Reflections on the Queensland election

I don’t get excited about Queensland politics the way I used to, which explains why I haven’t bothered to blog about the state election until now, with the dust settling on the result. They just don’t make politicians like Joh Bjelke-Petersen any more, although Bob Katter did do his best to hold up his end of the agrarian socialist/social reactionary bargain with a campaign that lurched from the bold to the bizarre.

Actually, I have to credit Katter – at least he addressed some of the real issues Queensland is going to have to face in the next decade: I admire his feisty representation of suppliers in the fight against our supermarket duopoly, and he’s spot on, too, in his concerns about the management of the mining boom (especially coal seam gas) and how to balance that with agricultural interests. I’d add environmental interests, of course, except Katter would have all environmentalists buried at sea if he could.

But then there was his anti-gay marriage ad, which reminded me that he was still a Katter, the same one who said (back when he was a minister in Bjelke-Petersen’s government) that he’d walk backwards to Bourke if there were any gays or lesbians at all in his former electorate of Charters Towers, and added that condoms were despicable things that would do nothing to help prevent the spread of AIDS, but would encourage the community to have sex with gay abandon. Yes, he really did say that.

But enough about Bob. Everyone knows the result by now, and it was far from a surprise, except for the absolutely colossal margin. The word landslide doesn’t do it justice. Queenslanders tend to be a bit all or nothing, but reducing Labor to seven seats in a parliament of 89 takes the cake. And that’s where things are a bit of a worry.

I was unusually agnostic and apathetic about the result of this election partly because of one of my central concerns about Queensland politics: the state changes government far too rarely, with a long and ignoble tradition of governments staying in power for too long, aided by impotent oppositions. Apart from a brief interregnum in the mid ’90s, Labor had dominated Queensland politics since the Fitzgerald Inquiry destroyed the National Party in 1989. And having lived through the fag end of the Bjelke-Petersen years, the comparatively urbane Campbell Newman doesn’t fill me with anything like the same degree of fear and loathing.

With such a disastrous result for Labor, however, Queensland has assured itself that it will remain true to form. It will take the party a long time to recover in Queensland, and Newman and his conservative colleagues – many of whom are terribly inexperienced, some of whom are doubtfully fit for office – have an unprecented amount of power. It’s a problem exacerbated by the lack of an upper house in the state.

There’s a separate post to be written, perhaps, about the speeches given by the two leaders. Anna Bligh, after running one of the worst political campaigns in living memory, gave one of the best concession speeches I’ve ever heard. She was especially graceful in accepting that she had not been able to carry the public with her when she held a fire sale of the state’s assets in the wake of the global financial crisis. It was a reminder of the honesty and straight talk which won Bligh kudos during her handling of Queensland’s floods crisis a year ago – a point Newman acknowledged in his acceptance speech, leading a round of applause for her leadership of the state during that period.

It’s a generosity that was sadly missing before Saturday night, when there was an election to be won. Why is that? Why is it that political parties and leaders have to oppose everything, all the time? Why can’t credit be given where, and when it’s due?

There’s also a separate blog post to be written about National Living Treasure Clive Palmer and his antics, some other time. For now, it’s enough to say I’ll probably be an old man by the time Labor again governs this state; if indeed it ever does.

And even though I didn’t vote for them, that concerns me.

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