2020 Queensland State Election Preview and summary

This is not a normal election year despite the same central question and that is Queensland voters will decide on 31 October whether Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Labor Party deserve a third term in government, or whether Deb Frecklington and the LNP should be handed the reins of office.

However 2020 is far from a normal election year.

Number 1 is that Covid-19 means the Electoral Commission Queensland is encouraging people to vote before election day, either by post or in person at pre-poll centres.

October 31 is still election day, but only a quarter of the electorate may turn up to vote. The rest will have voted in the three preceding weeks.

The shift away from a single voting day is not the only historic feature of the 2020 Queensland election.

This year begins a fixed term parliament legislation means it is the first Queensland election held on a legislated date rather than one determined by the Premier, and it will elect the first Queensland parliament to serve a four-year term.

Another factor in this unusual election is it will be the first state election where two women are competing to become Premier. If re-elected, Annastacia Palaszczuk will become the first female party leader to win three elections, and by the middle of 2021 will pass Clare Martin's record to become Australia's longest serving female head of government.

If Deb Frecklington leads the LNP to victory, she will become the 13th woman to lead an Australian government and the third from the conservative side of politics. Frecklington would also become the first female conservative leader to become Premier by winning an election. NSW Premier Glady Berejiklian was the first Liberal women to win a state election in 2019, but was already Premier before her victory.

The Landscape

Labor has governed Queensland for 25 of the 31 years since Wayne Goss led Labor out of three decades in the wilderness and on to the government benches in 1989.

It is a remarkable record of electoral success, especially compared to the Labor Party's continued underperformance in Queensland at Federal elections.

Annastacia Palaszczuk became Labor leader in 2012 as the most experienced member of the seven-member Labor caucus that survived the Bligh government's defeat. Most viewed her as a stop-gap leader, there with the job to win as many seats as possible at the 2015 election. The intake of new members at the election was likely to include her successor.

But events unfolded differently as Palaszczuk led Labor back into office. The size of the swing against the LNP government defeated Campbell Newman in his own seat and delivered Labor 44 seats. This was one seat short of a majority, but two more than the LNP, and left Labor as the only party able to form government.

After surviving a rocky two and a half years in office, Palaszczuk proved 2015 was no fluke by wining the 2017 election with a small but workable majority.

Most polls since have shown the Labor Party struggling for support, though Palaszczuk herself has been popular as Premier. That popularity has risen with her strong stand on closing the state's borders as a Covid-19 measure. The first poll of the election campaign showed that Palaszczuk's popularity has finally been reflected in an up-tick in Labor Party support.

Deb Frecklington, having stared down attempts by the LNP's organisational wing to replace her, faces the same challenge as other Opposition Leaders in this year of Covid-19 - how to get attention at a time when the actions of governments are understandably attracting more attention.

Labor goes into the 2020 election holding 48 of the 93 seats in the Legislative Assembly. A loss of two seats on a swing of just 0.7% would deprive the Palaszczuk government of its majority.

The LNP holds 38 seats, 39 if you include the seat of LNP defector Jason Costigan in Whitsunday, and need eight seats for majority government. That's a swing of about 3.4%, but the calculus of uniform swing is complicated by the presence of significant third parties.

The Greens, Pauline Hanson's One Nation and Katter's Australian Party all hold seats in the current Legislative Assembly and have prospects of gaining seats. Whitsunday MLA Jason Costigan has also formed his own party, North Queensland First, which will add to the complexity of contests in north Queensland.

The campaign will also have to contend with the deep pockets of Clive Palmer and his United Australia Party. Last year's federal election revealed how much Palmer is prepared to spend to influence an election result.

The multi-party complexity of Queensland politics was revealed by the 2017 result. Only 65 of the state's 93 seats finished as traditional two-party preferred contests between Labor and the LNP.

There were 21 contests where One Nation finished in the top two after preferences, eight in contests versus the LNP and 13 versus Labor. One Nation's Stephen Andrew won Mirani on LNP preferences. Katter's Australian Party finished in the top two after preferences in four seats wining three, and the Greens in two seats winning one. Independent Sandy Bolton took Noosa from the LNP. With six crossbench members plus Jason Costigan, it is possible the 2020 election will produce an inconclusive result and who forms government will be a process of negotiation.

The great unknown of 2020 election is how voters in different parts of the state will react to the Covid-19 border closures. Areas like Cairns and the Whitsunday, heavily reliant on interstate and international tourism, have suffered severe economic damage.

Areas where local holidaymakers replaced the southerners have been less affected. Many locals will be pleased that border closures have prevented Victorian-style lockdowns and the destruction of Queenslander's casual lifestyles.

The election could come down to which impact proves more important, small business and employees whose livelihoods have been damaged, or those who fear lockdown and the impact it has on their lifestyles. The geography of where Covid-19 has hurt the local economy may play out in the election results, with variations in the pattern of swing across the state.

Then there is the unexpected by-product of Covid-19 - Queensland has become the home of Australia's football codes. For the first time in history, the AFL Grand Final will leave Melbourne, with the game to be played at the Gabba on 24 October. That's one week before the state election, and home team the Brisbane Lions could be playing.

Leading the campaign against border closures have been Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. Will Queenslanders have the same reaction to southerners telling Queenslanders what to do as they did to the anti-Adani convoy that crossed the border during the 2019 Federal election?

The result has implications for the next Federal election, which could be held as soon as August next year. The Morrison government's re-election and parliamentary majority are a direct consequence of the LNP winning 23 of the state's 30 federal seats last year, the big anti-Labor swing in Queensland playing a big part in confounding poll predictions.

Labor's biggest Federal spike was in 2007 when Labor was led by Kevin Rudd, a Queenslander. His influence had worn off when Rudd led Labor again in 2013. The only time since 1989 that Labor's state vote has dipped below the Federal line was at state Labor's 2012 landslide defeat. That collapse was made worse by the unpopularity of the Gillard government,

Much of the difference relates to perceptions of the local Labor Party. At state elections, Labor always campaigns as Queensland Labor. At Federal elections it is painted by its opponents as Canberra Labor. And at the 2019 Federal election, the Labor Party had one of its worst ever Federal results.

On the other side of politics, the merger of the Liberals and Nationals to form the LNP ahead of the 2009 election looked to have finally ended several decades of coalition warfare in Queensland. That's why the LNP's 2012 victory looked so important, though subsequent elections have changed perceptions.

Which raises an interesting question. Will the re-election of the Palaszczuk government help the Coalition at the next Federal election, or would a new LNP government north of the Tweed give Labor hope of gaining Federal seats?

The result of the 2020 election will be important for Queensland, but it will also be dissected for its federal implications.

The State Capital doesn't dominate State Politics

Queensland elections are different from those in other states because the politics of the state's capital does not dominate the politics of the state.

Three facts stand out. First, Queensland has a lower proportion of its population in the state capital than any other mainland state. Second, no other state has non-capital urban areas like the Gold and Sunshine Coast. Third, no other state has as many significant second tier cities so distant from the state capital.

Politically and demographically, the state has two broad regions, the urban areas of South-East Queensland, and the cities and rural areas of Rural/Regional Queensland. But there are also differences within those regions.

Urban South-East Queensland (61 seats) runs from Noosa to the NSW border and west along the Logan Motorway to Ipswich. It takes in Greater Brisbane (42 seats), the Sunshine Coast (8 seats) and the Gold Coast (11 seats). Greater Brisbane long ago expanded beyond the boundaries of Brisbane City Council (23 seats) and now covers neighbouring Moreton Bay Regional Council to the north (7 seats), Ipswich City Council to the south-west (4 seats), and Logan and Redlands City Councils to the south and east (8 seats).

When one-vote one-value electoral boundaries were introduced at the 1992 election, the state had 36 Rural/Regional seats and 53 South-East seats. The 1999 redistribution changed the balance to 35:54, the balance tipped further to 32:57 by the 2008 redistribution.

Increasing the Legislative Assembly to 93 seats ahead of the 2017 election avoided the transfer of further seats to the south-east but still tilted the balance. The number of Rural/Regional seats remained at 32, but the four new seats were all created in South East Queensland, lifting the region's tally from 57 to 61 seats.

Within South-East Queensland, redistributions have slowly moved seats out of Brisbane City Council, both to the growing councils surrounding Brisbane, but also to the Gold and Sunshine Coasts.

Labor has dominated the numbers in Greater Brisbane since winning government in 1989, but captured only fleeting beachheads on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts until Peter Beattie's landslide re-election in 2001.

For all Labor's strength in Greater Brisbane, its failure to win seats on the two coasts means there are not enough seats in the south-east to deliver Labor government. Labor must also win a majority of seats in Queensland's regional cities.

Or to look at it from the LNP's perspective, the path to government is cutting Labor down in regional cities, or making a breakthrough in Greater Brisbane. Despite the LNP's dominance of Brisbane City Council since 2008, the LNP has only been able to replicate council results at one election, in 2012, against a very stale Labor government.

Of the 32 Regional/Rural seats, 14 are predominantly urban with Labor holding 10, and 18 are rural or mixed urban/rural with Labor holding only two.

On a more geographic division, North Queensland, which includes Cairns and Townsville, is especially critical. Labor currently holds seven seats, Katter's Australian Party three, and the LNP none. If Labor loses seats in North Queensland, it could deliver the balance of power to Katter's Australian Party, or deliver majority government to the LNP.

Labor has achieved majority government at every election since 1992 where the party won 34 or more of the seats in Greater Brisbane. Labor won 33 seats for minority government in 1998, 31 to eventually lose government in 1995, 30 for minority government in 2015, and 35 seats to win a small parliamentary majority in 2017

Over the last three decades, only a handful of seats have been won more than once by the Coalition/LNP.

The leafy western Brisbane seat of Moggill is the only Greater Brisbane seat that the Coalition/LNP has won at all 10 elections since 1992. Next best is Clayfield with eight victories. Listing current LNP seats, Oodgeroo (formerly Cleveland) has been won by the LNP at the last four elections, and Chatsworth and Everton at the last three. The only other current LNP seat in Greater Brisbane is Pumicestone, narrowly gained from Labor at the 2017 election. Four other regular LNP seats, Aspley (six wins), Redlands (five wins) Mansfield (three wins) and Mount Ommaney (three wins) are currently held by Labor.

Of the six LNP seats in Greater Brisbane, Pumicestone (LNP 0.8%) in the north of Moreton Bay Regional Council is the most vulnerable. It was taken from Labor at the 2017 election by Simone Wilson, helped by new electoral boundaries and Labor's disendorsed member re-contesting as an Independent. In 2020 the LNP will lose the benefit of any personal vote built up by Wilson following her decision to retire for family reasons.

Clayfield (LNP 2.4%) is held by former Leader Tim Nicholls. He suffered a 4% swing against him in 2017, but in 2020 has the luxury of only having to worry about winning one seat. Across the Brisbane River, Shadow Transport and Roads spokesman Steve Minnikin will have his usual battle to retain Chatsworth (LNP 2.9%).

There should be less concern with the next tier of LNP Brisbane seats. Everton (LNP 4.9%) is held by Deputy Leader Tim Mander, Moggill (LNP 5.0%) may see the Greens replace Labor in second place, while Mark Robinson in Ooodgeroo (LNP 7.2%) has built an electoral buffer since his first victory in 2009.

If the swing is against the government, there are a number of seats the LNP will be hoping to prise from Labor's grasp.

In Brisbane's northern suburbs, Aspley (ALP 1.2%) is traditionally a conservative seat, having been won by the Liberal Party/LNP at six of the 10 elections since 1992. The LNP's Tracy Davis took the seat from Labor at the 2009 election, survived the defeat of the Newman government in 2015, but was defeated by Labor's Bart Mellish in 2017. The LNP has chosen a well known candidate for 2020 in Amanda Cooper, who represented local Bracken Ridge Ward on Brisbane City Council for 12 years until resigning last year.

In Brisbane's south-east corridor, Mansfield (ALP 1.6%) has been won by the Liberal Party/LNP at only three of the 10 elections since 1992, but has a reputation as one of the more conservative seats in Brisbane. It was one of the National Party's few Brisbane holdings in the 1980s, and was also lost by Labor in 1995. Mansfield was retained by the LNP on the defeat of the Newman government in 2015, but new electoral boundaries helped Labor's Corinne McMillan take the seat in 2017.

Further east, Redlands (ALP 3.1%) has been won by the Nationals/LNP at five of the last 10 elections. It was one of the seats Labor did not win on the defeat of the Newman government in 2015, and it was a larger than average 4.2% swing that delivered victory to Labor's Kim Richards in 2017.

Beyond the low hanging fruit, the LNP will have a tougher task defeating Mark Furner in the northern Brisbane seat of Ferny Grove (ALP 4.6%). In Brisbane's south-west, Mount Ommaney (ALP 5.8%) was another seat gained by Labor in 2017. A redistribution helped, but the victory of Labor's Jess Pugh owed more to the 4.8% swing against the LNP incumbent.

The LNP also want to win Maiwar (GRN 1.6%). It was a new seat created by the 2016 redistribution, but took in much of the abolished seat of Indooroopilly, won by the Liberal Party/LNP at six of the previous nine elections. A low first preference vote combined with the return of full preferential voting defeated the LNP's Scott Emerson. Green candidate Michael Birkman finished second on primaries and went on to defeat Emerson on Labor preferences.

Labor will have its own problems with the Greens in two seats. South Brisbane (ALP 3.6% v GRN) matches the boundaries of Brisbane City Council's The Gabba ward, won by the Greens at the last two council elections. Former Deputy Premier Jackie Trad led on first preferences at the 2017 election with 36.0% ahead of Green candidate Amy MacMahon on 34.4%, the LNP third with 24.3%. The LNP recommend preferences for Labor ahead of the Greens in South Brisbane, 62.0% of voters following the recommendation and re-electing Trad. The 2020 election will again see a contest between Trad and MacMahon, but this time the LNP will recommend preferences for the Greens.

The Labor Party faces a similar problem in McConnel (ALP 7.9%), previously known as Brisbane Central and held by Minister for Education and Industrial Relations, Grace Grace. On first preferences in 2017, the LNP polled 36.5%, Labor 33.7% and the Greens 27.1%. If the Greens reach second place ahead of the LNP, then as in South Brisbane, LNP preferences will determine the winner. And if it is Labor that dips to third place, then there would be a repeat of Maiwar and Labor preferences would elect the Green. As in 2017, the Green candidate is Kirsten Lovejoy.

One Nation's south-east Queensland prospects are strongest in Ipswich-Logan seats where the party finished second in 2017. These are Logan (ALP 6.8% v ONP), Ipswich West (ALP 8.7% v ONP), Jordan (ALP 9.9% v ONP), Ipswich (ALP 10.9% v ONP) and Bundamba (ALP 21.6%). In 2017 One Nation did not nominate in Bundamba against Labor's Jo-Ann Miller, but did at the March 2020 by-election following Miller's retirement when the Labor margin was reduced to 9.8% versus One Nation.

The Sunshine Coast

From only three seats in 1989, the Sunshine Coast has grown rapidly to be represented by eight members in the current parliament. Seven of the seats are held by the LNP.

As with the Gold Coast, Labor made significant gains on the Sunshine Coast in 2001, but the Beattie government's decision to build the Traveston Dam led to Labor losing all its local seats at the 2006 election. It has taken a decade for Labor to come close to winning seats again.

The retirement of Mark McArdle in Caloundra (LNP 3.4%) is of concern to the LNP. As in 2017 the Labor candidate is Jason Hunt, against new LNP candidate Stuart Coward.

In the Sunshine Coast hinterland seat of Glass House (LNP 3.4%), the LNP's Andrew Powell only just survived the 2015 election before increasing his margin in 2017. Glass House is a mixed and complex electorate, and Labor's candidate Brent Hampstead is contesting the seat for a third time.

One seat that could prove crucial if no party achieves a majority is Noosa (IND 11.5% v LNP), where Independent Sandy Bolton was a surprise victor in 2017. Noosa residents view themselves apart from the rest of the Sunshine Coast, having successfully achieved de-amalgamation for Noosa Council. Having elected Bolton in 2017, Noosa voters are likely to increase her majority in 2020. She could play a crucial role post-election if no party achieves a majority.


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