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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.

PT3M32S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-1vt78 620 349

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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