Mainstream talk of Queenslanders embracing the Coalition at the federal elections is louder than ever.
The implication is that, here, everything is cut from the one cloth. But, just as the inner-city seats of Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney moved against the Coalition there is no evidence that there is a conservative tide sweeping regional Queensland.
Central Queensland with Rockhampton and Mackay, north Queensland with Townsville and far-north Queensland with Cairns all vary from each other in climate, economics, culture and, of course, politics.
A week into the vote count, the far-north Queensland electorate of Leichhardt, which includes most of Cairns, the coastal towns to its north and Cape York and the Torres Strait, showed a 1.8% swing against the Liberal-National Party. The Greens gained 10% of the vote, a swing of +1.3%, and the Labor vote is up 1%.
The vote for the far-right parties — Bob Katter’s Australia Party, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party — totalled about 20%.
The overall result is that the two-party preferred vote in Leichhardt moved less than 0.1% in favour of the LNP.
Compare this to the small national swing of 1.25% to the Coalition and it is not hard to see that the right’s noisy triumphalism is more due to its surprise, than any big success story.
In central and north Queensland, by contrast, the LNP recorded a concentrated swing, but there too the impact should not be exaggerated. Much of the national swing to the Coalition took place in safe Labor electorates.
According to the social scientific (not pollster) Australian Election Survey, which focused on the shift in votes among those on incomes of $200,000 or more, of the five seats that did change to the LNP, most were not found from Rockhampton northwards. Only one, Herbert, around Townsville, had been won by Labor in 2016, and then by just 37 votes.
In this part of the world, the fact that Labor did not win more LNP marginal seats is a bigger discussion. Labor lost two seats in Queensland (Longman and Herbert) but it lost more seats elsewhere.
Compare this federal election to that in 1983 when Labor opposed the Franklin Dam. Labor did not hold any of the five seats in Tasmania — where the dam was to be built — before or after that election, but it won enough other seats to claim government.
The Morrison government was returned because Labor did not win enough marginal seats where it needed to.
In northern Queensland, any party that looked like it was for climate action and therefore might oppose the Adani coal mine, would struggle. But Labor did not win Leichhardt, or seats elsewhere in Queensland, or in other states, either.
The policy changes Labor proposed were too little, too late, incomplete and incoherent. In this context, the hard work by some Labor candidates and by the Australian Council of Trade Union (ACTU) campaigners in Leichhardt had little effect as people did not have sufficient reason to join the campaigns.
Labor’s fence-sitting became embarrassing. For example, the night before the March 15 Student Strike 4 Climate, its assistant shadow minister on energy and climate action fronted a public forum in Cairns and presented its policy on 50% renewables by 2030 and its promotion of hydrogen exports.
In discussion, a student strike activist explained their three demands: stop the Adani coal mine; no new coal, oil and gas projects; and 100% renewable energy by 2030. A chasm appeared and the Labor spokesperson made no attempt to bridge it: their response on Adani was let existing processes take their course.
Besides differences in analysis and perspectives between Labor and its left critics, there is a more fundamental difference: the aim. Labor sits on a track leading to nowhere, while the latter want to build a new progressive society based on social solidarity.
For the left, neither market trends nor market interventions will be enough to tackle the environmental crisis and inequality. Relying on capitalist structures and power will no longer cut it.
Knowing this, intellectually, however, is not enough: there is an urgent need for action.
In central and north Queensland, only a plan for new industries and jobs, and the political independence and power to implement it, will be enough to counter the power that fossil fuel capitalism has over what will happen in these regions.