Easy to please: Crisafulli talks it up, but by-election was a stinker, any way you slice it

Freshly-minted State Opposition leader David Crisafulli is a hard worker, but already the party’s lack of progress seems like an issue with the singer, rather than the song, writes Dennis Atkins

Jul 27, 2021, updated Jul 27, 2021
Liberal National Party leader David Crisafulli has successfully narrowed down the political discourse to focus on the government and its failings. (Photo: AAP)

Liberal National Party leader David Crisafulli has successfully narrowed down the political discourse to focus on the government and its failings. (Photo: AAP)

It was so strange, such a “he couldn’t possibly have said that” moment, anyone with a scintilla of rationality should’ve dismissed it as a hallucination.

The Queensland LNP’s David Crisafulli said he was “very pleased” with the result of the Stretton by-election held at the weekend. Sure it was just a by-election in a seat with a 15 percent pro-Labor margin and the LNP should never have been mentioned in the same sentence where the words “upset win” might feature, but Crisafulli set himself up for failure.

He found it.

He achieved his burning ambition to lead the LNP in mid-November (he was ready to be pushed to the top in a clown car coup fashioned by the likes of a couple of exes including one time premier Campbell Newman and then-party boss Dave Hutchinson and bankrolled by Clive Palmer in mid-2020).

After that personal victory, Crisafulli never let an opportunity pass without promising to do things differently, change the way politics is conducted, hold Labor’s feet to the flames of accountability and change, and march to victory in just three and a half years.

We’re used to political leaders boasting they can win when all countervailing evidence says this is crazy talk. On one level they have to, but you’d think someone promising a new way of doing things might temper boastful nonsense.

The Stretton contest – held in the mixed community electorate which snuggles around the Gateway Motorway in a pocket between the outer south-east of greater Brisbane and the northern reaches of the Gold Coast – was unalloyed good news for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and just another crappy day at the office for Crisafulli and the LNP.

The LNP found a solid candidate in former Queenslander of the Year and decorated police officer Jim Bellos and had fertile ground to till on government performance, especially in relation to local crime which is an ever-present complaint.

Bellos did have some baggage – petty scandals which the LNP either didn’t anticipate or failed to inoculate early enough – and this might have stunted any move towards him.

In these circumstances, the LNP secured a swing of barely 1 per cent – the final counting is still underway and the numbers shouldn’t move much. Also that 1 percent preferred vote increase and 2 point lift in primary support came because One Nation didn’t stand and just half of those lost votes went to the official opposition.

Last October One Nation picked up a diminished vote of 4.5 percent (almost half of its 2015 result). The party benefiting most from One Nation’s vacating the scene was the anti-vax outfit, the Informed Medical Options Party. They grabbed just under 2 percent of the vote (they didn’t stand last year).

There’s sure to have been some churn of votes between Labor, the LNP and others but you could make the simple assumption that the 1.8 percent the “informed” vaccine decisions mob picked up came mainly from the 4.5 percent One Nation vote with the rest going to the LNP (up 2.4 percent on primary votes) and the Animal Justice Party (just under 2 percent).

Labor’s primary vote stood still which is simply remarkable whichever way you view it. Last year the party grabbed 56 percent of primary support and on Saturday they got the same share. Regardless of circumstances, governments almost always lose ground in a by-election.

Crisafulli can run a laundry list of excuses – he cited the untimely death of the very popular sitting Labor MP Duncan Pegg, the persisting pandemic and the announcement of the successful 2032 Olympic bid days out from voting – but if he’s going to win in 2024, as he claims so boastfully, he has to take votes from Labor.

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The LNP leader can’t be criticised for not trying. He’s been holding town hall meetings around the state (stretching observance of guidelines on people permitted in a room, according to many who’ve attended) banging the drum about the failure of the Queensland health system and its administration.

There’s plenty of evidence Queensland Health is failing. Ambulance waiting times are a scandal, elective surgery is becoming harder to book in for and tertiary health in general is underperforming.

However, if Stretton’s voters are any guide, Crisafulli is not getting the message across. He is failing to convince people of a simple message that should be easy to communicate and understand. To quote Mick Jagger, it looks like it’s the singer, not the song.

Just look at recent by-election results in Labor held seats in Queensland. Last year (at the start of the pandemic) the ALP suffered a swing of 11 percent at the Bundamba byelection, in 2012 in South Brisbane candidate Jackie Trad saw Anna Bligh’s vote shaved by almost 6 percent when she took over and the departure of Terry Mackenroth in the southern metropolitan seat of Chatsworth caused Labor’s vote to slump by almost 14 percent.

These were serious by-election results with, mostly, strong anti-Labor government swings.

The Stretton by-election produced no such lift in the LNP vote, pointing to no enthusiasm for or attention to the LNP’s message.

No wonder Campbell Newman has dropped a dramatic, self indulgent resignation from the LNP (no doubt a barely disguised public application for a gig on Sky After Dark feedback loop TV).

That static group of voters sticking with the LNP might be excited (however muted that enthusiasm might be) but most of Queensland is content to be uncaring when it comes to the perpetually ineffective David Crisafulli.


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