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State elections the biggest opinion poll of all

  • 04 March 2015

State politics doesn’t get much national attention these days except as an indication of the standing of the Prime Minister. State elections have become the biggest opinion poll of all. The fact that these state elections have been in the three biggest states sends an even bigger message.

The Victorian state election that ushered out the Napthine Coalition government last November may have been an overdue wake-up call for the Federal government, but the amazing Queensland state defeat for Campbell Newman in late January made two defeats in a row for first-term conservative governments. Its impact was undoubtedly to bring on the Spill against Tony Abbott.

This was despite the fact that Newman himself was personally most unpopular and contributed at least two-thirds of the reasons for his defeat. His policies, including public service cuts and the proposed sale of state assets played their part. But it was his super-aggressive personality and adversarial style of politics which Queenslanders disliked most.

There were federal lessons. The Queensland electorate didn’t accept that targeting of public services could be excused by references to debt reduction in tough economic times. Nor did they warm to Newman’s shout-down-any-opposition style of doing business.

So the federal implications of the devastating Queensland result were amplified by the recognition among voters and Liberal MPs alike that Newman and his state government looked remarkably like Abbott and his federal government. This had been the campaign message from federal Labor for some time.

That similarity is why whatever the result of the forthcoming NSW election,  whether a big or small swing against the Baird Coalition government, there may be little joy for the Prime Minister.

On the face of it the NSW election result is one of the markers along the way to Abbott’s eclipse or survival; together with the reception of the federal Budget in May. The next three months will be the time when uncertain federal Liberal MPs give the Prime Minister a “Fair Go”. By mid-year the time will be up for Abbott to show that he really can remake himself into a popular prime minister.

But the NSW election at the end of the month on March 28th is an ambiguous marker.  Mike Baird and Abbott are said to be friends within the faction-ridden cauldron of NSW Liberal party politics. It is the Liberal branch that is home to the four blokes that are in contention for Liberal leadership and hence the prime