Queensland elections: Labor harnesses anger of voters
by David Matters In the last week before the state election voters in Queensland were barraged with Pauline Hanson. There were images of her in long frocks and, mini-skirted, climbing into helicopters. Ridiculous proposals of marriage were publicised. In dozens of interviews she was given the status of "opposition leader". Other parties were relegated into being HER opposition. Despite the fanfare One Nation's vote was down by at least 14 percent. Their candidates won no more than 8.9 percent of the Queensland vote overall. In the previous election One Nation candidates won 22 percent. One Nation seats fell from 11 to only three definite seats. Two of these are the direct result of National Party preferences. The most dominant feature of the Queensland election was the harnessing by Labor of the anger in both the bush and in the city against the policies of the Federal Coalition. The ALP gained decisive victories in at least 62 of the 89 seats. In many seats the Labor swing amounts to up to 14 percent. Labor votes came from many traditional conservative areas. The Liberal vote collapsed. Their candidates ran to third or fourth place behind One Nation and the Independents. In Woodridge, a less affluent suburb in the metropolitan area, Labor polled 10,253 votes, One Nation 3,772 with Independent John Grant 1,970. The Liberal candidate, Jane Simon, was in fourth place with 1,057 votes. The conservatives were split over the question of preferences with One Nation. The first victims of the backlash against the conservatives were those in the National Party who deserted their leader and preferenced One Nation. Former Liberal Leader and Deputy Opposition Leader, John Sheldon, gave preferences to One Nation despite her party's position and still faces defeat at the polls. The Labor campaign of Peter Beattie successfully attacked John Howard and the conservatives over petrol prices (particularly in the bush) and the privatisation of Telstra. The deregulation of the dairy industry that was forced by the Federal Government, the Business Activity Statements associated with the GST and anger among small business saw Labor endowed with many new supporters. People have had enough and are prepared to do non-traditional things such as abandon their previous voting patterns. This resulted in the Labor landslide. What has not been reported is the strong showing in some electorates for Greens candidates who polled up to 10 percent, and in Rob Borbidge's seat, 11.7 percent. Green preferences in some seats helped to unseat conservatives to the point of almost claiming Borbidge's scalp. The Democrats have had their vote reduced and in most seats polled behind the Greens. The City Country Alliance, the offshoot of One Nation was decimated, along with all but one of the former One Nation independents. This independent ran in former Joh Bjelke-Petersen's seat of Nanango. In spite of Labor's landslide, Independent Liz Cunningham was returned with an increased primary vote in the seat of Gladstone. This was a former Labor Party seat. Another Independent, Peter Wellington, who supported the previous Labor Government, also increased his primary vote despite facing opposition from the Greens, One Nation, the ALP, the Nationals and Liberals. With a number of seats still being counted there are different estimates of the seats won. Some give Labor up to 67 seats and the Nationals no more than eight or nine. At this stage the Liberal Party can only count on one seat. The independents hold three seats. Up to 11 seats remain undecided. At this stage it appears that only the National Party may hold enough seats to claim opposition party status within the parliament. (A party needs a minimum of 10 seats to be able to claim opposition status under the two- party Westminster system.) The election fallout increases the pressure on the Federal conservative Coalition. The National Party split in Queensland over preferences to One Nation. The Liberal Party were unable to recover from their 1998 deal with One Nation. They will all be further damaged as sections of the conservative parties adopt One Nation policies and jockey for preference deals. There is a possibility that the Liberal Party will not be capable of gaining enough support to win in the upcoming Federal by-election in the electorate of Ryan which was brought on by the resignation of former Defence Minister, John Moore. This by-election is due to be held in March. Another feature of the election was Peter Beattie's advice to voters to just vote 1 for Labor Party candidates, without allocating preferences. This spread to other parties and has lead to some calls for an end to preferential voting. The move is is another attempt to exclude the minor parties and perhaps end the damage being done over preferential issues to the major parties. It could result in the adoption of a first-past-the-post voting system which is the worst of all voting systems. The post-election media coverage still portrays Pauline Hanson as the leader of the groundswell of anger. This, despite the fact that the discontent preceded Pauline Hanson. To the extent that One Nation remains a force it represents a right-wing force. Its promotion by the media can also be seen as an attempt to head off the dissatisfaction with economic rationalist policies in other ways. One is to direct support to the "safe harbour" of Labor. The ALP has also adopted economic rationalist policies. The other is to try to reorganise the traditional conservative parties. There is concern among capitalist forces about the total decimation of the Liberal/National Coalition. The decimation of one side of the two-party system opens up a dangerous vacuum and there is likely to be much work done to reinvigorate the Liberal/National Coalition "in the interests of democracy". In any case, business circles will move immediately to drag Labor to adopt policies in the interests of the corporations. If the Queensland Labor Party capitulates to these pressures, the present enthusiasm will be only temporary. The development of a broadly based left-progressive alternative that includes the Greens becomes more urgent and more practical in the current period.