by Dr Mark Hayes
Dr Mark Hayes is a native Queenslander, a journalism academic, and a former researcher, reporter, and producer with the then ABC TV state-based weeknight current affairs programme, The 7.30 Report. He helped report on the Fitzgerald Inquiry and its aftermath, which continues today.
We’re off to the polls on January 31. Calm yourselves. The LNP will win.
After that confident prediction, several really interesting things may occur, interesting in the Chinese curse sense.
Rather than go into all the psephological details, the ABC’s indefatigable Antony Green is on the case.
Dr Hayes predicts an LNP win – let’s hope he’s wrong
The LNP will win because it holds a huge majority of seats in Queensland’s single chamber Parliament and there would have to be a genuinely astonishing state wide swing of almost 12% two party preferred against the Newman Government for Labor to win government in its own right. Then again, the massive swing against the Bligh Government in 2012 was astonishing.
The LNP holds 73 seats in Queensland’s 89 seat Parliament. The ALP holds nine, independents hold three, and Katter’s Australian Party holds three seats.
Just to be clear about this, Newman and the LNP didn’t win massively in 2012 because Queensland voters eagerly endorsed, understood, or were even told what their real agendas and policies were, and remain.
The LNP largely won so comprehensively because they weren’t the tired Bligh Labor Government which had betrayed voters by privatizing some state assets, such as Queensland Rail’s lucrative freight division, after promising voters they would not do so, and Queensland Labor ran an awful election campaign. Campbell Newman capitalized on his high profile as former Brisbane Lord Mayor and the fact he wasn’t Anna Bligh.
Essentially the same reason the largely accidental Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, elected Opposition Leader by one vote and then pursuing a relentlessly corrosive attack strategy, won in September, 2013. He wasn’t Julia Gillard or Kevin Rudd and he wasn’t leading the ALP.
What has occurred since is largely backfilling the narratives to argue for ‘mandates’.
Not enough of a swing to unseat the LNP
For the Newman Government to lose power, there would have to be a 9.58% swing state wide away from them, leaving them with 45 seats, leaving the LNP or Labor to negotiate with minority parties to form a government, and an 11.18% swing with 45 seats would see Labor able to govern alone.
That’s not going to happen.
As a very outside chance, the LNP might form a minority government in uneasy and unstable partnership with a handful of independents, hardly the ‘strong stable government’ the LNP is arguing it will provide and it says business wants.
Unpicking several important threads leads to a deeper understanding of what’s in play.
Despite what the LNP federally and in Queensland are arguing, want voters to believe, and following on from the unexpected Labor win in Victoria, attributed significantly to voter disaffection with the Abbott Government, as well as local issues, such as the East West Link project in Melbourne, federal issues and especially the Abbott Government are important in both Queensland and New South Wales.
Unlike New South Wales, which has fixed terms, Queensland could have gone to the polls anytime before June, 2015, but the NSW election must be held in March, and while Labor won’t win with the stench of ICAC’s disclosures haunting it, and having just installed a new Opposition leader, NSW Labor would improve its position, also capitalizing on disaffection with the LNP federally.
Given the abysmal reception of the first Abbott – Hockey budget, followed by the MYEFO in December, 2014, consistently dismal polling, rising unemployment, barely contained inflation, and the Abbott Government’s awful, even shambolic, messaging, the ‘Victoria Effect’ could not be allowed to contaminate the Queensland and definitely not the NSW poll.
There’s no way the Newman Government would have left the election much closer to term, allowing for an electoral scare, but not LNP defeat, in NSW, and another Abbott Government budget in May, 2015. “Go very early to minimize the damage,” was no doubt the politically astute advice on George Street, Brisbane.
Locally, even Courier-Mail polling was showing a steady decline in LNP approval, with a concomitant improvement in Labor approval, both in party and preferred premier terms.
This snap Queensland election is thence largely being held to limit damage to the LNP brand in Queensland and especially later in NSW, the ‘Victoria Effect’, flowing on federally.
Looking further ahead, if the Abbott Government encounters the same resistance in the Senate to its second budget as it has to its first budget, and if Abbott’s unpopularity leads to serious, even realized, leadership speculation or even a coup, an early Federal election or even a double dissolution election doesn’t seem entirely unlikely. Having a ‘Victoria Effect’ lodged in Queensland, and impacting on NSW as well would not make for favorable omens for an Abbott, Bishop, or Turnbull LNP government.
While the Newman Government isn’t as explicitly ideologically driven as the Abbott Government, a number of elements in both government’s playbooks bear considering.
Find, amplify or even or invent a crisis the only rational or even possible solution to which is found in rigorous neo-liberal policy prescriptions. This is Naomi Klein’s ‘Shock Doctrine’.
“Suprise, suprise,” in a land of no surprises
Soon after its election, the Newman Government commissioned a Commission of Audit chaired by, surprise, surprise, former Howard Government treasurer, Peter Costello, assisted by public service commission chair, Dr Doug McTaggert, and James Cook University’s Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sandra Harding.
The Audit Commission essentially found, surprise, surprise, that Queensland’s budget was in an awful state, exclusively thanks to Labor’s profligacy and waste, and nothing whatsoever to do with the GFC or a series of major natural disasters. Every government has major challenges, to be sure, such as unfunded superannuation liabilities for retiring public servants (Costello’s Future Fund seeks to deal with this federally), and escalating demands on health (ageing population and growth), education, and so on.
The Audit Commission essentially recommended, surprise, surprise, radically reduce the size of the public service, outsource more government functions and services to the always far more efficient private sector, and privatize more government assets, particularly electricity generation.
This was something of a rehearsal for what the Abbott Government did two years later with its own Costello chaired Commission of Audit, essentially a blueprint for the systematic dismantling of the Australian Settlement and its replacement by a rigorous neo-liberal market driven paradise. Many Costello Commission recommendations were too politically radioactive even for the hard heads of the Abbott Cabinet, but therein lie ticking away their real policies.
Uncover a suddenly discovered crisis, solely caused by the previous government’s perfidy and profligacy, and then start using what’s called the Noble Lie.
One of these men will most likely win the Queensland election — hint the other two are dead
The Noble Lie
Derived from Plato, but bearing little resemblance to Plato’s original description, the Noble Lie, as described by a neo-liberal philosopher, Leo Strauss, holds that it is entirely acceptable for aspiring politicians to lie about their real policies and plans because, given they are correct because neo-liberalism holds there are no other rational alternatives, lesser or weaker political aspirants, and those who do not understand correct political and economic policies would not understand or accept these essential requirements for modern governance. So electors can be, even should be, lied to until power is achieved, and then the real policies can be implemented.
Couple the foregoing with what is essentially fact free post-modernist discourse, and the Newman Government and especially the Abbott Government’s Playbooks become much clearer to understand.
Without going into tedious detail, post-modernism, which so-called conservatives argue, through culture wars and the like, they loathe, detaches older, modernist, standards of discoverable truths or verifiable facts from ethical or moral anchors, which then become socially created, and thus wholly negotiable or debatable. Post-modernism is now all but wholly discredited and abandoned in academé, but its slippery residues have sunk deep and ooze out in contemporary political ‘debates’.
Budget emergencies, anybody? The sciences of climate change still aren’t settled?
The forgoing solidify or coalesce into essentially what’s called Liquid Modernity, a term coined by a British – Polish sociologist, Zygmunt Bauman. An earlier description, applied to the final versions of the Howard Government, was ‘post-modern conservatism’. What were once quite ‘solid’ societal principles, foundations, anchors derived from the Western Enlightenment and even Westminster governance have gone liquid, are shifting, up for grabs or conquest.
The Abbott Government is Australia’s first truly Liquid Modern government, which explains why many even reliable political commentators are still struggling to really nail down what the Abbott government’s really on about, why their policies largely reek, and why almost nobody’s listening to them.
One of the major problems encountered by the above very briefly sketched out Playbook, partially followed by the Newman Government and largely followed by the Abbott Government, is what the leading scholar of democracy, Sydney University’s Professor John Keane, calls ‘monitory democracy’.
A major feature of ‘monitory democracy’, according to Prof Keane, is that, with widespread access to the Internet, voters so minded and information literate, can directly access reliable sources of information and analysis themselves, and evaluate, compare, and contrast what, say, the OECD or the World Bank or even the Treasury or Finance Departments report about the Australian economy, and what politicians are asserting: ‘Budget emergencies’ versus ‘Some areas of concern needing considered attention, but overall, by comparable developed world standards, very sound and robust’, ‘the carbon tax will destroy Australia’s competitiveness and won’t work’, versus ‘business got used to it, adapted, energy efficiencies rose, carbon pollution decreased, and it raised some $16 billion revenue’.
Another feature of monitory democracy is the rise and impacts of social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, which politicians and party strategists ignore at their peril. Especially younger voters, so-called ‘digital natives’, get their news from and form their opinions on the basis of their constant social media access and uses.
Register early, vote often
In passing, given four days from calling the election to the rolls closing, and allowing for many people just turned 18 needing to enroll being on holidays, not a few younger potential voters may miss out, though it is not clear whether this will have any noticeable effects on the outcome. Of course, aspiring voters, or those needing to change their electoral details, can do so Online.
Potentially millions of voters can and do monitor governance, share findings, opinions, informational Links, to compare, contrast, and critique, tracking politicians, aspirants, and campaigns almost minute by minute.
Assertions, claims, selective readings of reliable data, scare mongering, dog whistling, all the tricks of modern governance and campaigning are monitored, dissected, and critiqued, all to highly variable degrees or standards of credibility or veracity, to be sure, but with sufficient impacts for reliable analysis to be found and disseminated among informed voters, who then can influence their peers.
Fold the Playbook together ~ confected or invented ‘crises’, Noble Lies, ‘fact free’ post-modernist rhetoric coupled with rigorous neo-liberal prescriptions and policies (Costello Commission’s Queensland and then national Recommendations) ~ and the Abbott Government’s activities and, to a lesser extend, those of the Newman Government start to make clearer sense.
Most of the Abbott Government’s self-inflicted problems have arisen because they haven’t been especially subtle or clever about following their own Playbook, and sufficiently astute commentators and observers, and then voters, have dissected their activities, and found them seriously wanting, even on their own terms. The next stage in analysis and critique is to really nail this Liquid Modern angle.
Queensland Opposition Leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, whose party can hold their caucus meetings in a mini-van, has clawed back popularity largely because she isn’t Campbell Newman, as well as drawing support thanks to a series of Newman Government defections, resignations, anger at its perceived arrogance, concerns about environment issues such as the Great Barrier Reef, and concern over who or what’s next on the Government’s hit lists; first they came for the public servants, then the bikies (not a few had it coming anyway, but it’s the methods Newman used which caused unease), they tried coming for doctors in hospitals, and they’re always coming for unions and greenies.
One potentially very interesting issue, largely off the radar in the cities, is deep and widespread anger in southern and south-western Queensland at the activities and impacts of coal seam gas exploration and exploitation. Groups like Lock the Gates have been waging a significant anti-CSG campaign, forming strong alliances with farmers deeply fearful about the long term effects of CSG mining on their water supplies, agricultural productivity, and even their health. This is occurring in deep National Party heartlands west of the Great Dividing Range even as the output from those gas fields begins being exported from one of the three massive LNG processing hubs at Gladstone.
An LNP victory without CanDo?
Newman was parachuted into the usually conservative north-western Brisbane electorate of Ashgrove and took advantage of the massive state wide anti-Labor swing with a 5.7% gain, unseating the well regarded ALP MP, Kate Jones.
Much attention will be on that electorate because Ms Jones is standing again. She may well win it back, and, barring any local upsets, 17 LNP seats scattered across the state from Bulimba in eastern Brisbane (.14%) through Townsville (4.83%), and Mt Coot-tha in Brisbane’s conservative west (5.36%) would then also almost certainly be lost. With another 11 LNP seats on between 6.39%, Keppel in central coastal Queensland, and 9.55%, Stretton in Brisbane’s expanding southern fringe, would also look shakey for the LNP.
A day after calling the snap election Campbell Newman was warning Queensland that if he loses Ashgrove, the LNP loses government, which presupposes a near 6% swing against him, but still needs 11 more LNP seats to go to Labor before the victor can even consider a minority government, let alone a clear win on a solid 12%+ two party preferred swing.
But if Newman loses his seat, reprising John Howard in the 2007 federal election, who then would become Premier?
Depends which part of the LNP delivers government ~ the largest number of seats from notionally Liberal electorates, mostly metropolitan, outer metropolitan, and major regional cities like Cairns or Townsville, putting Transport Minister, Scott Emerson (Indooroopilly), Treasurer Tim Nicholls (Clayfield), or (God help us!), Attorney General, Jarrod Bleijie (Kawana, Sunshine Coast, near Noosa) in the frame, or notionally National seats largely based in the regions. Or a fearsome Party squabble, metaphorical blood leaking out under the party room door, or a long term aspirant in the safest LNP seat in Queensland, Southern Downs, held by serial opposition leader, currently Health Minister, Lawrence ‘The Borg’ Springborg. But consider the possibility of Deputy Premier and Nationals leader, Jeff Seeney, from the central Queensland electorate of Callide who recently told coastal local government authorities to remove references to climate change amplified sea level rise in development documentation.
Do you really want one of these gentlemen to be in-charge?
Interesting times for psephologists.
More as Queensland grows every more excited as election day looms.