Redcliffe By-Election: Could Have Been Better, Could Have Been Worse

WHICHEVER WAY you cut it, the by-election in the Queensland state seat of Redcliffe today could have been better and could have been worse; even so, a 16% swing to the ALP has seen former federal MP Yvette D’Ath elected in what now becomes Queensland Labor’s eighth seat. A setback for the state LNP is not necessarily a disaster, and where the ALP is concerned, it would be unwise for that party to read too much into this result.

First things first: congratulations to the Queensland ALP and its candidate Yvette D’Ath on their win in Redcliffe today. They have been entrusted with the stewardship of representing that highly appealing sliver of the bayside region north of Brisbane for the next 12 months, and having achieved their win it is to be hoped D’Ath now knuckles under and gets on with the job she has been given.

To have a snowball’s chance in hell of re-election at the state election now due in 12 months’ time, she’ll have to.

I will concede that the swing is a little larger than I expected; readers will recall my suggestion that the LNP might just — just — hold onto the seat.

This really was a 50/50 call, made (as I noted) without enthusiasm, and largely with the undeniable groundswell of support behind the Prime Minister for his royal commission into the unions being the only thing it was predicated on as the anti-union message was rolled out late in the by-election campaign, and ultimately too late to have swung the result.

But let’s call a spade a spade: barring a campaign that was catastrophic even by Labor’s recent standards, the LNP was always going to lose this seat.

The ALP will probably trumpet their win as a sign of state Labor’s rebirth, or and indictment on Campbell Newman’s LNP government, or some bizarre endorsement of the merits of D’Ath as a candidate. Yet it was none of those things: overwhelmingly, it was a vote of disgust in the grub who until very recently was the member for Redcliffe.

Needing a swing of 10.2% to win, after preferences, it appears D’Ath has managed some 16.3% based on final figures for the night, although the eventual result might move a couple of points either way once absentee and postal votes are added to the count over the next few days.

As things stand, the LNP primary vote fell 14.1 percentage points to 35.1%; correspondingly, the ALP vote rose by 12.9% to 43.6%. For reference, the LNP and ALP primary votes at the 2009 state election were 34.3% and 43% respectively.

I think the issue of Scott Driscoll — who quit Parliament a day before his scheduled expulsion from it by the Privileges Committee for failing to disclose significant and questionable financial affairs — was probably worth 10% of the primary vote swing against the LNP on its own; provided Labor did nothing to “bugger it up,” the Driscoll issue was always going to gift it the seat of Redcliffe at this by-election.

In other words, two-thirds of the new support Driscoll converted into primary votes for the LNP at the 2012 state election was lost in disgust; that’s also one in five of the electors who gave Driscoll their first preference vote overall, and — given by-elections are the traditional forum to register a protest — it’s perhaps surprising we’re not talking about far greater numbers.

As the ABC’s respected election analyst Antony Green opined in his excellent overview of the Redcliffe campaign, based on the 15 state by-elections held in Queensland between 1992 and today, the average swing against a Queensland government at a by-election is 5.3%. Considering the rather unique circumstances of the by-election, I contend this really has to be added to whatever quantum of lost support is directly attributable to the Driscoll factor.

Adding the two together, we get to almost the exact shares of the primary vote recorded by the respective parties at the 2009 state election. I’m not in any way downplaying the ALP’s result in Redcliffe but viewed that way, it’s difficult to dispute such a breakdown in the primary vote movement. This result virtually reverses the effect of the 2012 vote.

The swing after preferences of 16.3%, therefore, outperforms what might have been expected — if, indeed, the LNP government and Campbell Newman in particular really were the primary targets, as Labor has repeatedly sought to claim — by just 1% of the vote. It doesn’t sustain either ALP accusations against Newman and the LNP, or herald the start of some great Labor revival, in any way, shape, or form.

Granted, this was a solid enough win for the ALP. To really have some bankable capital from it, though, the swing should have been in the order of 20%. It wasn’t.

And for the LNP, the result could of course been worse; that same 20% swing Labor needed and failed to harness would have placed a question mark over its re-election prospects next year, caveats about Scott Driscoll and by-election protests notwithstanding: no-one (least of all Newman himself) denies the LNP still has work to do before it faces the people.

Obviously, the Queensland government has issues in play that have reflected poorly against it in opinion polling to varying degrees. It should scarcely need pointing out that the bulk of the most unpopular and/or controversial decisions the LNP has taken were more or less completed in the active sense by the end of the first half of its term. It is hardly suggestive of the kind of shambolic approach to governing most recently witnessed under the stewardship of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

But Newman’s entire approach has been built around a wholistic embrace of the three-year cycle governments in Queensland still follow; to this end, his plan — culminating in re-election — still has a third of its allocated time to run, and even with the odd mid-term poll shocker being recorded of late, there is no suggestion at all that the LNP is at risk of defeat at the next election.

A decent — and credible — LNP candidate, endorsed for next year’s election, will stand an excellent chance of regaining Redcliffe for the LNP. And by credible, I’m not talking about endorsing beaten candidates from rival political parties, no matter how friendly they might be with preference allocations. It is difficult to think of a candidate who could have won for the Liberals today, but endorsing the Family First candidate from last time (whatever her merits) certainly didn’t help their cause.

And one final thought: with the possible exception of the very first member for Redcliffe, Jim Houghton, who served between 1960 and 1979 as a Liberal, a National and an Independent at various times, this electorate has been represented by an assortment of hacks, spivs, time-servers, red herrings and grubs, and without pulling any punches, its latest state member will continue that dubious tradition.

An unpopular and beaten federal member whose period in federal politics was unspectacular — and who, I’m told, was nothing exceptional as a local member either — would hardly seem the ideal choice of candidate to parachute into what, potentially, could be a long-term gain for the ALP. Then again, D’Ath is as enmeshed in Labor’s union threads as anyone going around, and that seems the greater prerequisite than actual suitability for office in the ALP these days.

Proverbially, a rabid chook with a red ribbon around its neck could have won for the ALP in Redcliffe today. On that basis, its long-suffering residents have at least small mercies to be grateful for in settling for a recycled union hack.


Win Or Lose, Labor Stunts Are Not “Protest”

QUEENSLAND PREMIER Campbell Newman — campaigning in today’s Redcliffe by-election — has exposed “protests” by ALP-organised troublemakers as no more than hollow stunts; confronted by “voters” Newman exploded several of the myths Labor seeks to peddle right across the country, and it raises the point that as noisily as the ALP behaves, its slogans and legitimate voter concerns are not the same thing. Far from it.

This will be a reasonably short post this afternoon, ahead of a look at the results from the state by-election in Redcliffe later tonight, but I have been watching coverage of polling day on Sky and wanted to make a few points.

Toilet tactics are nothing new when it comes to the kind of campaigning Labor likes to engage in; that is, most of its accusations and blather — repeated endlessly, loudly and unswervingly — are simply a pile of excrement.

Nothing shocks me in politics, of course, but to see footage on Sky News of Newman being accosted by “local voters” claiming to be channelling community anger at the Premier never ceases to disgust me: all it amounts to is another way for the ALP to get free airtime for its silly slogans. And to look like a band of thugs in front of a TV audience just for good measure, which says a lot about the level of decorum with which it finds it appropriate to conduct its version of politics.

The Fairfax press has reported that Newman has been heckled and abused on the hustings today — noting that at least in part, ALP volunteers were the culprit — and it should surprise nobody that as the Premier answered some of the allegations and accusations levelled at him, his assailants had no comeback.

When heckled about his government’s controversial anti-gang laws — supported by the ALP in the Queensland Parliament — Newman returned fire, pointing out that Labor had supported them — and making the point that if ever restored to government, it probably wouldn’t repeal them.


Men claiming to be firefighters, and claiming fire stations were closing, confronted Newman, who simply challenged them to name a station slated for closure: perhaps unsurprisingly, no answer was forthcoming. So much for the endless attempts to get scare campaigns going about cuts to emergency services the ALP is so fond of.

“The first casualty is truth in an election campaign,” Newman observed drily.

And as Fairfax reports, for almost his entire visit to one school in the electorate, a woman yelling abuse shadowed the Premier and accused him of, among many things, allowing paedophiles walk free. Newman’s response — that whilst people had a right to protest, such conduct was “over the top and quite inappropriate” — is absolutely correct.

It continues a the tendency we’ve seen the ALP develop in recent years in which the filthier, nastier and more baseless the tactics, the better it likes them. It doesn’t bother with such concepts as decency or honesty, or (God forbid) respect. In today’s case — and in the absence of genuinely aggrieved Redcliffe residents with their own legitimate protest — Labor has devised one of its own to deploy the moment Newman appeared, and in the process of activating it has made itself look absolutely ridiculous, to say nothing of decidedly foolish to boot.

It brings me to share an article that appeared in The Australian today; written by Dennis Shanahan, it talks about federal Labor’s penchant for mindlessly attacking anything and everything the Abbott government says, does or foreshadows; the fact community perspectives are simultaneously becoming less and less aligned with anything the party says is oblivious to it: the ALP’s “solution” is simply to ramp up its indulgence in exponentially more of the same brainless conduct.

As a Liberal, it satisfies me to see the ALP committing hari-kari in such a juvenile fashion, but it hardly adds anything of value to the national debate. Readers should find the Shanahan article pertinent in this regard.

Win or lose, the point is that Labor’s antics are not “protest:” they are political stunts and should be seen as such. Most voters have more brains than to believe this kind of thing when they see it on TV, and it is high time Labor learned to make that distinction for itself.

Anyway — that’s it for now. As I said at the outset, I will be back later this evening to pick apart the results from the Redcliffe by-election once a fair portion of the count has been completed and winners and trends can be analysed.





Cornered: Embattled ex-LNP MP Quits Queensland Parliament

THE RESIGNATION of former state LNP MP Scott Driscoll from his seat of Redcliffe is a welcome development in a saga that has dragged on for too long; faced with expulsion from Parliament and a substantial fine for contempt of Parliament, Driscoll has bowed to the inevitable.

A by-election will now be held in the outer northern Brisbane seat of Redcliffe, based around Bramble Bay and Deception Bay, and it is to be hoped that event is expedited as swiftly as possible by the Newman government in the New Year.

I knew a little of Driscoll many years ago when I lived in Brisbane, and found it surprising that he’d been endorsed by the LNP to contest such a key marginal seat ahead of the 2012 state election, but there you go; having had nothing to do, formally, with Queensland’s conservatives for over 15 years now it’s no longer my party — literally.

Driscoll left the LNP in April amid allegations he had failed to declare private interests and income as required of an MP, and was running various business interests from his electorate office; this came to a head yesterday, when Driscoll was found guilty by the parliamentary Ethics Committee of 49 charges of contempt of Parliament.

The committee’s recommendation was a fine totalling $88,000, having found Driscoll guilty of 48 counts of contempt of Parliament, and his expulsion from Parliament: rather than delay the inevitable, Driscoll jumped.

He says he has quit on account of his “failing health” — a reference to a previously undisclosed bipolar condition that became public in recent days.

Yet the health issues to which he alludes are not overnight developments, as Driscoll himself implicitly concedes; and the attempted honourable resignation probably had more to do with the imminent vote on his expulsion, which was certain to succeed.

I’m not going to comment on the rights or wrongs of anything Driscoll may or may not have done to bring about this ignominious end to his political career beyond a reiteration of my remark that I was very surprised to learn he’d been endorsed to contest such a key marginal Labor electorate prior to the last state election.

But I do think it right that the running sore that has been the Driscoll saga is finally staunched as a political consideration, at least.

It does however appear that further investigations by  Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission may lead to criminal charges in due course, which is another reason for circumspection to be exercised.

Yet the good burghers of Redcliffe have been deprived of effective representation in state Parliament for too long, and a by-election will belatedly resolve that problem: it is, however, a contest fraught with political risk for the LNP state government.

A traditionally conservative-leaning electorate, Redcliffe was a seat lost to Labor in the 1989 Goss landslide; the Liberals went close to winning it in 1995 before Labor ran away with the seat again: a Liberal held it briefly in 2005 and 2006 after a by-election, with the ALP reclaiming the seat at the 2006 election and holding it until last year’s avalanche win.

Ahead of the starter’s gun firing on the Redcliffe by-election, a reading of the numbers on paper suggest it nominally safe, held as it is by a 60-40 margin.

It must be remembered that that result was achieved at the historic high water mark of conservative support that Campbell Newman rode into office early last year; counterbalanced against that is the consideration that Redcliffe is a seat the LNP must hold if, in the usual order of things, it is to form majority government in Queensland.

With no date announced as yet and no candidates on either side declared, it is premature to spend too much time analysing the by-election, although we will certainly keep track of it once things progress: and it would come as no surprise if it were to be held the same day next year as the contest in Kevin Rudd’s federal seat of Griffith, tipped for early February.

Redcliffe is, however, a heartland conservative seat that was long lost, and entrusted to Driscoll to win back and keep; win it he may have done, but any backlash against the LNP will probably be attributable to Driscoll as well should it now fall to Labor.

The whole Driscoll saga will muddy the water in terms of the by-election providing a mid-term pointer to the overall political health of the Newman government, although those closer to the action might disagree. Certainly the ALP will do so if it wins.

But an early call would be that if the LNP prevails in Redcliffe — irrespective of the size of its margin — only a fool would bet against Newman’s re-election in 2015, and with most of his sizeable parliamentary majority intact.