January 13, 2004 | Graham

Springborg knocks-on

After listening to Lawrence Springborg’s press conference responding to Peter Beattie’s election announcement I’m almost ready to call the election to the government by an even larger margin than the one they have now. It was tentative, nervous and with mostly the wrong messages. Peter Beattie doesn’t need to worry about the protest vote going to the Opposition, at this rate they will only be in the running for the sympathy vote.
The Queensland Opposition holds a total of 15 seats out of a possible 89. To form a majority government the Opposition needs to take the best part of 8 seats from Independents and One Nation candidates, and the balance, say 24, from the ALP. That would require a uniform swing of around 10%.
Of the seats held by the Opposition the National Party has 12, while the Liberals only hold 3. Both of the partners have problems, although the Libs’ problems are more severe. They are riven by internal division and have no money. Their new state director only put his feet under the desk on Monday, and only one of their MPs is recontesting. This election is a real challenge for them just to survive. The National Party is in a more robust position but it is being attacked from both sides. Most of the Independents are in what would normally be fairly safe National Party seats, while North Queensland MHR Bob Katter is organizing a ticket of independents in his area, again in traditional National territory. They need to beat off the independent challenge before they can take on Labor. Realistically, this election is one for consolidation.
Springborg started by saying that this election was a chance for Queenslanders to do something about a government that has broken its promises about taxes. That’s only half right. This is an election where Queenslanders have a chance to do something about the government. If they are concerned about breaking tax promises, it is probably not in a general sense, but in the specific example of the ambulance levy. If that is the case, then Springborg should say the specific words “ambulance levy” rather than the more general one “taxes”.
He then broke into a compare and contrast segment where he said Queenslanders had a real choice. If they wanted a government that had created long waiting lists, allowed child abuse in the Families Department, tolerated Ministerial rorting and broken promises about new taxes and charges then they could vote for Beattie and Labor which doesn’t have a plan. But if they wanted to do something else they could vote for a “fresh re-invigorated Coalition in Queensland that does have a plan.” Springborg continued that winning the election was an “uphill [task] but not impossible”, and that the Coalition was in a “sound and strong position to be able to take government in the state of Queensland”.
There are a number of problems with this. No-one believes that the Coalition can win and for anyone to suggest that they will just invites ridicule. Certainly no-one believes that the Coalition is “fresh” or “re-invigorated”, particularly with the continuous public acrimony from within the Liberal Party. If it is a choice between a Beattie Government and a Springborg one, Springborg loses. If the choice is between a bad Beattie Government and a good one, and if voting for Springborg is part of getting a good Beattie Government, then Springborg wins (comparatively speaking). But that isn’t the choice Springborg is offering.
To allege that Beattie doesn’t have a plan is also over the top. Even if it were true I can’t see electors really believing it. “Things are great in the Sunshine State” at the moment, as they are most other places in Australia. Beattie will get the credit for that, and as a result, whatever plan he is using, people will in general be happy with it.
Another related problem is that while Springborg may be nominating the issues that concern voters, that doesn’t mean that voters believe he is the one to fix them. I suspect on the basis of our experience in the NSW election that many voters wanting to protest will actually vote for Independents and Greens candidates because that will send an unequivocal and differentiated message to Beattie. Such is the cynicism about the major parties that a vote for one is often seen as being much the same as a vote for the other.
Springborg didn’t seem to be able to make up his mind whether he wanted the protest vote or not. As a result the message was mixed. At the same time that he was saying that he could win, he was also all but saying that it was impossible to win. Why can’t he just say something along lines like “It’s up to the people of Queensland who wins this election. I can’t honestly say to you that there is any likelihood of us winning, but I can honestly say that if Queenslanders give Peter Beattie another huge majority then he will continue to [insert list of faults here].” The nature of the protest vote means that it is only available to you if the electors think that the government won’t change, not if they think there is a good chance that it will.
He also needs to demonstrate that Beattie is arrogant and takes the electorate for granted, rather than just stating it. When asked whether he was taken by surprise by Beattie’s announcement he should have said “Yes”, even if he wasn’t. Instead he ended up arguing with a journalist about whether he was or wasn’t. Much better to have said, “January is a time when Queenslanders traditionally spend time recharging their energies and getting to know their families better. The last thing people in this state are interested in at this time of year is an election. We’ve all been taken by surprise. The question ought to be not whether I was taken by surprise but what is Peter Beattie trying to hide.”
Springborg also has a potential weakness in his constant references to a “plan”. As yet I have no idea what it is, and if he keeps good his promise to release another 60 policies during the campaign on top of the 45 released to date, then I will be even more confused on election day. A good rule of marketing is to condense your message into two or three simple messages. A large, complicated plan with 105 sub clauses will leave him open to the sort of jibes that sank the convoluted ALP education policy at the last election (Noodle Nation), or the more famous Keating retort: “He’s got a plan, but it’s the wrong one.”
The Coalition strategy to win government ought to be a two election one. At this election they are playing for “most improved” team, not “league champions”. To win that prize they need to be honest with the electorate and themselves what it is they are after. A knock-on at this stage of the game isn’t fatal, but it doesn’t augur well either.

Posted by Graham at 7:06 pm | Comments Off on Springborg knocks-on |
Filed under: Uncategorized

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.