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After Bligh, the deluge: Gillard's own day of reckoning awaits her

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Australian Financial Review chief political correspondent

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ALP takes stock of Queensland trouncing

The crushing defeat of Labor in Queensland will further weaken the ALP brand, analysts say.

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If Julia Gillard were a coal miner, her canaries would not just be dead - they would be dead, buried and cremated.

The apocalypse which befell the Bligh government on Saturday has effectively rendered Queensland, which does not have an upper house, a one-party state.

Party officials pointed out, quite correctly, that Bligh's government was headed for the chop before Gillard announced the carbon tax. 

Labor, sitting on fewer than 10 seats as of the latest count, does not even qualify as a political party, denying it the basic resources of staff, allowances and funding that this status permits.

"Bligh's government suffered because of broken promises and a perception of incompetency."

"Bligh's government suffered because of broken promises and a perception of incompetency." Photo: Harrison Saragossi

Tony Abbott over-egged it on Friday when he coined the impending rout a referendum on the carbon tax and other federal issues, when such issues barely rated a mention during the state campaign.

But he was pretty much on the mark yesterday when he said more generally that the Labor brand was toxic, be it at state or federal level, and Queensland showed voters could be unforgiving if they felt they had been misled.

Bligh concurred that the problem was more systemic, saying with some understatement that ''it's tough times for Labor''.

As all and sundry begin to mull the implications of Queensland for the federal government, Labor will be hoping that the orthodoxy of state-federal balance which once prevailed will count in its favour come federal election time.

That is, the voters have now vented their spleens in both the critical states of NSW and Queensland, which have 78 of the 150 federal seats between them, and will be more level-headed come the federal poll.

The early signs of this are not promising for the ALP. The NSW election was a year ago today. The 16 per cent swing that occurred in NSW, and the O'Farrell-led Liberals' primary vote of 51 per cent to Labor's piddling 26 per cent, were, within a percentage point or two, identical to Queensland.

In the 93-seat NSW Parliament, the Coalition went from 35 seats to 69 seats, and Labor fell from 52 seats to 20.

In the 89-seat Queensland legislature, the Liberal National Party soared from 31 seats to a predicted 78, while Labor fell from 51 seats to a predicted seven.

Almost identical swings and primary votes translated to a far greater rout in Queensland than in NSW, primarily because there are far fewer very safe or heartland seats in Queensland that can withstand enormous swings.

Nonetheless, a year after the NSW election and the published opinion polls show federal Labor still struggling in that state, although the situation is not hopeless.

For some time, the federal government has sought to firewall itself from what was coming its way in Queensland.

Party officials pointed out, quite correctly, that Bligh's government was headed for the chop before Gillard announced the carbon tax and her government's poll ratings fell off a cliff.

In February 2010, a week or two before the carbon tax was announced, Queensland's Courier-Mail published an opinion poll with the headline ''Anna Bligh and Labor facing electoral annihilation''.

And the government was never ahead in the polls again - not even during the floods, which momentarily boosted Bligh's personal ratings.

Apart from being around too long and conducting an overtly negative campaign, Bligh's government suffered because of broken promises over privatisation and a perception of incompetency.

This is where Abbott is trying to make the link to the Gillard government - the broken promise over the carbon tax and the perception of incompetency.

One federal Liberal MP from Queensland told this column on Friday that Gillard and Bligh were especially unpopular among older male voters and both were frequently spoken of disparagingly in the same breath.

He is of the view that Queenslanders will come after the Gillard government with the same hostility as they showed at the weekend. Just as they had stopped listening to Bligh some time ago, so too had they given up on Gillard, he said.

Labor was pummelled in Queensland at the 2010 federal election and now holds just eight of the 30 seats there. Of these, seven are marginal, while Kevin Rudd's seat of Griffith is held by a semi-safe margin of 7.8 per cent. Come the next federal election, it cannot afford to lose one of these seats if it is to survive.

From a practical standpoint, Queensland complicates Gillard's task. The four most powerful states - NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia - are now under conservative rule and will work against her government and its mining and carbon taxes.

By being virtually wiped out in Queensland, Labor will have a much diminished influence and infrastructure, making it much harder to raise funds and support for a federal campaign.

Gillard is virtually persona non grata in Queensland and the west. Her only appearance on Bligh's campaign was her warm-up speech at the official campaign launch.

It was only a month ago this week that Rudd quit his post as foreign minister and made a play for the ALP leadership.

Had he waited until after the Queensland election, as was the plan being pushed by his backers, the temperature in Canberra would be a lot hotter today.

The momentum for a leadership change to a Queenslander would have been stronger - especially as it was noted yesterday that the swing against Labor in the five state seats within the boundaries of Rudd's electorate was about half that of the average swing.

By baiting Rudd and killing off the challenge so effectively when she did, Gillard and her supporters clearly won the tactical battle.

But if things don't improve for Labor north of the border over the next six to 12 months, there is every chance the issue will be revisited.

Phillip Coorey is the Sydney Morning Herald's chief political correspondent.

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386 comments

  • Get real will yu. Yes they got trounced in Queensland. But the fact is that federally, the ALP is starting to move up in te polls, as well as finally getting their legislation through. That's despite the ridiculous bias againt Gillard constantly on display in the media.

    Commenter
    Gra
    Location
    Lambs Valley
    Date and time
    March 26, 2012, 7:31AM
    • Here here!

      Commenter
      ruby
      Location
      st peters
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 7:42AM
    • In your dreams Gra, all the pommie spin doctors and rent-a-mobs in the world, won't get this redhead off the choping block.

      Commenter
      SteveH.
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 7:44AM
    • Gra...... ?????? are you stark raving mad or just another labor stooge who seems as blind as a bat.... wonderful qualifications to run for pre-selection.....

      Commenter
      Nigel K. Williams
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 7:46AM
    • wish full thinking gra..labor is dead in the water..bets are on..be good odds for a labor white wash come next election..im placing mine today

      Commenter
      tjanturner@live.com.au
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 7:48AM
    • Oh really? It will be interesting to see what happens in the next Federal election!

      Commenter
      tbsdy
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 7:51AM
    • Labour, Liberal, just two heads on the same snake, nothing changes. But yeah it's labours turn to get trounced and in a few years they'll be back because the population will simply hate the sitting party more than they hate the opposition just as they do now. It would be nice to have an election where we could choose what's best for Australia rather than just pick the lesser of two perceived evils but I doubt we'll ever see that happen. Regardless of who's in power though the same agenda seems to keep marching on.

      Commenter
      Cynic
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 7:55AM
    • Ah yes . getting legislation through , but only by modifying the basic intent and allowing hitch hiker addendums from the far left ( commonly call the "greens", but really should be the 'reds') to be attached.
      And it is that pandering to reps that hold 5% of the vote at best, and being forced to have our life style screwed up that is peeving the rest of us off.
      I dont disagree that Abbott is a clown and will block anything from Labor he can, rather than judge on proposed policy benefits alone ( which will win ANY party more respect and votes long term).
      Sorry , but Labor is dying , kicking hard and frothing at the mouth, but it is dying.

      Why are socialists so bad at economics?

      Commenter
      Ozzy
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 8:05AM
    • Gra of fantasy world - polls are still pointing to the electoral annihilation of a Labor Party. If Gillard is not being removed as a matter of urgency - it is the end of democracy - there will be an unrestricted reign of Tony Abott.
      In polls voters have spoken - they wanted Kevin Rudd - and they are not going to forgive Gillard and her clique this kind of contempt of their opinion they demonstrated during the last leadership spill.

      Commenter
      Michael
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 8:39AM
    • Gra - If it is any consolation mate, the Cons were in the same position only a few years ago. It was predicted by commentators then it was near the end of the Liberal Party.
      It doesn't bother me at all, as we have seen in NSW & WA, Qlders will soon be disappointed in the next lot. Incumbency is not the advantage it used to be.
      I suggest treating politics less like barracking for a footy side and more like understanding what any given side will actually do when in power. Too much superficial nonsense these days.
      You have to expect much crowing from the cons after such a long time in opposition.

      Commenter
      Danger Ranger
      Date and time
      March 26, 2012, 8:52AM

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