Forget the rhetoric and ignore the polls – we’ll be having an election this year

Queensland is going to be an important battleground in the forthcoming federal election but there is nothing in current polling data to suggest Labor is in a position to win back key seats, writes Dennis Atkins

Feb 02, 2021, updated Feb 02, 2021
Scott Morrison in Cloncurry in north-west Queensland enjoying a chance to relax. Photo: ABC

Scott Morrison in Cloncurry in north-west Queensland enjoying a chance to relax. Photo: ABC

There’s no news in the fact Queensland will be a very important state for the federal Labor Party this year as we slouch towards almost certain national elections in September or October.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison might insist he’s a “full-termer” to throw a rhetorical fragrance on the hunt for answers but don’t believe it.

First, being a “full-termer” is meaningless. Second, prime ministers unencumbered by fixed terms always have elections when they can win. Lastly, anyone who takes a mere seven days off for a summer holiday is planning an election for later in the year.

The other flashing neon is found in Morrison spending four of his first five days back at work in regional Queensland and Anthony Albanese’s listing of eight of 18 target seats for 2021 garnered from this state.

Those eight seats – Leichhardt, Herbert, Flynn, Capricornia (hugging the coast from Cape York to Yeppoon) and Longman, Petrie, Forde and Brisbane in the southeast – should be familiar. They are all but one of the gains made by Kevin Rudd and Labor in 2007 when this state went off like a frog in a sock for the federal ALP.

Interestingly, Labor seems to have given up on winning Dawson, which is centred on Mackay and is in the hands of Trump fanboy George Christensen. Kevin Rudd’s Labor held Dawson from 2007 to 2010.

It’s ambitious and, if realised at the election, would represent a stunning turnaround in fortunes after the historically disastrous outcome of the 2019 poll, when the ALP had its worst two-party preferred result of only 41.5 per cent and saw its primary support languishing at a tick under 27 per cent.

The ambition can also be measured by the margins. The most marginal of those target seats is Longman, where Labor needs a swing of 3.3 per cent to move it over.

The farthest from reach is Capricornia, which would fall with a heroic swing of 12.4 per cent.

In drawing up this list, Labor bypassed the winnable seat of Dickson (held by Peter Dutton on 4.7 per cent). The western suburban seat of Ryan, which Julian Simmonds has held since 2019, is on 6.1 per cent but was thought to be a possible gain for Labor at the last poll.

The other clue is the way federal LNP figures have been trying out a variety of rhetorical swipes and slaps aimed at Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Morrison tried some not very gentle criticism before slipping into two-faced “I have been oh-so-supportive of everything Queensland has done” wordplay.

Josh Frydenberg and Queenslander Peter Dutton are not so coy. Dutton has never seen a Labor target at which he can’t take aim while the Treasurer never wastes an opportunity to bag Palaszczuk’s resolution on border closures.

On Sunday he rolled out the Treasury prepared talking points highlighting the Commonwealth’s contribution to relief and assistance in Queensland, saying the national spending was in excess of three times the amount the Palaszczuk Government has “even committed”.

Frydenberg said he’d welcome Queensland making a greater contribution. Maybe vertical fiscal imbalance is not such a hot topic in Treasury circles these days.

The LNP in Canberra feel they need to neutralise Labor’s best asset in Queensland – a Premier with personal ratings in the mid to high 60s and a border policy backed by at least four in five voters.

They should be careful. Queensland history books will inform Morrison and Frydenberg about the consequences of Canberra politicians letting loose with political arrows aimed at the powerbrokers of 1 William Street in Brisbane.

It never ends well for those in Canberra.

Another point to keep in mind when considering Labor’s Queensland opportunities in a federal election is the mostly misleading polling.

The Newspoll published this week told us a few things. Something is eating away at Morrison’s personal ratings, which dropped to the lowest point since his comeback in April 2019. The most likely candidate is proposed industrial relations changes, which could result in penalty rates being cut or withdrawn.

These looming changes have been pushed into voters’ minds by high-frequency advertising by the ACTU in broadcast and social media.

The suggestion Morrison’s poll slump is down to voter disquiet at border closures over the Christmas/New Year period falls into the category of frog droppings.

The overall read from Newspoll should be treated with great caution. The 50/50 (and therefore very competitive) two-party preferred vote almost certainly overstates the level of Labor support.

The high level of support for the state Labor Governments in Western Australia and Queensland – and Premiers Palaszczuk and Mark McGowan particularly – is boosting the Labor vote in those key states. In reality it is much lower, as private Labor and union polling has discovered.

These distinctly 2021 factors coexist with the historic norm of voters in states with strong, popular governments opting to pick the other side in federal elections.

Yes, Queensland is going to be important but there is nothing in the polling, the anecdotal evidence or just common sense suggesting the ALP primary vote in this state has recovered anywhere near enough to make even the most marginal seat a serious possible gain for Anthony Albanese’s Opposition.

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