Written by Peter CarterFebruary 1, 2015
Yesterday’s election was an object lesson in voter retaliation. Topping the list of factors at the root of the backlash was the palpable distrust of Campbell Newman himself. An outsider who took an arguably opportunistic tilt of the state’s top job was initially seen as a breath of fresh air.
But consigning 15,000 public servants to the unemployment list – done with unconcealed glee – revealed a nasty side of which voters were forever wary. The axing of income of replacement for 1,500 or so injured workers each year – without so much as a debate and in the absence of any economic case to do so – likewise sent a chill down the spine.
Picking unnecessary fights with the judiciary and parliamentary committees left more distaste in the mouths of many from the middle of the road. The refreshing outsider was suddenly a bullying intruder.
To be sure, federal blunders also played a major role given Newman’s ideological brotherhood with Tony Abbott. The GP co-payment, tertiary fee deregulation, unemployment & pension changes, the resurrection of Work Choices and the uproar over Prince Philip’s knighthood, all paved way for Labor to have a disaster-free coast into polling day.
The Canberra newscycle drowned out much of what the LNP had to say and deflected attention from Labor’s policy wasteland.
Newman’s vulnerability in his own seat was a plus for the opposition. Denial even of facing up to the question of who would lead the party should Ashgrove fall, was more a sign of tactical weakness than of strength. It painted the LNP as deluded when that mantle should squarely have sat on Labor’s shoulders.
The incumbents’ only standout success was its bikie laws. But their introduction was so inept and the legislation itself so clumsy, that they produced more negative sentiment than positive that (extraordinarily) resounded until election day.
The sluggish economy – caused by decline in mining investment; below average household spending; high Australian dollar; and persistent depressed consumer sentiment – was mostly outside the government’s control. Add to that the collapse in the oil price and slashing of forecast LNG and coal royalty revenues, the much vaunted economic turnaround was still too far over the horizon to create any impression on swinging voters.
But in voters’ eyes, the economic conditions were as much a product of Abbott and Newman austerity. Job losses, compensation cuts and program windbacks applied a negative multiplier on the revenue side that smashed small business who faced the worst trading conditions for more than a decade.
Given that background, the promised cash splash trumpeted in the 10 days leading up to the vote sounded to many, just a bit too hollow. And inconsistent with the need for the cutbacks – that led to the stubborn and hurtful downturn – in the first place.
Great Barrier Reef conservation was also a major issue with Labor’s labelling of the incumbents as irresponsible in managing our greatest natural asset, very effective. Although only partly valid, their claims rang true in the eyes of many especially in the context of the “endangered” status controversy and the headlines that couldn’t be stopped despite conservative best efforts.
The major difference between the parties was that of asset sales. The basis of its “strong plan” for debt reduction and infrastructure spending, it was a LNP positive but mostly for the party faithful. Labor’s stance against was an emotional appeal. The loss of voters’ assets and the prospect of higher prices being charged by private owners resonated with many but mostly, to those already inclined to tick the ALP box.
The first leaders’ forum during the campaign demonstrated that if given the airtime, Newman could articulate his message far better than his opponent – and that he had something to say. That said, his message – because of overwhelming federal distraction – generally rated little higher than background noise. The “strong team, strong plan” tag – despite its constant repetition – simply didn’t get through.
Anastacia Palasczuk campaigned well. Her (unexpected) photogenics almost compensated for her nervous media delivery. With so many others – GetUp, WWF, unions, articulate federal MPs, ACF, retired crimefighters – doing the talking for her, Palasczuk’s inability to deliver vocally – until the last day of the campaign – mattered less than it ordinarily would.
Federal opposition leader Bill Shorten’s last-minute dash to Iraq was a potential seat-winner for Townsville and no doubt produced a positive response elsewhere.
Did the short campaign play to the incumbent’s favour? No. Had the campaign been longer Labor would have eventually suffered its embarrassments of its own and allowed the LNP to cling to more seats.
The election’s timing – in January – was also just a bit tricky. For many it was confirmation that they were being ‘played’ all along: hidden agendas; economic slash and burn begetting promised boom; vote for us or you’ll get nothing; the absurd assertion that if Newman lost so would the LNP; sanctioning covert donations; asset leases aren’t asset sales; bikie cash going to Labor.
Not surprising that voters took the transparent, believable and “modest” option, albeit sometimes clumsy.