What do the current issues around Labor and the LNP mean for the success of minor parties in the upcoming election?
Following criticism of her Government when its covid19 restrictions prevented a young woman from attending her father’s funeral, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declared on September 14: “If it means I have to lose the election, I will risk all that if it means keeping Queenslanders safe.”
A touch of hyperbole to signal her apparent commitment to public health.
The Queensland Government’s handling of the pandemic is certainly uppermost in voters’ minds, with the lockdown and subsequent economic crash compromising livelihoods, creating a spike in depression and suicides. Queensland had the nation’s second-highest unemployment rate in September, particularly in regional areas, at 14.5 per cent, triple what it was just five years earlier.
On September 7, Treasurer Cameron Dick admitted: “More than 138,200 Queenslanders have lost their jobs since the pandemic started.”
The ALP was dealt a major blow when the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) broke from the party’s left faction and campaigned against Labor in Toowoomba North, accusing it of pandering to the “inner-city green vote”.
CFMMEU construction division secretary Michael Ravbar stated: “The Labor Government has been walking away from its working-class roots.” Resentment has been brewing over Labor’s failure to approve the expansion of the New Acland coalmine – Australian owned, unlike the Indian-owned Adani.
In the 2019 federal election, voters in two marginal coalmining seats, Flynn and Capricornia, chose One Nation over Labor, thus helping the LNP increase its majority with preferences.
MINOR PARTIES STRONG REGIONALLY
As minor parties, Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) and One Nation are proving strong contenders in regional seats, with commitments to building infrastructure and creating jobs. KAP supports the creation of a Special Economic Zone and rural development bank to stimulate investment in rural areas.
The LNP has also unveiled a robust economic plan to kick-start Queensland’s economy. In a change from former policy emphasising the free market, the LNP vows to protect local businesses and jobs.
Unlike Labor, it also promises to introduce no new taxes, but instead to slash land tax by 75 per cent to stimulate construction jobs. The LNP also plans to introduce tough anti-trespass laws to safeguard farmers, miners and key infrastructure from disruptive activists.
Labor is fighting back with flyers advertising its economic recovery plan. On the Government’s covid19 website, Labor claims that Queensland’s economy is “forecast to rebound almost twice as strong as the Australian average”. An individual plan is listed for each region, emphasising mining, agriculture and transport.
During their first election debate via Zoom, both Palaszczuk and Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington undertook to decrease household electricity bills. The Premier focused on the Government’s $500 million investment into solar, hydro and wind projects, while Frecklington highlighted the LNP’s Bradfield Scheme to generate 2000 megawatts of energy from hydroelectric stations. Currently, coal provides 80 per cent of Queensland’s power.
The Australian Financial Review has noted that energy experts say Labor’s “renewable energy fund will squeeze out private investment and cannibalise the profits of its state-owned coal-fired power stations”.
On the social-issues front, One Nation has become the first political party in Australia to release a “Right to Life” policy, committing to reduce the gestational limit for abortions, provide pain relief for babies being aborted, medical care for those born alive after botched abortions, and restoration of doctors’ rights to conscientious objection.
The KAP while not campaigning on life issues states that it stands for “Christian values and a responsibility to one’s fellow man”. The LNP, which does not have a pro-life platform, has promised to “review gestation limits, counselling arrangements and protections against abortion coercion”, of course, no one is sure what that actually means.
Former deputy premier Jackie Trad brought up voluntary assisted dying (VAD) as an election issue, reminding voters that it is Labor Party policy to legalise it. LNP policy is against VAD, but Frecklington would permit a conscience vote. Pauline Hanson has supported VAD in the past, but her party has not mentioned its official stance on the issue.
The Australian Institute for Progress’ analysis of a recent YouGov poll runs thus: “As in the 2017 election, electors are unenthusiastic about the two major parties. While they rate Labor ahead of the LNP on key issues, they harbour an on-balance desire to see LNP elected. This makes both parties’ positions fragile.” Will it lead to an increase of votes for minor parties?
The poll showed a 3.2 per cent swing to the LNP, which led Labor 52 per cent to 48 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.
Past speaker of the Queensland Parliament and QUT Adjunct Associate Professor John Mickel observes: “The LNP and Labor are struggling to achieve 70 per cent of the primary vote, with more than 30 per cent now being grabbed by minor parties … The preferences of those third-place getters are counted, which is a key reason why state-wide polls on preferred parties or leaders are meaningless.”
Labor has lost only one state election since 1989, and the LNP needs to win nine seats for a majority. As most of Queensland’s population lives outside Brisbane, parties have to appeal to regional voters. The party that wins on October 31 must have a solid and sustainable plan for economic recovery after the pandemic. After all, in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, food trumps safety.