Local elections during a pandemic

by Hon. John Mickel - Strategic Advisor, Government Relations

Published on
April 2, 2020

At last weekend’s local government elections, the LNP comprehensively won a fifth term in Brisbane City Council, repeating its stranglehold on the wards – keeping Labor to five out of 26 seats.

The LNP strategy of replacing long-term councillors in the last year of their term was a political masterstroke.

Labor faces a long, hard road back to power at a local government level in Brisbane, having increased its primary vote in three wards and only winning one of those. Its mayoral primary vote is now lower than it was in 2016.

Labor is under attack in the west, inner north and inner south, where the Greens outpolled them.

This increasing dominance by the Greens should not be disregarded and has the potential to have consequences for development and development proposals in the medium term.

Brisbane Lord Mayor, Adrian Schrinner developed a comprehensive set of ideas for the city’s future. His challenge in the short-term will be to help safeguard the city in response to COVID-19 and keep the administration functioning while the city is effectively in lockdown.

Around southeast Queensland, there are new Mayors in Logan, Darren Power; Ipswich, Teresa Harding; and Moreton, Peter Flannery.

This returns a sense of certainty to Ipswich and Logan, after most councillors in both councils were sacked after separate CCC investigations.

There is also continuity in Redlands with the re-election of Karen Williams. Tom Tate on the Gold Coast easily won a third term and Mark Jamieson again won on the Sunshine Coast.

Two state by–elections were also held in conjunction with the local government elections on the weekend – Bundamba near Ipswich, previously held for 20 years by Jo-Ann Miller, and Currumbin on the southern end of the Gold Coast which was held by LNP member Jann Stuckey for close to 16 years.

Bundamba is a Labor stronghold. It has been held continuously by Labor for a century. Saturday was no different, although a 12 per cent swing against Labor to One Nation is a wake-up call for the party.

This is an area where One Nation has always polled well when it contests the seat – the Saturday result was inconvenient for the Government, but not electorally threatening.

The opposite is the case in Currumbin – a marginal LNP seat. The selection of the LNP candidate was the source of public LNP acrimony – the former member resigned in public disagreement with the party and attacked her new candidate. In contrast, Labor had its candidate in the field for some time in preparation for the October election.

The result was an average one for the LNP – suffering a swing against it in a marginal seat in an election year. The party now faces a dilemma – retain its leadership team or replace them at a time when the public wants unity from political leaders on health and the economic challenges facing the nation. My guess is the current team will go to the election.

The State election is due on 31 October this year and will see the beginning of four-year terms in Queensland.

Despite current social distancing requirements and economic uncertainty, business should plan for the election on that date, and for the Government to go into caretaker mode from the end of August.

Given that the Federal budget has been pushed back until later in the year, it is unlikely the Queensland budget will be brought down before the October State election. This can be attributed to the Federal Government’s outlook dictating revenue and budget assumptions for Queensland.

The world is facing unprecedented challenges, to which Queensland is not immune. The Australian political system, for all of its frustrations at times, is adjusting very well to the challenge.

The packages are not perfect, but given the speed of the emerging problem, they never could be. The Prime Minister, Premiers and Chief Ministers have joined together to face the health and economic threats. The Federal Government, business and the union movement have combined to develop a rescue package for business and employees in a timely fashion. Australia has not seen this level of unity for generations.

Australians have been well served by their leaders in government, the private sector and medical science. If you need convincing, take a look at parts of Europe, and America. Australia is doing very well in its response.