After Labor’s crushing defeat in the NSW March election, all eyes have turned to Queensland to see if it will be the next Labor domino to fall.
Following Labor’s 2007 federal election victory, the most senior Liberal Party official in Australia was Campbell Newman, the then Mayor of Brisbane.
Labor has since lost power in WA, Victoria and NSW, and had substantial swings against them in Tasmania, SA, NT, ACT and federally.
Labor managed to win the March 2009 Queensland election—in spite of repeated healthcare scandals—thanks mainly to the fractured and incompetence conservative opposition.
But Queensland Labor has slumped severely in the polls since.
In April conservatives were leading Labor after the distribution of preferences by 58 per cent to 42 per cent.
Queensland’s Premier Anna Bligh believes Labor can revive its fortunes so long as they avoid the “NSW disease”—the tendency to change leadership as soon as there is a slump in the polls. “It hasn’t worked in NSW, and failed miserably federally” said Bligh.
Bligh believes that with time and a constant leadership, the Queensland electorate will learn to live with the “tough” decisions the government “had to make”.
But Bligh has misdiagnosed Labor’s problems. It’s Labor’s commitment to pro-business neo-liberal economic “reform” that alienates its working class support base.
People want governments to investment in schools, hospitals, and public transport, and see privatisation and deregulation as only leading to job loses and increased prices.
In Queensland it was Labor’s decision to privatise $15 billion worth of public assets—announced only weeks after the 2009 election—that lead to the party’s sudden plunge in the polls.
In spite of Bligh spending millions to convince the electorate otherwise, polls show 80 per cent or more of the electorate have consistently opposed Bligh’s privatisation agenda.
In NSW it was a similar attempt to privatise power stations in the face of massive public opposition that split the Labor Party and put the final nail in the government’s coffin.
Hospital waiting lists, public transport congestion, rising water and power bills and an expensive electronic ticketing scheme were all issues that undermined Labor’s support in Victoria.
At the federal level it’s Labor’s conservativism on education and industrial relations, and a market based solution for climate change, which is eating away at its support base.
So long as Labor remains committed to neo-liberalism and looking after the interests of the big end of town, they will continue to disappoint and demoralise their support base.
Changing the leadership is the equivalent of change the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Queensland Labor might leave the chairs in place, but that doesn’t deal with the gaping hole in the hull.