieved a statewide swing of 11% and local swings in excess of 20% – a major concern for the LNP/Coalition.
In March 2014, the Coalition lost the ‘unloseable’ election in South Australia when polling had all but guaranteed victory for the Stephen Marshall-led opposition. In November 2014, the first-term Coalition government of Ted Baillieu/Denis Napthine lost their admittedly dicey grip on power (one seat majority which became a minority government).
Now the Liberal-National coalition has lost an even more ‘unloseable’ election in Queensland. It does not bode well for NSW, even though the Baird coalition government appears largely insulated from national and insulated trends. Indeed, after this result in Queensland, who will ever again think they are safe, or that they are guaranteed multiple terms?
Two state elections in three months, and three inside a year. The results in South Australia and Victoria could be waved away as the consequence of poor campaigning and protest votes on state issues. Not Queensland. This was as much Tony Abbott’s defeat as it was Campbell Newman’s – if not because the governing and personal style of Newman is much like that of Abbott.
On the back of this result, it is obvious that Abbott is hours away from losing the Prime Ministership. He will on Monday give a speech to the National Press Club that will either define or end his tenure. His colleagues at state and federal level are now openly discussing a leadership chance in the media, and actively canvassing support whilst denigrating their leader and their situation on-air.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s leadership now hangs in the balance as his colleagues actively plot his removal.
Such is politics in Australia. A snap election that woke Queenslanders out of their slumber has left political junkies in a state of shock and awe. It has left many of us eating humble pie – including yours truly – and struggling to comprehend how Labor created history and pulled off the impossible. Everybody – including Labor’s most ardent optimists – saw this election as an opportunity to rebuild for 2018, to become competitive in Parliament and relevant outside of it.
Instead, an election called cynically and deviously by the wily, audacious Newman has in fact ended his political career, dumped the LNP from government after less than three years in power, and most incredibly has all but terminated the already-shaky Prime Ministership of Tony Abbott.
Stunning? Unprecendented? Gobsmackingly dumbfounding? Last night was all of those things, and more. This has been an incredible victory for Labor.