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.

Finally Gone, Yet Finally Listening: Anna Bligh Quits Parliament

Queensland’s Labor government, led by Anna Bligh, was spectacularly  obliterated at yesterday’s state election; today, in breach of a promise, Bligh — whilst I was at 40,000 feet, returning to Melbourne — resigned the ALP leadership and with it, her seat in the Queensland Parliament.

Campbell Newman and his LNP team have recorded what looms as the single biggest election victory, federally or in any individual state, in Australian political history.

Whilst a tiny number of electorates remain in doubt, my best estimate is that the final breakdown of seats in Queensland’s 89-seat Parliament will be LNP 77, ALP 8, Katter’s crew 2, and 2 Independents.

It is a stunning electoral triumph that now dwarfs Dean Brown’s win in South Australia in 1993 (39 of 47 seats) and Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s 1974 victory in Queensland (69 of 82 seats), and which makes anything Neville Wran ever achieved in NSW in the 1970s and 1980s look pedestrian by comparison.

Tonight’s post is one that comes with a YouTube clip; a little more obscure than some I have shared, but bang on the money.   🙂

The song says it all; in point of fact, it is precisely how I feel about quite a serious long-term girlfriend I broke up with about 12 years ago. But that’s just the thing: when voters break the relationship off with their governments — especially long-term governments, which this one in Queensland was — it really is tantamount to a divorce.

And whilst you listen to that in another browser, back to the serious stuff.

The estimated seat count I’ve just given you may change, as beaten Labor leader Anna Bligh has opted today to resign her seat in Parliament, effective immediately.

This has to be viewed as an extraordinarily selfish act on one level; having solemnly pledged to serve out a term in Parliament irrespective of the overall election result, Bligh has quit Parliament less than 24 hours after the polls closed yesterday.

In terms of how far anyone could trust anything she says, this development speaks volumes.

And the hundreds of thousands of dollars the by-election will cost the Queensland taxpayer is something the citizens of that electorate and that state should rightly be enraged over.

Yet on another level, I find it difficult to criticise Anna Bligh’s decision too heavily.

It seems that finally, she has listened to a message of sorts from Queenslanders; they don’t want her, they no longer wish to see her, they don’t care any more what she has to say, and they couldn’t care less if they ever hear from her again.

On that level, her course of action is sound, and what she said in her press conference this afternoon was correct: it will be impossible for her party to ever rebuild for as long as she remains as part of its public face, or part of its parliamentary team.

And in a roundabout way, this validates every last criticism that has been levelled against her in the course of the past three years.

Premier-elect Campbell Newman will be sworn into office tomorrow, along with Jeff Seeney as Deputy Premier and Tim Nicholls as Treasurer (good on you mate, Tim!); the full ministry will be sworn in later this week, and then it will be down to business.

And as we have discussed in this column many times now over the past six months or so, there is much to be done in Queensland.

With an eye on the result, I stand by my assessment that the dishonest and virtually fraudulent campaign conducted by Anna Bligh and the ALP worsened what was always going to be a bad result.

And now, I think we can quantify that.

All reputable polling and opinion sampling for the past 18 months has pointed to, on average, a swing of 10% against the ALP in Queensland.

It must be noted that due to the polls conducted around the federal ALP’s leadership contest, there were no statewide opinion polls conducted in Queensland until the end of the campaign; the final Newspoll showed a swing of just over 11%.

Whilst the actual swing won’t be finalised until the count is completed in a couple of weeks, it is clear that it will be in the order of some 15% to 16%; and on that basis, I would directly attribute five percentage points of the swing against Labor to the disgusting campaign it waged and the despicably baseless slurs it aimed at Campbell Newman and his wife.

In other words, Labor directly cost itself at least ten seats by virtue of its own actions.

Seats never lost to the ALP and/or never won by conservative candidates have been claimed by the LNP at this election, including several that stood firm for Labor in the 1974 massacre, including Cairns, Lytton, and Nudgee.

Labor was even taken to preferences in seats like Inala and Woodridge, which simply illustrates the sheer scale of the rout that party has suffered.

I will be posting again on the Queensland election result during the week, and there is much more to discuss than I had even thought; and so given this is not my last word of analysis but merely an introductory overview, I thought I would round out tonight’s post with a look at the predictions I made at the beginning of the campaign and to see how we fared on those (and yes, I’m copying and pasting those predictions from the earlier post so they are here verbatim; the original predictions are in bold, with my comments in separate paragraphs below).

The LNP will win government in Queensland (which will in no way mitigate the legitimacy of my own reservations about the Liberal/National merger; it’s simply time in Queensland).

It did (obviously!) and it doesn’t. And it was time.

Campbell Newman will win Ashgrove and become Premier — I’d expect a 55-45 result in Ashgrove, which is tantamount to a 12.5% swing.

Newman won in Ashgrove and did better than I thought — the eventual result will be near the 60-40 range.

The ALP will win more than 10 seats, despite opinion polls; I’d guess around the 20 to 25-seat mark, give or take.

Labor won’t even make it to 10 seats, but even with my cynical and jaundiced view of the Australian Labor Party, even I didn’t expect the disgusting campaign it chose to pursue — and as I said earlier, that reprehensible strategy has cost it at least ten additional seats.

Bob Katter’s Australian Party won’t win a seat.

It won two, actually; but my guess of zero was closer than virtually every other commentator who had the Katter crowd on track for five to ten seats.

Brisbane will swing heavily to the LNP, yielding at least 10 additional LNP electorates.

Absolutely correct. Brisbane yielded closer to 30 seats than 10, however.

Cairns and the neighbouring electorate of Barron River will fall to the LNP (I know, I know…Labor has held Cairns forever…not this time, methinks).

Bang on the money…

Townsville will mostly return to the Liberal fold — expect to see some big swings there to build on those recorded in 2009.

The Liberals appear to have scored a clean sweep in Townsville for the first time since 1980. However, the seat of Thuringowa remains undecided with Katter claiming his lot can win it, but the overwhelmingly likely outcome is that he won’t.

The ALP and Independents will fail to win any seats on the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, or in Toowoomba.

Correct, with the exception of the seat of Nicklin, where Independent Peter Wellington seems to have held on despite a massive swing to the LNP. Labor has been banished from all three regions, however, with a cumulative loss of six seats across the three.

The LNP will win at least one Labor-held electorate currently on a margin greater than 16% (I have an electorate in mind; think I’ll keep that to myself for now).

The electorate I had in mind — as some of my readers already know — was the seat of Ipswich (16.6% margin), which has indeed fallen to the LNP’s Ian Berry on a swing of some 20%. Waterford (16.1%) has also been won by the LNP, with (unbelievably) Mackay (16.7%) a chance to follow, with ALP incumbent Tim Mulherin some 200 votes ahead with a quarter of the roll still to count.

That’s it for tonight, although as I said, we’ll be discussing more of this during the week…

…as well as (hopefully) returning to other political news in other areas of the country and beyond.

But as we all know, events happen where they happen; and for now, Queensland is the hot political story in Australia — and this column will follow developments there through until the election results are finalised.