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Coronavirus Election: Labor returns in Queensland

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Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's firm stance on border closures and restrictions paid off at election time (Screenshot via YouTube)

Despite her track record of some conservative policies, Annastacia Palaszczuk won a third consecutive term on her COVID-19 response, writes Dr Binoy Kampmark.

QUEENSLAND IS SAID to be the first of political entities to ever elect a socialist government in 1899.

This was not to suggest any radical streak in the Australian Labor Party; Vladimir Lenin was bemused by the movement, suggesting that it:

‘...does not even claim to be Socialist Party. As a matter of fact, it is a liberal bourgeois party and the so-called Liberals in Australia are really Conservatives.’

How true. 

To the polls Queenslanders went on Saturday and the political pundits and psephologists were anticipating a close thing. The incumbent Labor Government of Annastacia Palaszczuk was doing battle with the conservatives (the Liberal National Party), a campaign marked by little in the way of sprightly imagination. The novel coronavirus had done Palaszczuk a good turn, enabling her to improve her personal popularity. Former LNP leader Deb Frecklington was pressed to embrace a crude “law and order” message in the regional seats.  

Despite the repeatedly cautious warnings by ABC election analyst Antony Green to not read too much into initial figures, the LNP’s effort to secure the nine seats needed never eventuated. Queensland Labor not only held such forts as Mundingburra, Townsville and Thuringowa, but conquered them with swings in their favour. The ABC election computer predicts as many as 52 seats for Labor of the 93 on offer.

The record of the Palaszczuk Government leading into the Election was patchy, suggesting what a thrill it was to have COVID-19 appear on its doorstep. In a traditionally conservative state, it did manage to legalise abortion, promise a vote on voluntary assisted dying and ban gay conversion therapies. But it did not go unnoticed that the same government targeted climate change protesters, notably on the use of “locking devices”. Fatuous, even libellous claims were made that protestors had employed “sinister” tactics including booby-trapping such devices with butane canisters with the express purpose of harming emergency service workers.

The Government has also had a mixed record on the environment, suggesting more than a mild form of political schizophrenia. It has embraced the renewable energy platform and an aggressive pro-coal mining policy. A particularly ingratiating attitude was adopted to the Indian mining giant Adani and its AU$2 billion Carmichael coal mine. In an agreement finalised with the company just before the Election, the Palaszczuk Government has allowed Adani to defer the payment of royalties on the mine for an unspecified period. 

Treasurer Cameron Dick refused to reveal when that deferred period would conclude, or how much the state would collect, though he tried to reassure voters:

“...that Adani will pay every dollar in royalties that they have to pay to the people of Queensland — with interest.”

Frecklington’s LNP decided to court the reactionary vote in targeting youth crime, promising an 8 PM curfew for unaccompanied children aged 14 and under and a 10 PM curfew for those aged 15 to 17. Parents were to be fined AU$250 for unaccompanied children found past the hour “without a reasonable excuse”. The legislation would be amended, Frecklington promised, “to take the children from the streets and put them in a refuge”.

The Election also boasted an unhealthy tendency typical in Australian and Westminster politics in general: a loathing, even a fear, of power-sharing arrangements with minor parties.  The majoritarian rule is considered the equivalent of total parliamentary power, deemed necessary for executing the sovereign will of the electorate. It rarely occurs to the politicians of major parties that they might have to co-operate with smaller groups with different inclinations to pass legislation or mint policy.  

The fear for both major parties prior to the vote was the prospect that the state vote would sharply and erratically divide. The result might have been what Labor has uncharitably and immaturely termed a “Frankenstein Parliament”. Political scientist Glenn Kefford put his finger on the concern: that there was “not going to be a uniform big swing one way or the other”

In the lead-up to the Election, neither Palaszczuk nor Frecklington would commit to sharing power with a minority party. Smaller parties did, nonetheless, tease them about prospects.

As Australia’s only Greens federally elected lower house representative, Adam Bandt put it:

“When we’ve shared power with Labor, we’ve had major wins for essential services, the environment and the climate.” 

When Labor and the Greens have shared the reins, pollution has fallen.

While a Labor-Greens alliance would have seemed natural on several levels, the ALP seems to suggest otherwise. “It would be a ticket to opposition in 2024,” suggested one Labor MP to Guardian Australia

The other party with representatives in the Queensland Parliament, Katter’s Australian Party, also found the refusal by the major parties to even flirt with the idea of sharing government a matter of consternation. They have instead preferred, according to KAP leader Robbie Katter, “coming up to the north and trying to bribe people”.

The Greens, in some ways, had something of a last laugh on 31 October, increasing their Queensland parliamentary membership by one. It came at the expense of Jackie Trad, Labor’s former Deputy Premier, whose seat of South Brisbane fell to Amy MacMahon.

As MacMahon read it, the swings to the Greens in certain seats, even in a Queensland election:

“...sends a message to the political establishment that the time when mining corporations are able to dictate to our political system who gets what, is completely over.” 

Very salad-day optimism, given Palaszczuk’s cosy disposition to mining in the state.

A less enthusiastic Deputy Premier, Steven Miles, sounded almost vengeful at the loss of Trad. Instead of offering a hand in congratulation to the second Greens member of Queensland’s Parliament, he blamed preference votes from the conservatives, the “result of the LNP’s decision to elect more Greens to the parliament and they’re going to have to answer for that, I think”.  A hatred of minor parties, bubbling to the last.

Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Cambridge Scholar and is an Independent Australia columnist and lecturer at RMIT University. You can follow Dr Kampmark on Twitter @BKampmark.

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