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Why nobody will admit there's a strong chance of a minority government

Decision 2020

Both the Premier and Opposition Leader are going to absurd lengths to the deny the obvious — there’s a good chance neither Labor nor the LNP will form a majority government after the October 31 election.

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Annastacia Palaszczuk yesterday boldly declared “minority Governments don’t work”, despite having led a minority government herself between 2015 and 2017 in her first term as Premier.

Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington has kicked off her campaign by promising not to form a minority government if her party wins the most seats in the Queensland election.

The LNP will put Labor last on their how to vote cards in all 93 state electorates at the October 31 election, which has raised the prospect of a hung parliament.

Ms Frecklington has categorically denied that anyone in the LNP has spoken with minor parties like One Nation, Clive Palmer or Katter’s Australia Party about preferences.

She is also promising that she will not form a minority government with any of the minor parties, even if the LNP wins the most seats.

“That’s correct,” Ms Frecklington told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

Why go through this charade, when everyone knows there will be plenty of wheeling and dealing next month if neither party can secure 47 out of the 93 seats up for grabs?

The reason is because it complicates both the parties’ campaign messages; will Labor be under pressure from the Greens to walk away from coal projects for example, or will the LNP be under pressure from Katter’s Australia Party to restrict abortions?

And the fact that both leaders are going to some lengths to talk up the dangers of their opponents forming a minority government is revealing.

It’s a sign the election, at this stage at least, is going to be close.

Labor and the LNP have 48 and 38 seats respectively in Queensland’s Legislative Assembly, with the remaining 7 seats belonging to the minor parties and one independent.

A minority government comes into play in the not-unlikely scenario that Labor loses more than 2 seats and the LNP fails to win at least 9.

Labor has the advantage of currently being in majority government, and so it can warn of all sorts of dangers if the electorate opts for any change to the status quo.

“No deals, I need a majority government,” Palaszczuk told journalists yesterday.

“At the moment we have a majority government and we are looking at the best interests of Queenslanders and that is exactly what I’m focused on.”

“The question for Deb Frecklington, is: is she going to form a minority government with the Katters, is she going to form a government with Palmer [Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party], is she going to form a party with One Nation?’”

This is a potentially strong line of attack — if the public can’t be confident the LNP can capture enough seats to form a majority government, does it want to run the risk of an unpredictable alliance of right-wing and populist causes?

A surprising campaign strategy

On the eve of an election campaign, the Opposition Leader predictably dismissed any speculation about a minor party alliance.

“There will be no deals,” Frecklington said, “Queenslanders deserve a majority government.”

But more surprisingly, the Opposition Leader proceeded to announce a new and arguably risky campaign strategy — declaring the LNP would preference Labor last, behind all minor parties including the Greens, across all electorates.

Speaking at the New Hope Coal mine in the Darling Downs, she cited the Palaszczuk Government’s delay in approving the mine’s expansion as the reason for her decision.

“Make no mistake, this decision does not mean there have been any deals, there have been no deals, and it does not have anything to do with those minor parties,” she said.

For most seats, this policy will make absolutely no difference, as the LNP usually finishes first or second in the primary vote and so its preferences are not distributed.

But in 2017, LNP preferences were distributed to Labor ahead of minor parties in at least three seats.

The most widely reported case was that of South Brisbane, where the then-deputy premier Jackie Trad held off a strong challenge from the Greens.

The other two seats were in Logan and the Townsville electorate of Thuringowa where, in both cases, LNP preferences were distributed to Labor ahead of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

So is this a stroke of genius in a tight election?

Political commentator Paul Williams from Griffith University doesn’t think so.

“It looks like deal-making,” he said.

“It’s the sort of thing parties usually leave to the last drop of the campaign — not at the very start.”

It also puts pressure on the LNP to explain to its base why it is preferencing the Greens over Labor, and to explain to swinging voters in the potentially winnable Brisbane seats of Maiwar or Mansfield for example why it is giving preferences to One Nation.

And of course voters don’t have to follow the way a party directs preferences — Jackie Trad can still retain South Brisbane if enough LNP voters can’t bring themselves to preference the Greens.

The LNP’s preference decision is one way of dealing with all the speculation about minor party deals.

But it has real risks, and no guaranteed benefits.

– ABC, additional reporting AAP

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