On January 31, the Liberal National Party (LNP) was dramatically swept from power in Queensland. Despite commanding a 64 seat majority in the parliament, the LNP suffered a 14% swing against them, losing 34 seats. The Labor Party, which had been reduced to a rump of several seats after the March 2012 election, regained power with a 14% swing towards them, gaining 35 seats.
After the poll was declared on February 13, Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk was able to form a minority government with the support of right-wing independent MP Peter Wellington. The result of the January 31 election, which saw the Premier, Campbell Newman, lose his seat, and the LNP become the first sitting government since 1932 to lose power after one term, is the latest example of the rising political instability that exists in Australia.
Labor’s victory was more the product of hostility towards the LNP rather than any fondness for the opposition. The desire to punish the LNP saw votes shift from right-wing populist forces like Katter’s Australia Party and the Palmer United Party to Labor. The Greens celebrated a record vote of 8.4%, but in the context of Labor’s swing their increase of 0.9% was less than impressive.
Increasingly at both state and federal level, with no confidence in either major party, and seemingly no viable electoral alternative, people are moving to punish incumbent governments and their pro-big business policies. This process is becoming more acute as the economic situation in Australia gets worse.
It was on this basis that the LNP was originally swept to power in March 2012. Queenslanders then punished the Bligh Labor government for implementing a string of unpopular neoliberal policies, including a $15 billion privatisation program that slashed 3,000 public sector jobs. As a result, Labor’s vote plummeted to a historic low of 26.7%. While many people expected the LNP to provide some relief to Labor’s cuts, they did not. The LNP continued what the previous Labor government started.
Throughout its term, the Newman government carried out a vicious agenda of cuts. The impact was devastating. 14,000 public sector jobs were axed. Funding for over 100 community services – including housing, welfare, services for women, Aboriginal and LGBTI people – was cut. Deep spending cuts were made to public health and education. Unemployment rose by 31,000 to 6.6%. In some regional areas, youth unemployment reached 25%.
Support for the LNP never recovered after it unveiled its $37 billion privatisation program, as part of its third budget, in June 2014. The plan, which was to sell public assets including state-owned electricity and water companies, major ports and railways, proved to be highly unpopular, with as many as 85% of Queenslanders opposing it.
During the election campaign, Labor opportunistically opposed the LNP’s agenda of cuts, including its privatisation agenda. While vowing to make modest increases to teacher and nurse numbers, since coming to power, Palaszczuk has refused to reverse any of Newman’s cuts in full.
With the resources boom drawing to a close, and Treasury forecasting much slower growth rates, Labor will inevitably be forced to carry out cuts in some form. In fact during the campaign, Labor pledged to find $645 million of savings over four years. Labor is wedded to the interests of big business just as much as the LNP. Ordinary people in Queensland and across Australia are in desperate need of a genuine political alternative to the major parties that puts their interests ahead of big business.
By Conor Flynn