Thursday, 29 March 2012

The Queensland Conundrum

Labor's recent annihilation in Queensland has led to much back-and-forth over any potential implications for the federal government.

It would be fair to say that federal issues played a backseat role in the state campaign.  Opposition Leader Campbell Newman did talk about the carbon tax, but it was a peripheral point, lagging behind traditional state problems such as service delivery and general competency in importance.

The wider issue associated with the carbon tax, namely the cost of living, was of course much more prevalent.  But it is worth noting that Queensland Labor was on the path to political annihilation even before Prime Minister Gillard announced that there would be a carbon tax.

We can thus discount the tax as a central source of Queensland Labor's electoral woes.  But this should be of little comfort to the federal party.  The straw that broke Premier Bligh's back is a familiar one in Canberra - the question of trust.

Anna Bligh made no mention of asset sales prior to the 2009 state election, but within months of her success at the polls she had sprung the surprise on her constituents.  She promised that fuel subsidies would remain untouched during the campaign, and then abolished them after the election. These twin betrayals of the voters' trust set her on the path to electoral oblivion long before Campbell Newman came along.

Clearly, Queensland voters do not take kindly to such surprises from their political leaders.  When it comes to her broken pledge on the carbon tax, they will have about as much sympathy for the Prime Minister as they had for Premier Bligh.

Strategically, this is an urgent problem for the federal government.  Labor currently holds eight Queensland seats in the parliament, and seven of them are marginal.  If the state election's vote were to be replicated federally next year, only Kevin Rudd would stand a better-than-even chance of survival.

Remember, in order to reattain majority government, Julia Gillard will be required to gain seats at the next election.  Losing two or three seats in Queensland alone would all but guarantee a Liberal victory.

Labor, if it is to retain power, must resurrect its vote in the sunshine state.  There is no alternative. But Queensland voters have just shown us all how they react to a political leader breaking their trust.  Having witnessed Premier Bligh's demise, how does Julia Gillard now escape Queensland's wrath?

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