Queensland’s Labor Party has bounced back from one of the most crushing defeats in Australian political history to challenge the reigning Liberal National Party in a knife-edge election contest set to go down to the wire.
After a lightning fast 26-day election campaign, the latest Essential Poll has the major parties split 50/50 on a two-party preferred basis ahead of Saturday’s election.
Whatever the result, it’s an incredible turnaround for Labor after the party’s annihilation in 2012 left them with just seven out of 89 seats.
Premier Campbell Newman maintains the ‘preferred leader’ mantle ahead of Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk, but trails in his own seat as he struggles to distance himself from unpopular Prime Minister Tony Abbot.
Both leaders took part in a final showdown on Friday, going head-to-head in a fiery last-minute election debate. Jobs, the economy, privatisation and public sector cutbacks dominated the debate.
The New Daily looks at the key players, defining issues, and the latest data in a breakdown of what is set to be an exciting contest for political watchers.
Premier faces battle to hold seat
Mr Newman led the LNP to a landslide victory in March 2012 after being made the party’s leader while serving as Brisbane’s lord mayor.
By October, aggressive cost cutting and job losses to the public service saw Mr Newman’s approval rating slump from 47 to 38 per cent.
He had to battle harsh criticism throughout his term, with prominent conservative radio host Alan Jones calling his government “as bad as anything we’ve ever seen in government in Australia.”
The premier and Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney are now suing Mr Jones for defamation.
The LNP plans to lease key state assets over 99 years to help raise $37 billion to help pay the state’s debt, a move that has proven unpopular with voters.
A Sky News poll last week placed him ahead of Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk as preferred leader, but the latest polling indicates he could lose his Brisbane seat of Ashgrove.
Mr Newman trails Labor’s candidate Kate Jones by eight points, meaning the LNP could win government under a leader who doesn’t have a seat in parliament.
University of New South Wales constitutional law professor George Williams told The New Daily that the loss of his seat didn’t necessarily mean Mr Newman would need to resign as premier.
“If he loses his seat then maybe he could convince someone who won their seat to resign and he could contest it,” he said. “If that happens it would have to happen quickly.
“Mr Newman was opposition leader without having a seat in parliament so he’s shown he’s certainly not beholden to convention.
“Strange things happen in Queensland sometimes.”
“Legally, he could get away with it, but politically could he? I’d think not because of the statements he’s made about not continuing if he loses his seat.
— Kath Landers (@KathLanders) January 20, 2015
Who is Annastacia Palaszczuk?
In comparison to her opposite number, little is known about Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk, although she’s been credited as the woman responsible for bringing Labor back from the brink.
The 45-year-old has led Labor’s tiny parliamentary contingent since 2012, after serving as the minister for transport and disability services in government.
The opposition leader has promised not to privatise Queensland state assets and pledged $100 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
She suffered a setback during the final week of the campaign, when she made headlines after passing on a radio quiz when asked what the GST rate was, later blaming the bungle on the fact she hadn’t had her morning coffee.
“I thought it was 10 per cent — they want to change it,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
The Labor leader first entered parliament in 2006 in the seat of Inala, vacated by her father Father Henry.
The career politician grew up in the Brisbane suburb of Durack. She entered politics as a ministerial advisor before leaving to prepare for a career in law. She returned to the political arena as an MP after the retirement of her father.
Australian born, but of Polish descent, Ms Palaszczuk’s name (pronounced Pal-a-shay) has caused some difficulty, particularly for the man who is supposed to be watching her every move.
During a radio quiz on Friday morning, Mr Newman failed to properly spell her surname, saying: “I’m not trying to be rude, I just can’t.”
Which way will Queenslanders swing?
Labor has slowly improved their fortunes since 2012, picking up two seats at the by-election with large swings toward Labor of 17 and 19 per cent.
While the major parties are tied on the two-party-preferred vote, ABC election analyst Anthony Green is sceptical about whether Labor can pull off a miracle victory.
“It seems far fetched to think that such a small party can win so many extra seats,” Mr Green told ABC radio.
“They need to gain 36 [seats] to get into government. That’s a swing of more than 12 per cent.”
According to a report by Fairfax, up to 20 seats held by the LNP in Brisbane are at risk, as well the electorates of Cairns and Townsville.
Analysts are predicting the swing to Labor of up to 12 per cent compared with the 2012 election result.
A ReachTEL poll last week showed the LNP was ahead on first preference votes, leading the ALP 42 to 36.7 per cent.
‘I’m fine thanks, Mr Abbott’
Prime Minister Tony Abbot has been noticeably absent from the three-week campaign, with his own popularity levels hitting record lows.
Federal Labor leader Bill Shorten, in contrast, has been smiling and waving at Ms Palaszczuk’s side at every possible opportunity throughout the brief campaign.
Mr Newman said he was running his own race and didn’t need the help of “Tony Abbott or any federal MPs on the campaign”.
According to Fairfax, a deal is also being brokered between Queensland’s minor parties including the Palmer United Party and Katter Australian Party, which would see them preference each other.
Katter’s Australian Party holds three seats in parliament – almost half of Labor’s current number – while there are four independents.
Independent candidate for Kawana Jason Deller stood down on Friday after video emerged which appeared to show the candidate pouring water on one child and slapping another.