A THUMPING WIN has seen Lord Mayor Graham Quirk easily re-elected in Australia’s largest municipal authority; whilst a swing of around 10% was expected after Quirk polled 68.5% four years ago, the LNP’s grip on council may yet tighten. The result carries messages for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and LNP leader Lawrence Springborg, and almost certainly finishes ALP mayoral hope Rod Harding as a political force at his first tilt at elected office.
I have followed local government elections in Brisbane (and elsewhere in Queensland) reasonably closely, although today I am going to restrict my remarks mostly to Brisbane in the interests of concision.
Despite a rogue poll during the week claiming Lord Mayor Graham Quirk (or “Floored Mayor,” as the Courier Mail‘s histrionic rubbish characterised him) was on the ropes and facing defeat, I don’t think the result in Brisbane was ever in any doubt: and from the time we looked at Labor wannabe Rod Harding’s ridiculous scheme to tear up the contract for a road project in January that had already commenced — even as the debacle of the East-West Link fiasco in Victoria should have forced him to think again — the damage to the ALP’s prospects was probably already terminal, if not perhaps completely obvious.
First things first: I would like to minute hearty congratulations to Graham Quirk and his team on what is a well deserved and thoroughly appropriate victory, but especially to Graham himself; of all the senior Liberal Party people in Queensland I have had dealings with over the years he is one of the best: an unbelievably decent individual whose integrity is matched only by his capacity for workload, Quirk has been one of the finest foot soldiers for Queensland’s conservatives over many years, and I am delighted that he has been given a further four years to serve the people of Brisbane and work to continue to improve what is — on any measure — a booming, thriving place to live and work (even if the weather is mostly unbearable).
Readers know that I have been spending a little more time than usual back in my former northern seat; my current weekly FIFO day trips have allowed me to watch the city’s continued evolution from regional centre into a serious city on the march more closely, and whilst it isn’t perfect (nothing is), Quirk’s administration must rightly be credited with a share of the kudos for what is happening in modern Brisbane today.
What started under Campbell Newman as the “Can Do” approach — a slogan consigned to the dustbin in the wake of Newman’s ultimately disastrous foray into state politics — has nonetheless proven surprisingly durable in its subsequent incarnation as “Team Quirk,” with the central themes of sustainable development, infrastructure construction and civic growth of the 12-year-old Liberal/LNP administration clearly given a resounding thumbs-up by voters yesterday for a fourth consecutive time.
Whilst final results are far from being declared — the Electoral Commission of Queensland has had local government elections across the state, the big event in Brisbane (with both a mayoral election and separate contests in 26 wards), and a referendum on fixed four-year terms for state elections (that looks, surprisingly, like passing narrowly) all on the one weekend — it appears Quirk has recorded 53% of the primary vote in Brisbane, stretching at close of counting to 58.7% after preferences; this equates to a swing of just less than 10% to Labor, and as I said in my introduction, a correction of roughly that magnitude was completely foreseeable after the record 68.5% Quirk reeled in back in 2012.
Interestingly, the longer the count progressed before the Commission called it quits for the night, the higher Quirk’s share of both the primary and two-party votes drifted, and the lower the swing against him became; with almost 40% of the mayoral vote still to be processed, it is not inconceivable that the swing could fall as low as 8% as outstanding ordinary votes and early pre-poll votes (which the LNP traditionally does very well with) are added to the tally: and a swing in the order of 8%, against a 12-year-old administration and off such a massive win four years ago, would be an electoral achievement of remarkable quality indeed.
It is also perhaps a tantalising indication of what the Newman government might have scored across Brisbane had its strategic and tactical apparatus not misfired so spectacularly.
Across the 26 wards, the stunning Quirk win appears to be even better.
At the close of counting, the LNP leads the ALP in 20 on primary votes and in 20 after preferences; remarkably, it appears highly plausible Team Quirk will retain all 18 wards it was notionally defending after a boundary redivision, and could well pick up the vacant ward of Northgate — a traditional ALP stronghold — where it currently leads by some 600 votes after preferences with roughly 60% of the vote tallied.
Independent councillor Nicole Johnston is certain to retain her ward of Tennyson, aided in no small part by a sexting scandal that forced the disendorsement of LNP contender Ashley Higgins during the week.
But the election has been a comprehensive humiliation for the ALP; not only has its mayoral candidate finished with less than a third of the primary vote for the third election in a row, but Labor appears set to lose one of its seven existing seats to the LNP in Northgate, and another — The Gabba — to the
Communist Party Greens on preferences.
Should that occur, Labor’s miserable return of just five of 26 wards probably places it two terms away from reclaiming City Hall at the very minimum after one of its worst performances in Brisbane (if not the worst since Council was established in 1925) and finishes (or at least should finish) the political prospects of Harding at his first electoral outing for good.
Much as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk might feel emboldened by leadership unrest at the state LNP, the reasonably solid polling numbers for her do-nothing minority government, and the apparent success of her referendum on fixed four-year terms, yesterday’s council results in Brisbane should bring any plot to call a snap state election to a screeching halt.
For one thing, the LNP vote in Brisbane yesterday outperformed state election numbers for comparable electorates last January by more than 10% — a clue that just as insecurely seated as some of the LNP’s remaining Brisbane state MPs might be, there is both scope and voter inclination to support conservative candidates, which means a clutch of extra seats in the capital might just propel the party back into power on George Street if Palaszczuk tempts electoral fate too quickly.
For another, yesterday’s results should temper some of the more fatuous ideas ALP hardheads might have about making gains in and around Brisbane at the imminent federal election, too; with just six out of 30 federal Queensland electorates, some believe the only way for Labor to go this year is up. But it is defending two marginal seats (Lilley and Moreton) on margins of 1.3% and 1.6% respectively, and had yesterday’s votes been applied to the corresponding boundaries of those two federal seats, the ALP would have lost both.
And the hard, cold fact that will occupy Labor strategists is that had these results materialised at the state election held 14 months ago, then Campbell Newman would still be Premier today or, at the very minimum, the LNP would remain in office under a new leader thanks to perhaps an extra half a dozen state seats it would have held onto if the voting patterns yesterday applied at state election time.
But just as there is food for thought for Labor in all of this, so too there is for the LNP and in particular, what its state MPs do about the liability leading them toward a likely fourth election loss as leader.
I don’t need to spell it out again, or post links to previous articles; the archly rural Lawrence Springborg is a good and decent fellow with exactly zero electoral appeal in Brisbane — rightly or wrongly — and the abjectly pathetic results in Brisbane, recorded at all three of the state elections he has previously contested as leader, prove it.
There are some in and around the LNP who continue to work to a strategy of seizing government by way of a change on the floor of state Parliament; such a transition may or may not occur — such is the fluid state of febrile numbers in that hung chamber — and were Springborg to become Premier in such a manner, he might or might not be able to translate incumbency into an election win 12 or 18 months down the track.
But I wouldn’t count on it, and in any case, if this is the best plan for reclaiming government in Queensland the LNP can come up with (or for simply achieving Lawrence a tenure in the Premier’s office, which some of them seriously believe he “deserves”) then it’s patently obvious that LNP state election strategy is a complete oxymoron.
Just as it has been, with few exceptions, for 30 years.
Yesterday’s council results in Brisbane — in addition to the usually dominant Coalition position federally in Queensland since 1996 — underscores the willingness of voters in the Sunshine State to embrace conservative governments; just a year after ejecting the LNP from George Street, they yesterday handed it a stunning win in Brisbane that will take Labor years to recover from.
But the variables and permutations — the LNP leadership, the precarious state of Palaszczuk’s regime, state election timing, the prospect of the next election being for a four-year term, and the proliferation of vulnerable electorates on both sides of the pendulum — means there are no guarantees around what outcome a state election might produce, and certainly no guarantee of an LNP victory even after a day to savour yesterday in Brisbane, most of the south-east corner, and elsewhere across the state.
As I said, it’s food for thought. But my feeling is that if the LNP sorts its baggage out quickly and moves Springborg on, its position at a state election — likelier sooner rather than later — could quickly be made unassailable.
AND ANOTHER THING: For the benefit of those who might be wondering, I will be making no comment whatsoever in this column in relation to the Liberal Party preselection for the federal seat of Goldstein, in Melbourne’s southern suburbs (and in which I live), that took place yesterday afternoon.