Anna Bligh has called the state election for March 24, one week before the council elections were due to be held. As a result the government (she) is going to reschedule the council elections until late April early May. This is not just a cynical political ploy, but it is desperate too as well as being a little bit (probably around half) smart.
The premier represents this as being about deferring the election until the inquiry into the Brisbane floods is released so that people will know “the truth”. What it is really about is trying to run the next election on the only issue that has favoured her in the last two years – her performance during the floods – and run it at a later date than otherwise possible using the floods inquiry as an excuse.
Conventional analysis said that she would call the election for late February, or early March, leaving four weeks for the local government elections. Her three years runs out on the 21st March, so the 24th is as close to three years as you can get without undershooting.
From a tactical point of view this had some problems. The greatest was that a short campaign coming off a virtual standing start after the summer holidays would favour the LNP.
This is because the government has more explaining to do after an almost unbroken reign of 23 years from Wayne Goss’s win in 1989 so needs time to do that.
The other is that it gave less time to Labor to raise doubts about Campbell Newman – something which they did very successfully at the end of last year such that our qualitative polling showed his net approval rating dropping from positive 33% (58% approve versus 25% disapprove) to 0% (41% each way) in six months.
As the party votes didn’t change much over the same period, Labor strategists may well believe that they need much more of the same.
So the Premier was always keen to find a reason to go later, but would have been hard-pressed to justify a date much more than 3 years after the last one without giving the impression that she was chicken.
Which is where the inquiry comes in handy. If she can get away with using it as the reason for deferring the election then it gives her grounds for saying that rather than being cowardly, she is keen to face up to her role during the floods.
Who knows, there could always be an added bonus that the inquiry might make some adverse findings about the Brisbane City Council which might be further used to dent Newman’s standing.
Although there are risks for the government here too with a report yesterday by The Australian that mistakes in managing the Wivenhoe Dam led to some of the flooding problems. This is analysed and amplified by international expert in this area Professor Roger Pielke Jr who comes to the conclusion:
Based on the new reporting from The Australian on the possible errors in flood management and the comprehensive analysis in van den Honert and McAneney (2011), it is clear that bad decision making played a major role in the disaster. The bad decisions were the result of mismanagement, a deeply flawed management architecture, or what seems to be increasingly likely — both.
Notwithstanding the risk of a bad finding from the Inquiry, Bligh’s finest hour in the last term was last year’s Brisbane floods, as judged by public opinion which largely rests on her cool and professional media conferences during the disaster.
There is a lot in her record she will be trying to run away from during the campaign and this is one of the few that favours her massively.
(Our polling also showed that Newman did well in public approval from his floods performance too, so while it is good territory for the premier, it is not uncontested.)
So, she has good reason for wanting the floods issue to be current and fresh in the minds of electors as the election period starts.
Counter that, the LNP are sure to be using it as a way to draw electors’ attention to all the disasters during Bligh’s reign. “Why should we be waiting for an inquiry into management of the flood to be brought down? We already have enough information on which to judge the Bligh government. One event does not a government make.”