Labor routed in Queensland

As predicted, the Labor government in the Australian state of Queensland fell in Saturday’s elections — the rout was so bad that outgoing premier Anna Bligh announced she would resign from parliament.

The Liberal National Party won Saturday’s election with 49.5% of the vote to Labor’s 26.9%, as LNP leader Campbell Newman was set to be sworn in as Queensland’s next premier in the first non-Labor government in that state since 1998.  The LNP will take 78 of the Legislative Assembly’s 89 seats to just seven seats for Labor.  The Australian Party, contesting its first election, will take two seats on 11.6% of the vote.

After the vote, Bligh announced she would step down, arguing that her presence in parliament would impede Labor’s efforts to start building its way back toward power — or even toward official status as a political party (it fell short of the 10-seat requirement for official recognition).

Although the race was fought and won on mostly state issues, the rout cannot be incredibly comforting to the federal Labor Party or to Australian prime minister Julia Gillard, who left for a trade summit in South Korea this weekend without commenting on the vote.  The 16% swing against Labor is exactly the same swing that Labor suffered a year ago in the New South Wales election.

Polls showed that the federal Labor Party is in poor shape in Queensland heading into the next federal election — so much so that deputy prime minister Wayne Swan could lose reelection — former Queensland premier Peter Beattie minced no words:

“We have to rebuild or the Labor Party can lose the next federal election in Queensland alone,” he said.

“We have to sell what the Labor Party’s done or we will face a similar wipeout here.”

The vote came less than a month after a divisive leadership election between Gillard and former prime minister — and Queenslander — Kevin Rudd.

Notwithstanding the state issues that drove the Queensland election, a federal Labor civil war did no favors for Bligh and Queensland Labor.

Gillard has worked hard to turn the page on the divisive leadership contest — her government passed a landmark mining tax last week — but will have to work even harder to reverse the narrative of a government in decline.  With up to 20 months before the next general election, Gillard has at least some time, but it’s looking increasingly like her goal will be not to win the next election, but rather to avoid a landslide loss of the kind experienced in NSW and Queensland.

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