Saturday, January 24, 2015

Queensland election 2015: Campbell Newman's situation in context

As has been discussed on this blog before, Queensland will be holding a state election on the 31st of January. Opinion polls have generally pointed to a narrow win by the Liberal National Party. However, what is more precarious is the situation of Premier Campbell Newman.

Newman is the member of Parliament for Ashgrove. Ashgrove is a inner Brisbane seat that was held by the Labor Party from 1989 to 2012. When Newman was elected opposition leader in 2011, he was mayor of Brisbane, and did not hold a parliamentary seat. Jeff Seeney, Newman's deputy, was elected interim opposition leader.

At the 2012 election, Newman decided to contest Ashgrove, despite it being a fairly safe Labor seat. It was held by Kate Jones, the Environment Minister, on a 7% margin.

On election night, however, Newman won easily. A 12% swing towards him allowed him to win with 55% of the two-party preferred vote. Newman did not actually reside in Ashgrove, but it was his closest winnable seat.

However, the 2015 election will provide a challenge for Newman. Statewide polls suggest that Ashgrove is likely to be a very close contest. Kate Jones is contesting Ashgrove as the Labor candidate.

A number of electorate-only polls have been taken in Ashgrove. All recent polls have shown Jones with a lead over Newman; however, that lead has decreased recently. The Liberal National Party have promised $18 million for improvements to Ashgrove services, and perhaps a sense of 'money before party' has come over swinging Ashgrove voters.

If, however, Newman is defeated in Ashgrove, but his Liberal National Party wins the election, he has two options.

1. Resign as Premier.

While it is possible to serve as Premier for a short time without a parliamentary seat, if Newman did not want to seek another seat, this would be the most likely option.

When leaders of parliamentary parties lose their seats, it is usually because their parties have lost an election. Losing an election usually means that parties do not want to keep their current leader.

For example, in Australia's 2007 federal election, Liberal Prime Minister John Howard was defeated by Labor candidate Maxine McKew in his seat of Bennelong. The Liberals lost that election, meaning that Howard would not have been Prime Minister even if he had won Bennelong. Howard resigned as Liberal leader, and did not attempt to contest another constituency.

I don't know any case of a leader whose party won an election but lost his own seat resigning as leader. If anyone knows one, please comment.

2. Run in a new seat

In this scenario, Newman would request that a Liberal National backbencher in a safe seat resign, and he would run in a by-election to replace that member. In the event of a Liberal National victory, but a Newman loss, this is the most likely scenario.

There are plenty of rural safe seats with backbenchers that Newman can run in, and there is no residency requirement in Queensland's electoral law. However, this is somewhat unprecedented for Australia, and I can't find any leader who was defeated in their own seat but won in the general election.

However, Canada has had a number of cases of this. In the 2013 British Columbia election, the centre-right Liberal government of Christy Clark defeated the centre-left New Democratic Party led by Adrian Dix. However, Clark was defeated in her electoral district of Vancouver-Point Grey by a NDP candidate, and had to contest a by-election in a safe Liberal district. It has also happened in Alberta.

If the Liberal Nationals win, but Newman loses, it will be a first for Australia (as far as I know). However, there is no real possibility of a constitutional crisis; the scenario is well prepared for.

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