Quirk Wins City Hall In Brisbane; ALP Survives South Brisbane By-Election

After yet another trip to the polls today for the good burghers of Brisbane, the Council result went — as expected — to Graham Quirk and the LNP in a landslide; in the by-election to replace Anna Bligh in South Brisbane, the ALP appears to have eked out a surprise narrow win.

In a stunning result, interim Lord Mayor and successor to Campbell Newman Graham Quirk has registered a thumping election win, re-elected with more than 68% of the two-party vote and crushing his Labor rival, first-time candidate Ray Smith, in the process.

In the 26 wards that comprise the Brisbane City Council, the LNP is certain to increase its tally from 15 to at least 18 ( and possibly 19, if Kim Fleisser’s 290-vote lead in Northgate is erased when pre-poll votes are counted); the ALP falls from 10 wards to 7 at most; and the LNP-turned-independent councillor for Tennyson Ward, Nicole Johnston, appears to have been re-elected.

In what would seem evidence that the Beattie name is no longer a guaranteed vote winner, Heather Beattie — wife of former Premier Peter Beattie — has been trounced, going down by a margin of nearly 60/40 against her LNP rival in Central Ward.

That result should probably also serve as a warning to Peter Beattie should he ever seriously consider contesting a federal electorate in Queensland; whether or not such a warning is heeded, only time will tell.

Cr Quirk has achieved the biggest conservative victory in the history of the City of Greater Brisbane; the two-party vote he has recorded is better than both that of Campbell Newman and of Sallyanne Atkinson at her peak; likewise, a haul of 18 (and perhaps 19) of 26 wards is better than any result achieved by a conservative Mayor of Brisbane, and eclipses the 17-9 result notched up by Atkinson in 1988.

Indeed, it is safe to say that electoral support for the conservative parties in Brisbane is at an all-time record peak; the LNP’s result in Brisbane at last month’s state election was stronger than the then-Coalition’s result in 1974, and today’s win by “Team Quirk” rounds that out even further: just as the Bjelke-Petersen government was sweeping all before it in the 1970s, Council in Brisbane remained a solid ALP bastion.

The one thing missing for the LNP — and it will come — is the additional 4-6 House of Representatives seats it is likely to win at the next federal election; this will reduce the Queensland ALP to a rump, and likely leave a couple of ALP members standing at most.

In today’s other electoral event — the South Brisbane by-election — it seems Labor has managed to hold this seat; despite a further swing of some 3-4% against it since last month’s state election, new Labor candidate Jackie Trad looks likely to succeed Anna Bligh in this electorate by the narrowest of margins, taking state Labor to 7 seats in the 89-seat state Parliament.

I am unsurprised by the result on the Brisbane City Council, although the extent of the LNP win is a little greater than I expected; I am surprised that Labor seems to have secured South Brisbane against the odds, although I would point to the not-insubstantial further swing to the LNP as firm evidence that Trad is very, very lucky to be headed off to George Street.

So what do these results mean to the respective parties, looking ahead?

For the LNP, today’s result — coupled with its state election win — represents both a great opportunity and a great threat.

The opportunity exists for the LNP to now govern Brisbane on an unfettered basis; there is no local Labor administration present to thwart and frustrate it, and the party will have no problem in implementing its policies in their entirety.

This means that everything the LNP wishes to do, it can; and with Council and the State Government working hand-in-hand, the LNP now has the opportunity to remake and modernise Brisbane in line with their own vision for the region.

The opportunity will have been grasped if the conservatives use their new-found strength in south-east Queensland to govern effectively, efficiently and competently; the deep reservoir of goodwill that the LNP has created affords it a once in a generation chance to make a real difference to its constituents, and to change the Greater Brisbane region for better, and for good.

The threat lies in the form of a fate which befalls so many democratically-elected governments: hubris, or worse, incompetence.

Given the size of the Liberals’ grasp on Brisbane across the tiers of government, they must never lose sight of the fact that the day they squabble amongst themselves, or drop the ball, or fail to deliver real and positive outcomes, will be the day their support begins to leach back to Labor, and will signal that their days in office are numbered.

Governments must never take their constituents for granted; this is true at all times, but perhaps especially so when the ascension to office has been as resounding and as emphatic as it has been for the LNP in the past few weeks.

And it should be remembered that within three to six years for the Newman government, and certainly after another four years of a Liberal council (making 8 in total, or 12 counting Newman’s initial co-habitation with Labor), voters will hold these administrations squarely to account for anything they believe has been neglected, improperly or dishonestly done, or ignored.

And for Labor?

Clearly, there is a massive task afoot for the ALP, not just in Brisbane but across Queensland; if — as seems likely — the Gillard government is defeated next year, sustaining further losses in Queensland in the process, then that task will grow exponentially larger.

I noted earlier tonight that in conceding, Ray Smith did not rule out recontesting the mayoralty in 2016; Smith is a decent fellow, but on this occasion — flying in the face of surging LNP support, saddled with the odium of the recent state election result, and hamstrung by a poor central campaign and by his own mistakes, Smith’s campaign was over almost before it began.

Perhaps if there is a “next time” for Smith, he may at least be able to create his own opportunities, and to shape his own campaign.

This is an important point. Following the state election debacle, I privately suggested to an associate who is heavily involved with the Queensland ALP that perhaps the first order of business, in any rebuild of that party, should be the dismissal of the party’s state secretary, Anthony Chisholm.

I reiterate that view tonight. Losing an election is one thing; to have presided over the state campaign he did this year — one of the dirtiest, nastiest, most dishonest campaigns in Australian history — the buck must stop somewhere, and Chisholm’s door would seem the appropriate place.

Labor’s state campaign wasn’t even the right campaign to run from a tactical or strategic perspective, putting aside its sheer repugnance for a minute; it seems clear that the occupant of the position of state ALP secretary would be responsible for this and, as such, Chisholm should resign or be sacked.

The Brisbane City Council campaign he has presided over has done little or nothing to mitigate those points.

But Labor’s problems (and this is an increasingly old story) run deeper, and are more universal, than the problems of its Queensland branch; Labor must rethink its overall approach to retail politics, from its party structures to its methods of candidate selection to its policy priorities — and, quite literally, to everything in between.

Yet those are details I wish to take no part in; whilst I’m happy to opine impartially, my own preferences offer me no inclination to give any detailed ideas on how the Labor Party might fix its act up…

…and so here we are, at the end of yet another truly remarkable day in politics in Queensland.

The Red And The Blue wishes Graham Quirk — an old friend, a gentleman and a great bloke, and a highly respected figure in Liberal circles — heartiest congratulations on his triumph today, and wishes he and his team the best of success in now executing their duties on behalf of the people of Brisbane.

And oddly enough, this column also wishes the Queensland division of the Labor Party luck: whilst it is tempting to be churlish and say “they’ll need it,” I have to emphasise that a functional opposition to any democratically elected government is crucial.

It’s not necessarily a matter of how many members the ALP has left, but rather a question of what those remaining representatives of the Labor Party do with the opportunity to move forward they have nonetheless been entrusted with.

And thus — in closing — it can only be hoped that Queensland Labor gets its act together to some extent at least, and preferably sooner rather than later.

Council Elections In Brisbane: It’s Quirk By A Landslide

Voters in the City of Brisbane go to the polls tomorrow to elect a Lord Mayor and Council to serve for the next four years; barring any major surprise, incumbent Liberal Lord Mayor Graham Quirk appears set to be re-elected in a landslide.

Of course, voters across Queensland go to the polls to vote in local government elections; the date for councils to face the ballot box was deferred on account of the timing of last month’s state election, and with that now out of the way, it is time for Queenslanders to vote in their local municipalities.

There will be many fascinating contests across the state as the votes are counted tomorrow night, and I wish it were possible to follow them all; however, the one of most significance, and interest, is the contest taking place to formalise a new administration in Brisbane, and to formalise a successor to new Queensland premier Campbell Newman as Lord Mayor.

Like all local government elections in Queensland, Brisbane’s has been overshadowed by the state election; the campaign has been relatively low-key, and little has been offered by either side by way of show-stopping initiatives.

That said, it is clear that the ALP team led by Lord Mayoral candidate Ray Smith is not up to the job of running Council.

Smith himself has committed a series of gaffes, which together add up to a recommendation for a vote against him.

He has promised to cap rate rises for Brisbane residents at the level of inflation; the problem with this is that Smith’s idea of “inflation” is a figure two to three times the current official rate of inflation.

Is this the thin edge of the wedge?

Smith also admits, candidly, that costings on his election promises are reliant on finding several hundred million dollars in savings once installed in office; standing for election on what is effectively a wish and a prayer smacks of desperation, and screams of a lack of credibility and of proper preparation to assume power.

And some of the Labor team’s promises can only be described as cack-brained: the half-baked scheme to divert superannuation monies into capital works projects, for example, is ridiculous, and any fund manager investing in this type of scheme would quite rightly be in line for the sack.

“Team Quirk” as it calls itself, by contrast, has run a steady, measured campaign, focused on continuity and on building on the achievements from the first eight years of Liberal/LNP control of the Brisbane City Council.

There is nothing in the LNP offering to frighten the horses; the Liberal administration in Brisbane has been competent and has done much to modernise Brisbane’s ageing infrastructure at a modest cost to its ratepayers, and on a sustainable basis.

There are other good reasons for the return of Graham Quirk as Lord Mayor; not least because of the synergies and efficiencies that can be realised through working with a state government of the same political persuasion.

Those of us who have lived in Brisbane at times of “co-habitation” over the years — the old Labor administrations with Bjelke-Petersen, Sallyanne Atkinson’s Liberal council with the Goss Labor government and, more recently, Campbell Newman with Anna Bligh at the state level — know too well the friction, wasted opportunities and blame games that are part and parcel of such arrangements.

And having voted LNP on such an overwhelming basis just last month in a state election, it’s inconceivable that Brisbane voters will now elect a Labor administration to City Hall — especially when the incumbent council team has run Brisbane with great ability and competence.

What little opinion polling has been conducted during the council campaign points to Graham Quirk being re-elected with some 58-59% of the mayoral vote, after preferences; my sense is that those figures will likely be accurate.

If there are to be any real surprises tomorrow, they will come from the wards; in 2008 the LNP in Newman won 16 of the 26 wards; some of these were snared by tiny margins, and there has of course been some controversy involving individual LNP councillors in the four years since.

I would expect Quirk to be re-elected tomorrow as Lord Mayor; further, I would expect the split of the wards to be more or less the same as it is now between the LNP and Labor.

One interesting contest will be in the Central ward, where Heather Beattie — wife of former Labor Premier Peter Beattie — is standing in a vacant Labor ward overlapped by state and federal electorates which have both been captured by the LNP in the past 18 months.

I will be watching the count online tomorrow night; not only do I believe Team Quirk will win in Brisbane tomorrow, but I believe they deserve to win; and should they do so, the stewardship of the City of Brisbane will be in safe hands for another four years.