“I can see clearly now, my job is gone,” to paraphrase the 1972 hit song. Suddenly seeing clearly is what politicians mysteriously do after leaving the stage. The passing of power leaves them with a kind of hyper-clarity on subjects that just months before they had been all wordy, vague, and reluctant.
This week saw another case when the dumped ex-cabinet minister, Robert McClelland, notorious for monotonous legalese as AG, suddenly found brevity when defining Julia Gillard’s problem: broken promises (carbon tax), and endless political spin.
Sour grapes aside, the catalyst was obvious: the dire standing of the ALP in successive opinion polls and the mother of all electoral king-hits delivered by Queensland voters a fortnight ago reducing the Bligh government to an embarrassing non-party rump.
After the events in Queensland on Saturday it’s probably time to upgrade Wayne Goss’s memorable observation at the 1996 federal election that voters in the Sunshine State were waiting with baseball bats to clobber the life out of the Keating government.
If Saturday’s state result was in any way a dry run for what awaits Labor federally next year, voters in Queensland are waiting with baseball bats, rocket launchers and cans of capsicum spray in readiness to obliterate the ALP.
If the staggering and unprecedented 16 to 17 per cent swing at Saturday’s state election is in any way reflected at the next federal poll, Labor will be utterly destroyed, with a raft of senior government figures from Treasurer Wayne Swan down swept from office. The equal-worst federal result Labor has ever had in Queensland was in 1996, when just two of its MPs were re-elected. On Saturday’s numbers, not one Queensland MP would survive.
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Here’s some advice for interest groups who want to influence a conservative government with such a stonking majority - pack away the hemp shirts, love beads and sandals and deal with them like professionals.
No protests, petitions or snippy social media campaigns. Publicly congratulate their win. They don’t need to listen, so you need them to want to listen. For every one Labor MP in Queensland now there will be 10 opposite numbers. How do less that 10 people, however talented, even stay abreast of government business, let alone the controversial stuff?
The LNP’s superior and unequalled bargaining position should give pause for thought for any interest group that wishes to influence or change the government’s position. How do activists get the attention of a government or opposition (who now just sleep at the office reading briefing papers)? By being strategic.
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Jessica Rudd, daughter of Kevin, gets the award for clever political gallows humour: “I’ve never voted for a minor party before,” she tweeted.
Few other Labor figures were inclined to quips as the Queensland party grimly surveyed the devastation to its ranks, and the emergence of the most powerful conservative leader in the nation.
The Queensland ALP was out-campaigned, chewed up and spat out by a rampant Liberal National Party at the weekend.
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Queensland’s ground-breaking election at the weekend did one thing above all else. Voters had an overriding message about the nasty, relentless campaign from Labor during the past nine weeks.
They said they hated what they saw and heard. The smash-up election result was always coming but its size was in doubt.
Let’s look at the empirical evidence. Crosby Textor, the best polling organisation working in real politics, did a serious exit poll on Saturday and found a big result - the top issue that affected voters was the nature of this campaign.
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The best weapon Labor has at its disposal to prevent the election of a Tony Abbott-led Coalition Government is Tony Abbott. The polls have consistently shown that while Labor is seriously on the nose and Julia Gillard deeply unpopular, the voters have very limited affection for Abbott. Worse for the Opposition Leader, the trend has become even more pronounced, with Gillard pulling in front of Abbott as preferred prime minister in Newspoll earlier this month.
Abbott has a number of problems – he’s seen as far too negative, he’s seen as too aggressive, and he’s seen (even by some of his own MPs) as economically inconsistent, on the one hand arguing for small government and low taxation, yet still pursuing extravagant policies such as the $3 billion maternity leave scheme which has been denounced by the conservative writer Andrew Bolt as an indefensible tax on business. Indeed the mere fact that this policy has won plaudits from the Greens should firmly establish its credentials as a form of budgetary vandalism.
Given these facts, it is more than likely that when the election rolls around next year that Labor, its strategists and its advertising agency will be like attack dogs on a leash as they get ready to mount the mother of all negative advertising campaigns against the Opposition Leader. Abbott will be painted as a bovver boy, an economic lightweight, an enemy of working people.
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The smash-up arrived. A hyper-powered LNP vote - not just above 50 per cent but half way to 60 per cent - drove into Brisbane and parked on the footpaths, the lawns and the median strips.
The LNP has secured the greatest majority in Australian electoral history.
The territory from Ashgrove and Mount Coot-tha to Everton and Stafford over to Brisbane Central and Greenslopes was painted blue.
The Premier’s seat of South Brisbane went down to the wire. This morning Anna Bligh has no finger nails and will just hang on. Nearby Bulimba has a blue glow that may grow.
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In his six types of ill-fated armies, the brilliant Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu identified one called “crumbling”.
“If the higher officers are angry and insubordinate, engaging the enemy themselves out of unrestrained anger while the general does not yet know their capabilities, it is termed crumbling,” Sun Tzu wrote more than two millennia ago.
While the Bligh Government’s first - and last - full term does not fit this description perfectly, there is something in a correlation of the two.
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“When the tide goes out in Queensland,” a senior Labor figure said yesterday, “it goes out more quickly and more deeply than anywhere else.”
It’s true. Think the 1974 state election when Labor was reduced to 11 MPs - a cricket team. Think 2001 when Peter Beattie destroyed the conservatives and won 66 seats in the 89 member state parliament.
Or think the 1975 federal election, when an anti-Labor tide affected the whole country but in Queensland left the party with just one seat and less than 40 per cent of the vote after preferences.
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Someone deep inside the Labor bunker provided an exquisite campaign truth this week. Discussing the increasingly desperate Labor tactics - distilled to something along the lines of “if you touch that button your children will die” - this pie-eyed strategist had one point to make.
“Mate,” he said, echoing generations of Labor persuaders, “can you imagine where we would be if we had been discussing Queensland Health for the last four weeks?”
While I’ve cleaned that quote up, discarding the Tourette syndrome tendencies that everyone close to this madness can’t avoid this week, it has an essential truth. Some people reckon Labor has trashed itself with its last-roll-of-the-dice campaign.
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At the South by South-West music conference in Austin, Texas, last Thursday, Bruce Springsteen let a brilliant cat out of the bag. He junked the supposed key to modern politics: authenticity. In a 50-minute address, Springsteen said it’s not real.
“There is no right way, no pure way of doing it,” said the Boss to a packed auditorium. “There’s just doing it. We live in a post-authentic world. Today authenticity is a house of mirrors. It’s all just what you’re bringing when the lights go down. It’s your teachers, your influences, your personal history.
“At the end of the day it’s the power and purpose of your music. It still matters.” Anyone who watches modern politics will recognise the profound truth in what Springsteen says.
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Bob Katter once stated with certainty that there were no homosexuals in Far North Queensland. He even promised to walk backwards from Bourke if there were.
By Katter’s logic (if only there were a handy guidebook) even if Campbell Newman’s top priority should he win the election was to rush gay marriage through the parliament, no one in Bob’s neck of the woods would feel compelled to take advantage of it.
Ipso facto - “family values” would remain unmolested and we can all just carry on as we were.
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Queensland finally is in real election mode and I finally saw an election ad on television last night. During a campaign, voters are treated to positive ads and negative ads and last night we had the first “positive” ad from Labor.
I think it’s positive. It’s a confusing shot over the bow because this advertisement shows various photos and footage of Premier Anna Bligh during last year’s flood and cyclone crises. She jumps from helicopters, hugs victims, walks through muddy water and looks less than perfect in the middle of Queensland’s biggest natural disaster on record.
The background voice is of Bligh making the “We are Queenslanders” speech during one of her press conference updates during the floods last year.
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Julia Gillard needs time to repair her scarified personal standing in the broad electorate and this year simply will not give it to her. She also needs time to reorient political debate to economic management and other areas of relative Government strength. Again there simply will not be enough days for her in 2012.
This is a measure of both the magnitude of the Prime Minister’s plight and the crammed agendas for this year, the crucial positioning period leading up to the scheduled election in 2013.
This week Ms Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott will bid to impose their own structure on the national debate in major speeches—Mr Abbott tomorrow and Ms Gillard the day after.
We’re off to the polls on 24 March. If you’re confused about what’s happening in Queensland with our State election, I’d like to help confuse you more.
The biggest complicating factor for the Queensland General Election, which is due before the end of March was the local government elections were due on 31 March. That left Premier Bligh with either dates of 18 or 24 February, or get mixed up in Easter or wait until May and by then she wouldn’t have a mandate.
The Electoral Commission Queensland has asked repeatedly for a six-week buffer between the two general elections. To her credit, Premier Bligh has respected that and shunted the local government elections to April or May and scheduled the General Election for 24 March.
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