Monday, January 12, 2015

Queensland election 2015: Newman, Palaszczuk, and GetUp!

Queensland will be heading to the polls on the 31st of January, to elect all 89 seats of the state's unicameral Parliament. Members will be elected in single-member constituencies using optional-preferential voting. The election was announced by Premier Campbell Newman on the 6th of January in the face of multiple poor opinion polls for Newman and his Liberal National Party.

Queensland's Parliament House, in Brisbane (own photo)


For 32 years, Queensland was governed by the National Party, a conservative, rurally oriented party. The Nationals mostly governed in coalition with the Liberal Party, a conservative, urban based party. For most of those 32 years, the government was run by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, a peanut farmer from Kingaroy, a rural town in the state's south-east. Bjelke-Petersen ruled for nearly 20 years, and introduced a number of controversial policies during that time. However, in 1987  Bjelke-Petersen was forced to resign after a number of corruption scandals involving his government were uncovered. 

Bjelke-Petersen was preceded by Mike Ahern and Russell Cooper, who failed to make much of an impact. In the 1989 election, Cooper and his Nationals were defeated by the Labor Party, led by Wayne Goss.

Goss led the state for 7 years, and introduced a number of anti-corruption reforms during that period. He was comfortably re-elected in 1992, but was returned to office only narrowly in 1995, and the overturning of a result in one seat and its subsequent gain by the Liberals allowed the Liberal National coalition, led by Rob Borbidge, to gain office in early 1996.

Borbidge's government was relatively unsuccessful, and a number of scandals and missteps by the government led to the Coalition's defeat at the 2001 election by the Labor party, led by Peter Beattie. The 2001 election was notable for the rise of the One Nation party, a radical right party founded by Pauline Hanson. One Nation won 11 seats, but soon disintegrated due to infighting and splits, and won only 3 seats in 2001 and 1 seat in 2004.

Beattie led Queensland for 9 years, comfortably winning every election. In 2007, he handed over to his deputy, Anna Bligh, who won the 2009 election comfortably, becoming the first woman ever elected to lead an Australian state. However, at the 2009 election, the Liberal and National parties had merged into the creatively named Liberal National Party.

Bligh's second term, however, was not successful. A number of scandals and controversial , privatisations not announced in 2009 dramatically reduced her popularity, and the Labor Party was defeated with a massive swing of 15% against them, and the loss of 44 seats. The Liberal National Party (LNP), led by Brisbane Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, won, with a record majority. Labor won just 7 seats.

Newman, however, has governed in a rather divisive manner. Anti-motorcycle gang legislation introduced by Newman has been accused of being overly strict, and a large number of civil servants have lost their jobs. Legal appointments made by the Newman government have been sharply criticised by many in the Queensland community.

As a result, the Newman government goes into the 2015 election in a far poorer state than in 2012. The Labor Party has fared relatively well in Opposition, despite a small caucus.

Party prospects

The Newman government stands to lose a large amount of seats. This cannot come as a surprise, given that a significant number of seats won by the government were won due to anger at the Bligh government, which will not be much of a factor at this election. However, most opinion polls have shown them with a narrow lead, and it is relatively likely that they will be returned with a small majority.

More interesting is the potential fate of Newman himself. He is the member for the seat of Ashgrove, which was held by Labor from 1995 to 2012. Newman wanted to run in a local seat, and won Ashgrove in 2012 with a 12% swing. He now holds it on a 5% margin. 

This is a winnable seat for Labor. It is being contested for Labor by Kate Jones, who was the MP for Ashgrove from 2006 to 2012. If Newman loses, but his party wins, he will either have to force an MP to resign so he can run in a by-election, or resign as Premier.

Labor has done well over the past three years. Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has done relatively well for a state opposition leader, and her party is likely to make significant gains. However, it seems that Labor will fall short, although it is not impossible that they win.

A number of small parties will be contesting this election. The Palmer United Party, a political party founded by Queensland mining millionaire Clive Palmer, may win a few seats, although that party has been hit with a number of controversies recently. Bob Katter's conservative Katter's Australian Party will likely lose all of its seats, after a poor performance in the 2013 federal election. The Greens are weak in Queensland, and won't win anything. Perennial loser Pauline Hanson will make a run for the safe Liberal National seat of Lockyer; she probably won't win.

Electoral law rant 

In early 2014, the Newman government passed a number of changes to Queensland's Electoral Act. These changes were relatively controversial, but one of the ones that attracted the most attention was a requirement that voters present identification in order to cast an ordinary vote. 

For those who are unaware, in Australia, voters must not present ID for any election. They register before an election, and their names are placed upon a roll that is distributed to every polling place in a constituency. In order to vote, a person needs to have their name not crossed off the roll at the polling place at which they want to vote.

While this may seem open to fraud, most cases of multiple voting in Australia tend to be accidental in nature. However, the rationale aside, the law has been introduced, and will be used for this election.

The activist group GetUp!, which tends to support left-wing causes, has led a campaign against the law, and they have led a campaign to put advertisements in the Brisbane newspaper attacking the changes. One of the ads is reproduced below (I am not aware if these ads were printed, but they are on GetUp!'s website). Click on the ad for a close-up.

This ad has a number of problems. First of all, the driver's license statistics are a complete non sequitur; a driver's license is but one of many documents that can be presented in order to vote. Antony Green's blog has a list of documents that voters can use. It includes telephone bills, local council rates notices, and Medicare cards.

Secondly, and more seriously, this ad may be in breach of Queensland's Electoral Act.

The ad runs into trouble in its choice of wording: it claims that "if voters don't have the right ID card, they won't be able to vote at all". This is simply not true. Voters may not cast an ordinary vote without ID. However, they may still cast a declaration vote.

 The difference is clear.  If a voter casts an ordinary vote, their vote is simply placed into the ballot box, as the polling officers have determined that that person is on the rolls and has ID (in Queensland). However, in Queensland, if a voter does not have ID, but is on the electoral roll, they will be told to cast a declaration vote. A declaration vote involves a voter casting a vote, but then placing it in an envelope. The voter then fills out a form, which is attached to the envelope. After the election, the form is examined. If the voter was eligible to cast a vote, the envelope is opened and the vote is counted. If not, the envelope is thrown away.

Australian electoral law contains specific prohibition against misleading voters. Below, I have reproduced Section 185 of Queensland's Electoral Act, which deals with misleading voters.

185 Misleading voters
(1) A person must not, during the election period for an election,
print, publish, distribute or broadcast anything that is intended
or likely to mislead an elector in relation to the way of voting
at the election.
Maximum penalty—40 penalty units.
(2) A person must not for the purpose of affecting the election of
a candidate, knowingly publish a false statement of fact
regarding the personal character or conduct of the candidate.
Maximum penalty—40 penalty units.
(3) A person must not, during the election period for an election,
print, publish, distribute or broadcast by television any
representation or purported representation of a ballot paper for
use in the election if it is likely to induce an elector to vote
other than in accordance with this Act.
Maximum penalty—40 penalty units.
(4) In this section—
publish includes publish on the internet, even if the internet
site on which the publication is made is located outside

Now, I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. However, the GetUp! ad, which is still on their website here, seems like it might run afoul of this piece of law, given that it tells voters that they will be completely barred from voting without ID when this is not the case.

This section of law is rarely enforced. It was used in 1996, against a man named Albert Langer. Langer had published a booklet encouraging voters to give equal last preferences to candidates that they disliked equally, which is illegal. Langer was sentenced to 10 weeks in prison, which was later reduced to 3 on appeal.

In Queensland, 40 penalty units is equal to $4554 Australian dollars. This is a very harsh fine, and the full penalty would be unlikely to be levied against GetUp! if the case were to be tried and the group were to be found guilty (and I won't be making a complaint against the group; in my humble opinion, this section is way too open to be used in such a way). I have nothing against GetUp!; ironically, this may be an own goal, given that it may frighten left-leaning voters without a driver's license away from the polls.

So, Queenslanders who are reading my blog (a small group), when you go to vote, take some ID mentioned in Antony Green's blog post to speed things up, but if you do not have any of this ID, you can still vote.

For more information about Queensland's election, visit Dr Kevin Bonham's blog for polls and the ABC election website for news.

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