Monday 19 December 2011

Anna Bligh's clawback may entice her to delay Queensland state poll

    Anna Bligh has clawed back part of the commanding lead opened up by the conservatives in Queensland under the leadership of former Brisbane lord mayor Campbell Newman, in a Newspoll that may entice her to delay a state election tipped for February.
Mr Newman's satisfaction rating levels slipped during the October-December survey, conducted exclusively for The Australian, while Labor's base vote lifted from a near rock-bottom 27 per cent, to 31 per cent, against 44 per cent for the Liberal National Party. Once preferences are factored in, the ALP trails the Liberal National Party by 12 points, 44 per cent to 56 per cent.

While Newspoll shows that Ms Bligh has narrowed the gap on Mr Newman and the LNP, Labor would still lose at least half of its 51 state seats in Queensland and be bundled out after 13 years in power. The Premier, in an end-of-year interview, acknowledged there was "a mood for change" in the electorate, compounding the challenge for Labor of securing a sixth successive term of government at an election to be held in the first half of next year.
Mr Newman accepted that the polls would tighten as the election drew nearer. "The Labor Party are trying to paint themselves as the underdogs," the LNP leader told The Australian.
"They are the government. They are a relentless political machine. They know how to campaign effectively."

Today's Newspoll is the first in which Labor has made up ground since Mr Newman audaciously switched in March from running city hall in Brisbane to lead the LNP from outside parliament. In the previous survey, for July-September, the LNP jumped to a 22-point lead over Labor, 61-39 per cent two-party preferred.

The latest poll suggests recent controversies over his pecuniary interests declaration and a "dirt file" on Labor MPs, commissioned by the LNP from a disgruntled ex-ALP staffer, ostensibly without his knowledge, have affected his standing with voters.

Satisfaction with his performance as LNP leader slipped from 51 per cent in July-September to 45 per cent, while dissatisfaction increased six points to 33 per cent. Ms Bligh's satisfaction levels were basically stable, with 39 per cent approving of the job she was doing as Premier, against 50 per cent dissatisfied. But her net satisfaction rating -- the difference between those happy and unhappy with her -- is stubbornly negative at -11 points, against +12 points for Mr Newman.

While she has closed the lead of Mr Newman in the head-to-head comparison of who would be better premier, he continues to outpoint her by 43 to 39 per cent. The encouragement Labor will draw from this Newspoll, of 1123 voters, will be tempered by the fact that it was mostly taken before the revelation of the alleged $16 million embezzlement involving former Queensland Health grants officer Joel Barlow, who has been charged with stealing.

This may have the effect of arresting the political recovery suggested by the poll, after Mr Newman seized on the affair as being a competence issue for the state government.
Ms Bligh, who is now on leave, will carefully weigh election dates during her time off. State cabinet is set to reconvene on January 23 to consider a report into systemic problems exposed by Mr Barlow's alleged defrauding of Queensland Health, a department that has caused headaches for both Ms Bligh and her Labor predecessor, Peter Beattie, and which is to be broken up.

The favoured scenario is for Ms Bligh to call the election in late January for either February 18 or 25. She has said she will not have the poll on the same day as local government elections on March 31, leaving four other dates in March open. However, she can officially govern until June, and the Newspoll findings will strengthen the arguments of those in the ALP who want her to string out the term to create distance from the Barlow affair, and to build pressure on Mr Newman. This will increase the attraction of a March poll, most likely on March 10 or 17.

Ms Bligh said she expected Julia Gillard, Kevin Rudd and Wayne Swan to be involved in the state election campaign. Mr Newman is counting on winning the seat of Ashgrove at the state election, held for Labor by former minister Kate Jones on a margin of 7.1 per cent. This is substantially higher than the overall swing of 4.5 per cent needed by the LNP to win office in its own right.

The Greens vote in today's Newspoll is steady at 10 per cent, while other minor parties and independents -- including Bob Katter's start-up Australian Party -- have 15 per cent between them. The margin of error in the poll was plus or minus 3 per cent.

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