Annastacia Palaszczuk says she is confident Labor has won a clear majority in Queensland, and she becomes the first woman in the nation’s history to win three consecutive elections.
The foundation of Labor’s state election victory was a defence of regional Queensland seats that were considered vulnerable after voters in those same areas swung behind the Coalition at the 2019 federal election.
In a campaign heavily influenced by a global pandemic, Queensland Labor strengthened its grip on urban areas in south-east Queensland. The large number of pre-poll and postal votes meant the result in more than a dozen seats was still uncertain, but Labor will form government and is likely to increase its majority.
“It has not been an easy year for many, many people,” Palaszczuk said, declaring victory from a small function at the Blue Fin Fishing Club in her electorate of Inala.
“For many Queenslanders, I know it has been an incredibly tough year. It has been tough not being able to see your family and friends in other states, or even around the world, as we’ve been in the midst of a global pandemic.
“I know that during this election, there are many people out there in Queensland who have voted Labor for the very first time. I thank you from the bottom of my heart and I will return that respect every single day.”
The state’s pandemic response, and its closed borders, were a defining issue of the campaign. But Queensland’s complexity meant that, even though Labor’s coronavirus management was popular with voters, the result was never certain.
Analysts had predicted a hung parliament was likely and that Labor would lose regional seats, particularly around Townsville, which could be offset with gains on the city fringe.
In the end, Labor lost only one seat, South Brisbane, where the former deputy premier and treasurer Jackie Trad was defeated by the Greens.
The Greens also held the seat of Maiwar and remain a chance of winning another, Cooper.
Labor made gains on the southern Sunshine Coast, picking up the seats of Caloundra, a former Liberal stronghold, and Pumicestone.
It was also in contention in Hervey Bay, with a 14% swing to the government. Each of those three areas has a large population of retirees – dubbed Palaszczuk’s pensioners by Labor during the campaign – and their support of the state’s pandemic management was critical to the result.
The Liberal National party threw everything at Townsville, where Labor held – and was set to retain – three marginal seats. The opposition announced a controversial youth curfew for the northern city late in the campaign in an attempt to tap into community perceptions about crime.
Throughout, Labor had believed its northern seats – particularly the three in Townsville – and some in central Queensland were vulnerable. In the wash up, no seats outside of the south-east are likely to change hands.
The opposition leader, Deb Frecklington, conceded defeat on the night but said she intended to remain the LNP leader.
“I’d like to congratulate Annastacia Palaszczuk on her victory tonight,” Frecklington said.
“Now I may not agree with the premier a lot of the time, but I respect her as an opponent and as the leader of our state. But most of all I respect the voters of Queensland. And we are so privileged to live in this democracy.
“I’m sorry we didn’t get there.
“No other party has worked harder than the Liberal National party. You’ve given it everything, but this was not our time. But our time will come. And we will get Queensland working again.”
The election’s biggest spender on advertising, Clive Palmer, had an abysmal night. Not only did Palmer’s unfounded scare campaign fail to damage Labor, his United Australia party won 0.6% of the total vote.
Labor’s federal president, Wayne Swan, has called for new laws to prevent such a campaign from being waged in future.
“There needs to be major reform of political advertising and we need to look seriously at the registration of what I call pretend parties like the Palmer party,” Swan told Guardian Australia.
The election’s other big loser was One Nation. Three years ago the rightwing party had a significant influence on the election result. This time around it held the party’s only seat, Mirani, but statewide the One Nation vote dropped 6.8%.
Labor’s election win will earn Palaszczuk a place in the pantheon of revered Labor leaders. The party’s repeated success in a complex state has been built upon her personal popularity and appeal, which bridges the city-rural divide.
In the worlds of senator Anthony Chisholm, Palaszczuk has become “a Labor legend”.
She joins Wayne Goss and Peter Beattie as recent Labor premiers to win three elections. If she sees out the four-year term, Palaszczuk will have served for longer than both of them.
Labor has now won 11 of the past 12 elections in Queensland – and this could be the loss that prompts the most serious soul searching for the LNP.
The former LNP premier, Campbell Newman, said his party’s stocks were already low before the pandemic.
“Spare me the Covid-19 excuse for what’s happening tonight in Queensland,” he tweeted.
“The LNP primary vote was 36% a year ago – we had a problem prior to the pandemic.”
Spare me the COVID-19 excuse for what's happening tonight in Qld. The LNP primary vote was 36pc a year ago. We had a problem prior to the pandemic
— Campbell Newman (@CampbellNewman) October 31, 2020
Already prior to the election, moderates had begun to discuss the need to demerge the Liberal and National parties.
“The merged entity simply does not appeal to people in the city. It’s a failed marriage,” one LNP figure said.