The Guardian February 21, 2001


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.

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