'Forget COVID, LNP loss was its own fault'
POLITICAL junkies after every election pore over the tea leaves to figure out exactly what happened and why.
The 2020 Queensland poll is no different. In fact, more than ever, folk are scratching their heads as to why an average-performing government overseeing high debt, deficit and unemployment was returned with an even larger majority.
The received wisdom is this election pivoted on one issue only: COVID-19.
Indeed, many claim that, without a pandemic to galvanise allegedly frightened voters, the Palaszczuk Labor Government would have been toast.
In that context, it's also claimed older Queenslanders - the so-called 'Palaszczuk pensioners' - pushed Labor over the line.
Critics argue that Queensland seniors, allegedly more vulnerable to 'scare' campaigns, were panicked into voting Labor.
But is that really true?
There's no doubt COVID-19 redrew this campaign's parameters. Given the pandemic has dented virtually every aspect of public policy, it's only natural the virus and its management should become the yardstick by which all parties are measured.
But incumbency is not always a gift in times of crisis. While it's served leaders like Annastacia Palaszczuk and Jacinda Ardern well, it certainly didn't help US President Donald Trump who squandered opportunities to emerge as a 'strong' crisis manager.
In short, it's not the fact a leader enjoys incumbency as much as what that leader does with the instruments of governance such incumbency provides.
Having said that, there's no doubt the COVID-19 emergency offered Palaszczuk an opportunity to change her public opinion fortunes.
In February, as the first Queensland cases emerged, Palaszczuk suffered a leadership approval rating of just 29 per cent, and a disapproval rating of 44 - or 15 points below water.
Two weeks out from polling day and 66 per cent of Queenslanders now approved of her leadership, with just 33 per cent disapproving - or 33 points above.
In terms of preferred premier, Palaszczuk on election eve enjoyed 56 per cent support compared to LNP leader Deb Frecklington's 32.
This surely suggests the 2020 election was a referendum on whom Queenslanders wanted as premier for the next four years.
For a state that loved Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Peter Beattie in equal measure, leadership remains at a premium in Queensland political culture.
But the election was also a referendum on economic management.
An October YouGov poll found, for example, that 40 per cent of Queenslanders saw Labor as a more competent economic manager, with just 27 per cent endorsing the LNP.
Queenslanders might not be in love with either major party, but they appear to trust Labor a little more.
Third, the election shaped up as another referendum on the appropriateness of a tough 'closed border' policy. Once again, according to an October Roy Morgan poll, a narrow majority (53 per cent) of Queenslanders supported Palaszczuk's tough position.
In sum, it appears a majority of Queenslanders expressed a grudging gratitude to a Labor government that did not turn Queensland into another Victoria.
But what about the so-called 'Palaszczuk's pensioners'?
Yes, Labor enjoyed a 12 per cent primary swing in the retirement haven of Caloundra where the median age is 44, or seven years older than the Queensland median. The same can be said of Pumicestone (where Labor enjoyed a 10 per cent swing) where the median age is 48. But in both seats the LNP MP had retired and left a vacuum Labor happily filled.
But age does not explain the result in Cairns where Labor enjoyed a 14 per cent swing, and where the median age is also the Queensland median. Nor does it explain Morayfield where Labor's primary vote rose by nine points despite the median age there being three years younger than the rest of Queensland.
The clinching evidence is found in that same Roy Morgan poll: older voters (over 50) were more likely to want the border with New South Wales opened sooner, with younger voters (especially under 35s) more resistant.
It's all too easy for those disappointed with the LNP's defeat to blame that loss on Labor's alleged 'politicisation' of COVI19. If the LNP is honest with itself - and it should conduct an immediate post-election review to this effect - the party will put everything on the table before 2024.
That means finding a leadership and policy formula palatable to Greater Brisbane and, also, the potential to dissolve the LNP into two distinct parties.
After all, 10 years in opposition is a hell of a long time.
Dr Paul Williams
School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science
Griffith University, Nathan campus
Originally published as Forget Covid, LNP loss was its own fault