Queensland’s election: Telling the voters they’re dim


It’s the morning after the night before, and Queensland is waking up to one of the most stunning election results in modern history. In 2012 the Labor Party had been reduced to just seven (later nine) seats in the 89-seat state assembly, not enough even to guarantee state funding. Their leader was almost literally the last woman standing – the only one of her colleagues with any cabinet experience, and precious little of that. Three years later and the leader of the ruling Liberal National Party (LNP) was widely unpopular, and at risk of losing his seat, but no-one expected such a badly wounded Labor party to do anything more than get back to mounting an effective opposition.

And then last night happened. A Labor majority it seems (still three seats left to declare); safe LNP seats turned red overnight; the Premier turfed out of his seat and office. And Labor politicians are looking almost as stunned as their LNP opponents.

Therein lies a problem for Labor. They have to stop looking so stunned and start looking like a government, with a plan. They have to stop talking about how much thinking they have to do and start doing, and showing what they can do.

For a deliberative democrat like me, who believes in slow, careful policy making, that’s interesting. Deliberation is all very important, but once you’re in an executive position you ought to start showing you can execute the carefully-deliberated plans you already have. Because you already have them, don’t you guys? Guys?

Meanwhile the Liberals are wondering what went so very, very wrong. And largely getting it wrong. For good reasons, but wrong nonetheless.

The most interesting thing coming out of the LNP is the line that “we failed to communicate what we were doing effectively.” You can see why they would say that – it’s a back-handed way of blaming the voters instead of themselves. “We are competent, we have the right ideas, it’s just the poor benighted fools didn’t understand. Our only fault is that we couldn’t talk down at their level. Sigh.” The other major line is that a good local LNP team was brought down by voters wanting to punish the national government, reeling from a series of silly mistakes, like knighting Prince Phillip (doh).

I call “bullshit”. The election was about largely about state issues, not federal ones. Large numbers of voters didn’t want mass privatisation; they felt the LNP was cutting too many services and too many jobs; they didn’t believe the “it’s getting better” line; they didn’t like the arrogance on display. They didn’t like what was seen as a tendency to say one thing and do the opposite. They got the message all right, loud and clear, and the majority replied with a resounding “No.”

Similar issues contributed to Labor’s downfall in 2012, unpopular asset sales proposals in particular. But Labor were very clear this time around that they got the policy wrong, had listened, had changed. The LNP, in the depths of stunned disappointment, is doing the opposite.

That is part of what got punished last night: telling the voters, in effect, that they’re dim.

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