Almost two weeks after polling day, the Queensland state election wrapped up today, with opposition leader Tim Nicholls finally having no alternative but to concede defeat. Labor premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will take office for a second term with a clear but narrow majority.
Nicholls’s refusal to concede on the night, and even the following day, was reasonable in the circumstances, although his chance of being able to form government was always very faint. But Labor’s victory has been clear for more than a week, and the opposition’s behavior reinforced Queensland’s image as a “banana republic” – although the truth is that constitutional ignorance and obstinacy are widespread in the rest of the country as well.
Labor finished with 48 seats, to which should be added the single Greens MP and the independent member for Noosa. Nicholls’s Liberal National Party has 39, plus one for its ally, One Nation (more about them shortly). On the crossbenches will sit the three members from Katter’s Australian Party. (Official results are here; the ABC’s presentation is probably easier to follow.)
That’s a somewhat underwhelming victory for Labor, which formed a minority government after the 2015 election following a massive swing against the LNP. Once upon a time, Labor governments in such circumstances went on to win landslides (New South Wales 1999, Queensland 2001, Victoria 2002). But a win is a win, particularly given the electorate’s recent intolerance for first-term governments – which had convinced many pundits that Labor would have trouble this time around.
It will probably be weeks before the Queensland electoral commission will produce enough figures to enable the calculation of a two-party-preferred figure, and even then it will be sensitive to assumptions. But there has been a small swing to Labor, probably somewhere between 1% and 2%. We also need more data to be clear about the impact of the return to compulsory preferential voting, although we know that the informal vote doubled, to 4.3%.
The week and a half of contrived indecision has taken the focus away from the main story in the election, which was not about Labor and the LNP at all but about the minor parties.
When One Nation first appeared on the scene, in 1998, it upended Queensland politics, winning 22.7% of the vote and 11 seats. In those days Liberals and Nationals ran separately, and One Nation comfortably beat both of them, although it was still behind their combined tally of 31.3%.
Now, in its second incarnation, it might have been thought to be better placed. It started with a base of four senators, and a state MP who had defected from the LNP. National media and political leaders have given it respectability, and far-right parties throughout the world have been on a roll for the last couple of years. Despite the warning of this year’s Western Australian result, the LNP directed preferences to One Nation in most seats.
But the result fell well short of expectations. One Nation collected 13.7% of the vote and a single seat, Mirani, which it won from Labor on LNP preferences.
In most places outside of Queensland, that would be an alarmingly high vote for a far-right party. In the light of pre-election commentary, however, which had it winning up to a dozen seats and the balance of power, it’s a major setback.
Queensland remains (like many places) politically divided between urban and rural voters. Labor’s gains balanced its losses, but its gains were all in the urbanised south-east while its losses were all further north. (William Bowe has an excellent summary of the result, although his list of LNP losses should also include Gaven, on the Gold Coast.) There is again talk of the LNP trying to address this by de-merging, although I doubt that this particular egg can be easily unscrambled.
The LNP’s fundamental problem is the same as it’s been for more than two decades: pandering to the far right is a vote loser in the places where most of the votes are. As Tim Colebatch put it last week, “We’ve heard lots of noise from federal Coalition MPs in the bush screaming that One Nation is a threat. But Brisbane is where they lost the election. Ignore that reality, and they’ll keep losing.”
The state also remains plagued by a deeply undemocratic electoral system. (That’s also not unusual, although it’s hard to find one that’s quite this bad.) If seats were allocated proportionally, Labor would have won 35, not 48; the LNP 33, not 39; and One Nation and the Greens would have won 13 and ten respectively, instead of just one each. With the rival alliances equally poised, the KAP would have held the balance of power.
It’s also worth noting the Greens’ performance; they gained a swing of 1.6% and broke through to win Maiwar from the LNP on Labor preferences. They now hold lower house seats in each of the four eastern states as well as federally, an unprecedented achievement for a minor party. (One could almost say that they have topped 10% in each of those states, but although their Queensland result rounds to 10.0%, it’s actually just short, at 9.99%.)