Queensland's bloodbath a blow for Govt

By Greg Ansley

Anna Bligh. Photo / Getty Images
Anna Bligh. Photo / Getty Images

Regardless of the historical separation of federal and state policies, Saturday's annihilation of Labor in Queensland has set a new sword singing above the head of Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The question government strategists must now answer is how much the fury that voters poured on former Premier Anna Bligh's state Administration will translate into anger at next year's federal election.

Queensland was central in Labor's 2007 victory over former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard. It was equally significant in the hammering Gillard took in the last election, when Labor could secure only eight of the state's 30 federal seats.

Polls have since consistently shown that federal Labor is still a stench in many Queensland voters' noses, as it is in neighbouring New South Wales - which turned on Gillard in 2010 and hurled Labor from power in the state with a landslide to the NSW Liberals.

The sheer scale of Queensland Premier-elect Campbell Newman's victory is a frightening warning to Gillard: Labor is no longer able to even register as a political party in the state, with just seven MPs predicted.

That may also change. Declaring the "unmistakable loudness" of the message, the ousted Premier said yesterday that voters had "decisively closed the chapter" on the Bligh era and announced her resignation from politics. This will force a byelection in South Brisbane which, given the present mood of voters, cannot promise to return a Labor MP.

Even without that possible added blow, the party suffered a 16 per cent swing to the LNP that hewed its presence from 51 seats in the 89-seat parliament to just six confirmed MPs with the likely final addition of another.

The LNP is predicted to win 78, with two MPs from north Queensland federal MP Bob Katter's new conservative Australia Party - including son Rob in Mt Isa - and two independents.

The Australia Party outpolled the Greens, who did not win a seat.

As many as 11 former Labor ministers have been dumped, with many of the next generation's elite losing their seats, among them several previously considered potential future leaders: former State Treasurer Andrew Fraser, Employment and Mining Minister Stirling Hinchcliff, and inner-Brisbane rising star Cameron Dick.

The LNP has stormed the former Labor stronghold of greater Brisbane, taken three of Labor's four seats in the Cairns area, left only one Labor MP standing north of Mackay, and all but destroyed the party in central Queensland.

Voters were after Bligh. They were weary of more than two decades of Labor in power, furious at asset sales and the axing of petrol subsidies, critical of Bligh's economic management, distrusting of her election promises, and turned off by unsubstantiated personal attacks on Newman's probity.

Federal issues barely registered, apart from background clutter and the aftershocks from former Foreign Minister and Brisbane MP Kevin Rudd's bid to oust Gillard to regain the prime ministership he lost by coup.

But the wider tremors are being felt in Canberra.

Bligh's predecessor Peter Beattie, who ran Queensland for more than 11 years as one of Australia's most successful leaders and who reads the state's political winds better than most, has warned that federal Labor risks years in its own political badlands if it does not restore its stocks there.

A swing of anywhere near the scale of Saturday's "bloodbath" in Queensland would hurl Gillard from power, and the state will be watching her dealings with Newman closely.

They will not be easy. Newman's victory adds Queensland to NSW, Victoria and Western Australia as conservative states unfriendly to federal Labor and already actively opposed to key health, education and training reforms, and the new mining and carbon taxes.

"The Labor Party has had its heart ripped out," Beattie told ABC TV. "This is not a matter in which we can close the door and pretend it didn't happen. We have a crisis on our hands. We have to rebuild or the Labor party can lose the next federal election in Queensland alone.

Bligh had a similar message: "The task for Labor now is not to be consumed by that heartbreak. The task is to recover, to rebuild, to renew and to be everything that this enduring party has been for more than a century."

Newman, meanwhile, went immediately to work. He said spending would be cut from day one, sacked John Bradley, the head of Bligh's Department of Premier and Cabinet, and yesterday began a detailed agenda for his first 100 days in office.

- NZ Herald

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