The Queensland State Election In Australia

Posted on Sun 03/22/2009 by

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queensland_mapMy home State Queensland in Australia went to the polls yesterday to elect a new State Government.

First I’ll give you a few facts and figures about Queensland. The map on the left shows Queensland in red on the map of Australia. The red dot is our State Capital Brisbane. The size of the State is around 715,000 square miles and for some perspective, that is around the size of a big chunk of the central U.S. equal almost to the total size of the six States of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. On the other hand, the population of the State is only 4.4 Million, which roughly equates to just three cities in Texas alone, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Our Capital city Brisbane has a population of just under 2 million, a little less than Houston. So, from that you can see it is a vast State with the population spread over huge areas.

Politics in Australia is similar to what it is in the U.S. only the names of the parties are different, and sometimes a little hard to comprehend.
On the left side of Politics we have the Australian Labor Party, and they are similar, almost a mirror image of your Democratic Party, as regards to ideology and politics.
On the right side of Politics we have the Conservatives, and they called The Liberal Party of Australia, hard to understand when in the U.S. liberals are perceived as from the left and the Democrats. The Liberal Party have the same ideology and Politics as your Republican Party.

Also making a small part of the Conservative side of politics we have a minor party, The National Party of Australia, and their base is from those regional areas with strong farming and grazing communities. They form a strong Coalition with the Liberal Party, and since their formation just after the Second World War, that Coalition has governed the Country, and also most of the States for a considerable amount of that time. The Labor Party has been strong in recent years, both at State and Federal levels, and Labor currently govern Australia at the Federal level, led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Voting in Australia is compulsory. You register at age 18 and again every time you change address. Compulsory voting works well here in Australia, as the perception is that it is a civic duty, and not as an onerous chore. You might think it surprising, but the total number of people who do not vote is very small indeed, and a percentage of 1.5% who do not vote is usually seen as quite a high number.
Voting is always held on a Saturday of the Government’s choosing, and campaigns usually last around three weeks, rarely more. When you vote, you are voting only for the person who represents your electorate, so the voting paper usually only has 4 names or so on it, sometimes more, but not often. You number the squares as you wish, and that’s it. The only real problem can be the lines at the booths, usually State schools, but wait times are rarely long, and more often than not you can walk straight to the desk where they mark off your name, get your slip, mark it and then leave. It took my good lady wife and me all of 10/15 minutes from driving up to driving away.

Only one State Government has fixed 4 year terms, and the rest of the States,and also at federal level, the terms are a non fixed three years with a three month maximum extension. This is good for incumbent Governments because they can use it to their advantage, going to the people when it best suits them. Except for a short period in the 70’s this three year period is usually closely adhered to. Governments are in the main quite stable.
Also different from the U.S. there is no popular vote for the leader of the Country or the State leader. Whoever leads the Party that wins the majority of seats forms the Government. Again, this works well in Australia, as everyone knows exactly who the leader will be anyway, and that leadership is handled by internal party politics, and has also been quite a stable situation over the years.

Here in Queensland, we are governed by Labor, and they have been in power now for 11 years. In the U.S. the person who leads the State is the Governor, and here in Australia, they are called the Premier. The current premier is Anna Bligh, and she took over from the previous leader Peter Beattie, 17 months ago. A woman has led States in Australia three times, but only after having been handed the job after the previous Premier resigned. So far no woman has won a State election in her own right, those previous 2 being voted out of Office at the State election immediately following assuming the leadership.

The current Labor Government had won four elections previously, not only comfortably but those victories all of landslide proportions. This time however, there was the perception that the Government might be a little stale after so long in power, and the Conservatives looked upon this as a reasonable hope of victory.

The seats are called electorates, as they are in the U.S. and are loosely based around a total number of voters of 50,000. Considering the size of Brisbane alone, then the largest number of those seats is in the city itself, and this has always been Labor heartland.
One of the enduring problems over the last 15 years or so has been that Conservative side of politics, made up of a coalition of the Liberal Party and the National Party. The Nationals had their heartland in the regional and country areas while the Liberal Party was supposedly strongest in the city. Labor has continually played up the tensions between those 2 parties and this worked effectively for them for so long. With politics, disunity is death, and this was always played up by Labor, hence the victories of landslide proportions at the previous 4 elections.
This time those two Conservative parties worked out a way to effectively combine themselves into the one party, the Liberal National Party (LNP) and they actually looked to become a strong force.

However, they had to come from an awful long way back, having a combined total of only 23 seats compared to Labor’s total of 61 with 4 Independents, effectively indicating the scope of the problem. The requirement was to record a swing of around 8% for it to be a close win for the LNP.
As it turned out, they achieved a swing of just under 4%, so the Labor Government was returned, albeit with a lessened majority. 7 seats changed hands from Labor to the LNP, and the result looks to be a comfortable one for Labor, although the platform is set for a closer contest the next time when the opposing parties will be a lot closer than they were prior to this.

The victory for Labor is a particularly sweet one, as there was a perception that there were a series of crises working against them, and they actually looked to be fumbling somewhat. The Premier went to the people 8 months earlier than the nominal 3 year period, and this was perceived somewhat as a little arrogant, and also trying to get in early before the current economic crisis really started to bite, and some of those smaller crises grew in proportion.
This victory now sees Labor back in Government for another three years, and also provides a record of sorts.
Anna Bligh now is forever the first female Party leader to win an election in her own right.

Congratulations go to Labor on a very good victory. They now have the task of taking us through times that are bound to get worse before they start to get better.

Posted in: Australia, Politics