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Queensland election + populism « Previous | |Next »
February 25, 2009

A Queensland election has been called in the midst of an economic crisis in the global economy now impacting heavily in Queensland. The Bligh Government goes early to the polls to head off the worsening regional recession, a projected budget deficit and loss of the state's triple A credit rating. Queensland is beset by serious infrastructure deficiencies in water, health and transport infrastructure, whilst the economic recession has resulted in Labor hoping that voters will back the incumbent government whose strategy is to spend big on infrastructure.

Opportunity beckons for the LNP opposition and the Murdoch Press with its “the LNP is gaining on Bligh” meme is doing it's bit to soften up Labor by targeting the Bligh Government's economic management credentials about the rise in government debt. However, Brian Costar says that the weight of the political history on the present will play a large part in shaping the election outcome.

I heard Lawrence Springborg, the leader of the LNP, on Radio National Breakfast yesterday morning. I wondered how that populist mixture of an emotional rant about debt, the politics of fear, and authoritarian social conservatism would ever appeal those in the urban and suburban seats of Brisbane. They need to secure a swing of 8.3 per cent and gain 22 urban and suburban seats. The LNP currently only 2 of the 34 seats in and around Brisbane, and the election will be won and lost in Brisbane.

The aggressive populist rhetoric of a wind-up political machine built around confected outrage--- “The Borg”----will certainly not appeal to the disgruntled social liberal ex-Liberal members, or persuade them to put aside their discontent and hit the streets as volunteers to campaign for LNP candidates. Springborg, from what I heard, is not capable of presenting a moderate image--compassionate conservatism--- that would attract voters in Queensland and the Gold Coast. His rightwing populism--you could the "death penalty for hoons" resonating in the background--- appeals to the conservative base, not the middle ground.

On Radio National Breakfast The Borg maintained his populism with a straight face as he stated that the global financial and economic crisis is only peripheral to what’s happening in Queensland! Great economic advice he's been getting there about the nature of, and changes to, the world economy his LNP Queensland populism appears to be barely economic literate, and more concerned to tap a source of anger, alienation, and anxiety boiling beneath the surface of Queensland politics by using debt, whilst avoiding talk about Queensland's reliance on (declining) Japanese demand for exports and foreign capital.

And so the die is cast. A tired, reinvented Labor Government with fat electoral margins will be returned with a reduced majority. The LNP will turn on itself after the Nationals/Liberals lose yet again. The reverberations from the loss will be felt in Canberra. It is there that the Queensland Nationals (Bowell and Joyce) rant and rage about climate change being a fiction and beat up as they endeavour to ensure that populism is conservatism's weapon against the Australian left.

The Borg's conservative populist rhetoric faces the general problem of finding a program that speaks to business-oriented suburbanites, culturally outraged Christian conservatives, and the economically anxious Anglo-Australian Howard battlers? His populist rhetoric has to paper over the contradiction at the heart of this coalition. The Borg marries conservatism with anti-elitism whilst making government bureaucrats a focus of populist fury.

Pauline Hanson and One Nation once spoke for this group, but no more. The economic and political terrain has shifted in the last decade, due to John Howard's populist conservatism and the global economic crisis. However, Howard's 9/11, or the war on terrorism populism, which craves strong leaders, simple answers and ruthless force to defend the nation when danger is near, has faded. Public fear is declining and Australians are less willing to sacrifice civil liberties in the name of national security.The war on terrorism's use of Afghanistan no longer rallies the right-wing base.

So the LNP badly needs an issue that can mobilize its conservative base. Hostility toward cultural and political elites, which used to do that, has lost its oomph, in spite of the Murdoch's presses' attempts to reeve up the culture war at a low ebb and make the Afghan war into a big national security issue in the war of terror.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:00 AM | | Comments (6)


wasn't Queensland the boom state? What happened to all the needed investment in schools, hospitals roads and rail due to its population growth? Where did the money from the boom years go?

good question.

The Borg's answer to this is framed in terms of populism that seeks to play on their fears about a nation in decline. It appeals to the solid values and industry of the common folk who distrust the smart inner city Brisbane elite.

He is trying to mobilize the grievances and sense of repression amongst the small farmers and business people,the church goers, the wage earners and flagwavers. The rhetoric is cast in moral terms of good Queensland versus bad Queensland.

I am surprised The Borg hasn't made use of the external threat that is part of the standard conservative rhetoric--the threat of the Chinese taking over Queensland's economy and resources.

Robert Manne in the above link says that Howard’s impact on Australian culture is ‘conservative populism’, which he describes as:

conspicuous rejection of the whole post- Whitlam social justice agenda of multi-culturalism, Aboriginal conciliation and reconciliation, gay rights, uncompromising environmentalism, and just treatment for refugees. Because Howard’s policies have become associated with the long boom that we are still experiencing the electoral impact of this conservative populism has been profound. What we call rural and regional Australia is now usually under coalition control, federally at least.

This would apply to Queensland where the Nationals have control of rural Queensland, but not the middle and outer suburban suburbs of the Brisbane. They can only gain power by reconnect with its blue-collar base and regain the ground it once held in middle Queensland during the Bjelke Peterson years.

trouble is the middle ground in Queensland has shifted to left of centre due to the massive population migration to coastal Queensland from Sydney and Melbourne. The LNP looks to be the old Nationals with only a veneer of sophistication.

Pauline Hanson's conservative populism said that national disintegration is about to happen, that land rights will destroy the economy or that refugees are about to flood us and take away our jobs. It pushes racial or ethnic buttons of a kind that suggests that we're becoming a nation of tribes and we're losing our centre.

It was then articulated by John Howard but it ran out of puff around 2007.