Queensland Labor pays the price


By Jim McIlroy

BRISBANE — Counting in doubtful seats proceeded at a snail's pace after the July 15 state election, however the ALP appears likely to fall over the line by a seat or two.

As of July 22, the Labor Party had 43 seats, the National-Liberal Coalition 41, and four were in doubt. Of these, it seems the ALP may win two and the coalition the same. This would allow Labor to govern in its own right, with the slimmest possible majority of one, after conservative independent Liz Cunningham took the former ALP stronghold of Gladstone.

Although Cunningham had talks with both Premier Wayne Goss and opposition leader Rob Borbidge, and steadfastly refused to indicate which party she would support in the event of a tie, she did say that the Coalition's 52% overall vote on a two-party preferred basis would be an important factor in her decision.

Cunningham, the Mayor of the small town of Calliope, near Gladstone, and a revivalist Christian, has expressed strong conservative views on "social morality", including opposition to abortion. She has also protested the Goss government's sale of the Gladstone power station to Comalco, and opposed the government's downgrading of the Boyne Valley rail line.

The election result is a disaster for the ALP. How is it possible for a party with a majority of 19 in an 89-seat parliament, led by the "most popular politician in Australia", Wayne Goss, to come within a whisker of defeat by a motley crew, led by possibly the least charismatic duo in Australian politics, Rob Borbidge and Joan Sheldon?

There has been plenty of excuse-making by stunned Labor MPs since the July 15 massacre. But there is little real indication that the Labor leadership has digested the essential lessons of the rout: that contempt for the people will bring its own retribution in the end.

On election night, Goss blamed the Coalition's success in "cultivating a culture of complaint" for the swing against the ALP. Treasurer Keith de Lacy also bitterly referred to a "culture of complaint" which makes "good government" impossible to achieve.

"People blame the school, the family, the government. No one ever blames themselves", de Lacy said. "They [the Coalition] have said if they are elected they will give every protest group what they wanted, and to deliver on those will be extraordinarily bad government. It seems you can change government simply by cultivating protest — not by putting up an alternative agenda." De Lacy blamed the Greens — who directed preferences away from Labor in some key seats — for fostering disharmony.

Goss and De Lacy represent the real "culture of complaint" — the whingeing of representatives of big business when their economic rationalist policies ran into sharp opposition from community groups.

The Labor campaign was a total disaster and was a factor in the swing away from the government. After campaigning heavily against the Coalition by accusing Sheldon of favouring the privatisation of hospitals, Sheldon scored a king hit on de Lacy during their TV debate by quoting a statement from him advocating privatisation! It was the Queensland and federal Labor governments which collaborated to privatise the Greenslopes Repatriation Hospital — a factor in Labor losing the seat of Greenslopes.

The ALP factions are reported to be sharpening their knives for a blood-letting after the final result is declared. But all the criticism of the weaknesses of the campaign and blaming the voters for "overdoing" their protest votes cannot disguise the foundation of the problem: the Goss government arrogantly overrode the opinions and interests of the people, whether on the South-East Tollway, or the Eastlink power line, or rationalisation and cutbacks in public health, transport and welfare.

A Labor government relying on a one seat majority will have to be more attentive to community opinion. That is probably the main gain from the Queensland election debacle.

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