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.