Lessons from Queensland

Queensland: Labor one day; LNP the next.

There is no shortage of explanations on offer:

  • the it’s time factor
  • privatisation
  • cost of living
  • the carbon tax
  • the mining tax
  • scandals and stuff-ups
  • sexism
  • the ‘judgement of heaven’
  • trust

The problem with the it’s time explanation, on its own, is that, in Queensland, it is rare for incumbent state governments, of either colour, of any age, to lose. The other explanations all seem more plausible.

Privatisation was definitely an issue, both because it hurt people, but even more than that, because it destroyed trust.

Having spent two nights in Gladstone earlier this year, I can confirm that it has become an expensive town: $600+ for two nights in an average hotel, and Sydney prices and worse, for restaurants. There were plenty of patrons, but all of them were miners.

What won’t be contributing to the cost of living is the mining tax and the carbon tax – both being as watered down as they are. But people don’t realise that – so we’ve had the pain without the budgetary gain.

Every government has scandals and stuff-ups. What matters is how many (too many), how they are handled (badly), and what steps are taken to prevent them – the obvious one being proper preselections.

Being a female leader has a swag of associated pluses and minuses. The expectation that women are more nurturing, somehow nicer, is both a plus and a minus. It predisposes the electorate to a certain warmth, but that can backfire. If a bloke lies, or swears, or is a bit of a bastard, it’s expected, it’s seen as understandable. If a woman does it, it causes mental confusion – it destroys trust.

The electorate doesn’t like politicians who break promises (lie), but the electorate is prepared to forgive, so long as they think they understand why the promise was broken. In Bligh’s case, in Gillard’s case, that isn’t the case. People don’t trust what they don’t understand – and when that behaviour is repeated, the effect is magnified – running hot then cold on carbon tax, mining tax, insulation, pokies, Rudd’s removal, being against gay marriage while living in a de-facto relationship. It confuses people. How then are they supposed to trust?

Some of the above are Federal issues, and it’s true that the electorate has some ability to distinguish between them, but only some. To properly firewall State from Federal, or vice-versa, requires a clear boundary between the two that didn’t exist at this election.

And State or Federal, way too much of the above is self inflicted.

There are other factors that are ‘acts of god’- floods, droughts, cyclones. These can’t be prevented, and people have some ability to understand that, but only some. For things that are not understood, the natural human response is credit or blame the leader. Therefore, if external events are not to destroy trust, then external events must be put into a narrative that explains why they happen, what you are doing, and why you are doing it.

It isn’t difficult:

  • climate change is real
  • carbon causes climate change
  • climate changes causes more rain to happen, and in different places. This causes more floods and droughts and cyclones than would other happen.
  • this is noticeable now, and it’s going to get worse if nothing is done to reduce carbon emissions
  • a levy on polluters would reduce carbon emissions, which would reduce floods and droughts and cyclones, just a little
  • therefore we are bringing in a levy on polluters
  • we know it will hurt a few people a little (and you are not one of those people), but in the long run, it would hurt a lot more to do nothing.
  • the resources boom has caused a two speed economy
  • we know people are suffering because of the two speed economy
  • fairer returns on our resources will reduce the impact of the two speed economy and help everyone share in the boom (and you are one of the people who will benefit)
  • therefore we are going to charge more for our resources.

Our leaders are clever people, they know all this. Perhaps they think it is so obvious it doesn’t need to be said. It isn’t. It does need to be said, over and over again. You’d think with all the focus group research, they’d understand what the electorate does and does not understand. It seems not. Rather, it seems that because advancement in the ALP has become so purely an internal matter, all their senses are turned inwards, and the ability to connect with the electorate has been lost.

The burning question is, can Labor change? Does Labor even want to change?

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