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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.

One month on, what future for Labor?

Nearly one month on from the leadership race that nearly tore apart the Labor Party, what do we know about the state of Australian politics?

First the relevant facts:

  • Kevin Rudd has returned to the backbenches after losing the leadership vote (71-31), where he has pledged not to challenge prime minister Julia Gillard for the party leadership before the next federal election.
  • Rudd has once again taken to his home state of Queensland to lick his political wounds, campaigning hard in advance of local state elections to be held this Saturday, March 24.  Rudd, who remains perhaps the most popular politician in Australia, is especially popular in Queensland.  Labor has held state-level power since 1996, but Queensland premier Anna Bligh seems unlikely to win a sixth-consecutive term for her party in the state, leaving Labor party out of power in the four largest of Australia’s six states.
  • Gillard remains slightly more popular than Coalition leader Tony Abbott as prime minister, but Labor’s primary vote share has fallen from 35% to just 31% since the leadership crisis — on a two-party preferred basis, the Coalition would defeat Labor 53% to 47%.  Gillard must announce a general election before November 2013.
  • Former NSW premier Bob Carr has been appointed by Gillard to the Senate and as the new foreign minister, replacing Rudd.
  • Gillard yesterday secured the passage of the Mining Resource Rent Tax, a 30% tax on Australian coal and iron ore miners with profits in excess of $75 million, which is expected to raise around $11 billion in revenue over three years.  The mining tax is a complimentary step to Australia’s carbon tax, both of which take effect this July.  The carbon tax passed in November 2010 and imposes a pricing regime on carbon emissions by fixing a a tax on each ton of carbon emitted by the top 500 polluters, and will move to an emissions trading scheme in July 2015.

What does this all really mean? Continue reading One month on, what future for Labor?