MANY POLITICAL PORTENTS will be read into the outcomes of two Queensland by-elections next month; the first cab off the rank is Kevin Rudd’s federal seat of Griffith, which will go to the polls on 8 February. Held by a defensible margin of 3%, orthodox political wisdom suggests the ALP starts as favourite in Griffith; it doesn’t deserve to, however, although its prospects there are probably better than those in the vacant LNP state seat of Redcliffe.
Only once since Federation has a government taken a seat off an opposition at a by-election: in 1920, the vacant Labor seat of Kalgoorlie was picked up by the governing Nationalist Party in what remains the sole federal precedent for what the Liberal Party will seek to achieve in Kevin Rudd’s old electorate.
Even so, other results at state level make this impossible-sounding feat seem rather more realistic; straight to mind comes the state seats of Burwood and Benalla in Victoria, vacated in the aftermath of the shock 1999 state election result by Jeff Kennett and his former deputy (and National Party) leader Pat McNamara respectively; at by-elections in early 2000, both seats were won by the Labor Party in stunning landslide upsets; indeed, I can’t find evidence that Labor had ever held Benalla prior to that point (although a reader may be able to correct me if I’m wrong about that).
I start my remarks thus because virtually every political commentator in the country has written the Liberal Party off in Griffith, suggesting its candidate — eye surgeon and former AMA chief Bill Glasson — is dead in the water. The punters apparently think so too, with Labor candidate Terri Butler starting at $1.18, as opposed to Dr Glasson’s odds of $4.25.
And of course, the contest in the vacant LNP seat of Redcliffe — to find a replacement for disgraced ex-MP Scott Driscoll — is likely to occur in February as well, although the date remains a matter of conjecture for now.
Much will be written about these two contests; should Labor win either or both, it will be trumpeted in certain sections of the press as a harbinger of doom for the Abbott government, the Coalition’s prospects at any fresh Senate election ordered by the Court of Disputed Returns in WA, and virtually every conservative state Premier or leader will somehow see their prospects evaporate before their eyes in the ALP’s resurgent wake north of the Tweed River.
I think it’s a bit more prosaic than that.
If we start with Griffith, the Liberal Party starts with a very big positive: it has a high-profile, recognisable, local candidate in Glasson, who has been actively campaigning in the electorate for a considerable period of time and who ran Rudd close at the September election last year.
By contrast, Labor has selected a relative unknown — and a candidate from its Left faction, to boot — in a move that doesn’t seem designed to replace a candidate of Prime Ministerial authority (whatever you think/thought of him) on a like-for-like basis.
In fact, for a party as obsessed with minorities and quotas and token gestures as Labor has become in recent years, even its selection of a woman — in part precisely on gender considerations — may do it more harm than good.
I think — on balance of probabilities — Griffith is a 50-50 proposition. To me, the real determinant will lie in how electors in that seat resolve the inherent question that lies between Kevin Rudd’s lost personal vote on one hand as opposed to the blatant misinformation and filthy politics federal Labor has engaged in since Shorten’s ascension as “leader” on the other.
The Kalgoorlie precedent may, at the end of the day, remain intact. But anyone using it as a form guide should do so at their peril.
My post tonight is really only intended to signal the “commencement of battle” in these two seats; we will follow anything interesting that occurs during the two campaigns, and of course analyse the results once all the votes have been tallied.
Having said that, however, I think Labor has a better prospect of victory in Griffith than it does in Redcliffe.
Queensland politics being what it is these days — not least in the post-Fitzgerald era of hypersensitivity to corruption, or even the accusations of it that Queensland Labor flings around like confetti — suggests that whether the good burghers of Redcliffe elect a LNP member to replace Driscoll or not, they are able to separate out the difference between an MP who’s a crook as opposed to a government full of crooks.
Contrary to the diatribe about “Little Bjelke” Queensland Labor seeks to perpetuate whenever a journalist is in earshot of its MPs (or whenever its apparatchiks are anywhere near Twitter or Facebook), there is nothing corrupt about the Newman government.
Yet since the fall of the National Party in Queensland in 1989, Labor has campaigned on little else; like WorkChoices at the federal level, the ALP in Queensland needs to find a new slogan. Even to detract from the colossal task of fixing Labor mismanagement Newman has had to embark upon, Labor’s single trick doesn’t cut it.
And in fact, a local campaign that plays to memories of then-Premier Anna Bligh’s baseless and unfounded accusations of corruption — directed at Newman personally — will backfire badly against the ALP, and to this end the by-election could prove a useful test bed for the statewide re-election campaign the LNP must fight in a little over 12 months.
The LNP will probably be assisted in Redcliffe by Labor’s selection of the beaten federal member for Petrie, Yvette D’Ath, who was unpopular as a federal member and will be unpopular as a state ALP candidate. Requiring a 10% swing to win the seat — even coming off the LNP’s 2012 high water mark — D’Ath hardly seems the ideal contender for Labor to field.
Time, of course, will tell, and we’ll keep an eye on these two contests as they progress.