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Sweet dreams: A generous dose of Budget sugar won’t save Labor from a bitter electorate

The Miles Government’s state Budget was eye-watering in its generosity to voters but it almost certainly is not going to save Labor from defeat at the October election, writes Paul Williams.

Jun 14, 2024, updated Jun 14, 2024
Premier Steven Miles and Treasurer Cameron Dick arrive to hand down the 2024-25 Queensland State Budget. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

Premier Steven Miles and Treasurer Cameron Dick arrive to hand down the 2024-25 Queensland State Budget. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

Many a government has spent generously to woo voters in election years. Some might even say recklessly.

But, even by that standard, the cash splashed this week by the Queensland Labor government under Premier Steven Miles is eye-watering – not just in dollar terms but also in the choices Treasurer Cameron Dick has made in the run-up to an October election few believe Labor can win.

In offering feel-good “sugar hits” that make the recent federal budget seem like diet cordial, Dick, in his fifth budget, has targeted the four biggest policy issues for voters in Queensland (and every other state and territory): cost of living, youth crime, housing and health.

That’s why he allocated an extra $1.28 billion for more police and to support victims of crime. It’s also why health had an almost unprecedented 10.6 per cent funding increase – hospital ramping is a particularly sore point. Another $3.1 billion was invested in the “Homes for Queenslanders” program, which offers rental support, while significantly raising the home value threshold before stamp duties are charged.

There’s also a $107 billion “Big Build” infrastructure program over four years to accommodate an exploding population, an issue both widely lamented and acutely felt in Brisbane.

But it’s the government’s cost-of-living relief package that has attracted the most attention and, arguably, the most scorn. By offering a weary electorate $1,000 cash-back on power bills (in addition to the federal government’s recently announced $300), 50 cent fares on all public transport, a 20 per cent reduction in vehicle registrations and $200 vouchers to encourage children into sport – and by delivering a $564 million surplus for 2023-24 – Queensland Labor hopes it can buy a fourth term from financially struggling voters.

But will it really turn Labor’s electoral tide? Public opinion polls since Miles succeeded Annastacia Palaszczuk as premier last December suggest not. In the most recently published poll, a February-May Redbridge survey, Labor recorded a 28 percent primary vote – down 12 points since the 2020 election and only slightly higher than the Bligh Labor government received when decimated in 2012.

Redbridge pegged the Liberal-National Party’s primary vote at 47 per cent – its highest in a decade – for a two-party-preferred split of 57 to 43 per cent. That translates into a 10-point swing. It would mean Labor loses around 24 seats and the LNP easily forms majority government with up to 60 seats in the 93-seat Legislative Assembly.

Worryingly for Labor, the Redbridge data are consistent with earlier Resolve Strategic, YouGov and Newspoll surveys. All reported similar collapses in Labor’s vote since March.

In short, Queensland voters appear to have stopped listening to Miles and are now embracing the moderate, softly spoken LNP leader, David Crisafulli. In a February-May Resolve Strategic poll, he led Miles as preferred premier by 39 points to 28.

Crisafulli, however, is facing his own hurdles. Journalists and voters are demanding policy detail beyond the LNP’s “parenthood” statements about reducing crime. Crisafulli’s judgment is also being questioned for his early support for a Labor budget he had not even seen.

Nonetheless, there has been an unmistakable appetite for change in Queensland since early 2022, when the once-unassailable Palaszczuk government began its sharp descent amid accusations of compromised integrity and, later, of an allegedly “out of touch” and “red carpet” premier. It was that lost political capital underpinning a once-popular premier that, when burdened with cost-of-living and youth-crime crises, forced Palaszczuk from office in December 2023.

Why, then, will Queensland’s arguably most generous budget go unrewarded at the ballot box?

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First, governments rarely receive post-budget public opinion bounces. While the Albanese government’s 2024 budget was reasonably well received, a June YouGov poll placed Labor’s primary vote three points lower than in the April survey. It seems voters simply expect governments to be good economic managers – and do not reward them for it.

Second, Miles’ goodies, designed to be delivered before the October 26 poll, will likely see any voter gratitude evaporate long before ballots are cast.

Third, while vehicle registration is almost universal, regular public transport users and first-home buyers are still a minority of voters.

Fourth, current inflation is “sticky”. Until Queensland voters see reductions in rents, home mortgage interest rates, grocery and fuel prices, a few budgetary treats will do little to mollify a financially stressed electorate.

Finally, the government has arguably overreached in its generosity and undermined its credibility as a responsible economic manager. In squandering last year’s $12.3 billion surplus – the largest ever recorded by a state, thanks to massively hiked coal royalties that have pumped $25 billion into state coffers in just two years – the ever-sceptical Queensland voter now appears plainly cynical in framing the budget as a desperate vote-buying exercise.

So will the budget at least improve Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s fortunes in Queensland? Almost certainly not.

Labor holds just five of Queensland’s 30 federal seats and is unlikely to win more anytime soon. Hemmed in by the deep conservatism of outer-suburban and regional Queensland, Labor, at the height of Albanese’s popularity in 2022, won no seats from the LNP yet lost one to the Greens.

Ultimately, Queenslanders appear to have cast their judgment on the Miles government. They will happily (but not gratefully) grab Labor’s cash, then stroll to the polls and vote LNP in a very decisive swing.

PaulWilliams is Associate Professor, Griffith University, Griffith University. This article first appeared in The Conversation

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