Preferences to decide Queensland's election

By Dr Maxine Newlands
Political Scientist at James Cook University

As the two major Queensland party leaders are donning Hi-Vis jackets and pledging millions of dollars in north Queensland, it’s more likely the minor parties that will decide the outcome of the 2020 Queensland election.

In a tight race between the two major parties, both are hoping to win without having to do deals with smaller parties.

There are at least 20 seats on the watch list, from the Gold Coast, north, south Brisbane, and central Queensland, but the highest concentration is north and far north Queensland where a handful of seats that could be deciders.

The Australian Labor Party (ALP) hold four seats in the Townsville region, and two in the Cairns region all of which are sitting on less than a 4% margin. Townsville City has the smallest margin in the state, at less than half a percentage point (0.4%), neighbouring Mundingburra sits on a margin 1.1%, and Thuringowa on 4.1%.

Mundingburra is famed for its role in deciding the 1996 election, eventually going to Labor by just 16 votes. Twenty four years later, and the incumbent Coralee O’Rourke resigned just a few weeks before the issuing of the writs, leaving ALP scrambling to find a candidate.

In far north Queensland, it’s a slightly better picture. The Barron River electorate is currently on a 1.9% margin and the Cairns electorate is slightly safer on 3.4%. In central Queensland, the Liberal National Party (LNP) face a similar challenge with both the Burdekin and Whitsunday electorate on a margin of less than 1%.

The Burdekin electorate (0.7%) and the Whitsundays (0.8%) margin. The LNP will be looking to take back Whitsunday from Jason Costigan, dismissed by the party in 2019 he now leads the North Queensland First (NQF) party.

Minor parties have been preparing for this since before the 2019 federal election.  It’s no coincidence that both Katter Australia Party (KAP) and Clive Palmers United Australia Party (UAP) have moved their headquarters to Townsville city.

Neither is it a coincidence that the LNP's leader Deb Frecklington is pushing her regional credentials. The ALP have been in the area at least once a week in the run up to Election Day.

How preferences will shape the result

Yet it’s preference that will decide the outcome with minor parties in a strong position.

Three years ago, LNP preferences were distributed to Labor ahead of minor parties in at least three seats. Like 2017, South Brisbane seat is again in the spot light.

The ALP are trying to prevent repeating the tight race between former deputy premier Jackie Trad and a strong challenge from the Greens. The Greens attempt is reasonable, given they lost to Trad by 500 votes in 2017.

Winning south Brisbane would give the Greens a second seat in the state, and demonstrate they can build on the 10% share of the vote they secured in the federal election, and last Queensland election.

Like in 2017, LNP preferences went to Labor in Logan and the Townsville electorate of Thuringowa. In both seats, LNP preferences were distributed to Labor ahead of Pauline Hanson's One Nation. Last time around, One Nation held nearly 14% of the vote, coming third overall ahead of the Greens and KAP.

A man cooks sausages and bacon on a barbecue
Democracy sausages being barbecued at Kenmore State School in the electoral district of Moggill at the 2017 Queensland state election. Source: Kerry Raymond / Wikimedia Commons

This time around Pauline Hanson has been missing in regional Queensland as early as the second week of October. With KAP and One Nation making preference deals, it could come mean that Katter Party and the Greens will hold the balance of power.

Katter’s Australia Party under the leadership of Robbie Katter have a stronger chance of becoming kingmakers. KAP might just need some help from the Greens. If neither LNP nor ALP win with an outright majority, KAP will be looking to be the power brokers.

Although KAP and the Greens may not ideologically align on many topics - regulation of the Great Barrier Reef and infrastructure projects such as the New Bradfield Scheme to name two - they know that in a unicameral systems having potentially five or more votes between them will be better for Queensland - and doing deals.

This time both of the two major parties have rejected any deals, leaving a gap for KAP and the Greens to try and exploit. KAP are looking to add to their three safe seats, by targeting Mundingburra recently vacated by former minister just before the issuing of the writ.

The Greens are looking to expand both their seat count and share of the vote.

Whose left? Or right?

One Nation will want to hold onto their one seat of Mirani, but whether there be a resurgence of the “One Nation effect” expected in 2017, will be a surprise given the effect only eventuated in Malcolm Roberts being elected to the Senate.

With One Nation doing preference deals with KAP, center right voters chose between either Katter Australia Party, Clive Palmer’s United Australian Party or North Queensland First. NQF was founded by former Liberal National Party member, and current member for Whitsunday Jason Costigan. KAP this week commissioned a survey into support for a breakaway north Queensland state.

Other parties in the running are the Civil Liberties & Motorists Party with 16 candidates; Informed Medical Options Party (IMOP) 31 candidates; Legalise Cannabis Qld (Party) with 23 candidates ; Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (QLD) just three, and  69 independent candidates that makes a record 596 candidates running in this election.

But with pre-polling and postal votes high, the race may have already been decided. Whether ALP get a third term with a majority, is to be seen. If LNP take the key seats that will make it hard for ALP to retake them in the future.  Either way KAP and Greens could be the ultimate winners.

Banner image: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Opposition Leader  Deb Frecklington during a debate ahead of the 2020 Queensland election. Source: Sky News / YouTube


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