Australia’s Queensland state is set for a change of government, with early vote counting in today’s election showing the opposition Liberal National Party will end 14 years of Labor rule, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“The LNP is on track for a landslide,” ABC election commentator and political analyst Antony Green said. The Liberal Nationals have secured 68 of the state parliament’s 89 seats, including the electorate of Ashgrove being contested by party leader Campbell Newman, with Labor winning five, the broadcaster said.
The pending election loss for Anna Bligh-led Labor, its first in Queensland since 1996, will deepen the challenge for Prime Minister Julia Gillard 20 months before a national ballot is due. A defeat would leave the party out of power in all but the two smallest of Australia’s six states.
“There’s a feeling in Queensland that the government’s energy levels have been drained and it’s time for a change,” said Stephen Stockwell, a political analyst at Brisbane’s Griffith University.
Before today’s vote, Labor held 51 seats in Queensland to the opposition’s 34. With 37 percent of ballots counted, the LNP was ahead with 49 percent of first preference votes, to Labor’s 27 percent, according to the state electoral commission’s website.
Queensland’s unemployment rate soared more than 2 percentage points during Bligh’s five years in power, as the local dollar’s climb to its strongest since the early 1980s hurt the tourism industry in the region known as the “Sunshine State.” The popularity of Australia’s first elected female premier has sunk since she led the state’s recovery from a cyclone and deadly floods last year amid voter anger over sales of state assets.
Seven federal seats in Queensland are held by Labor members with margins of less than 6 percent, electoral commission figures show. The northeastern state accounted for more than half the national seats lost by Labor in the most recent federal vote in 2010.
Gillard’s minority government, which trails the federal opposition by 12 percentage points according to the latest Newspoll, is struggling to revive Labor’s popularity before a national election that must be held by the end of 2013.
“It’s a hugely important state,” said John Wanna, a professor of public administration at the Canberra-based Australian National University and the author of a book on the state’s political history. “Bligh’s realized the election has been lost for a while now and has been in damage control, trying to reduce the margin of the loss.”
Queensland, Australia’s largest debtor state, lost its Aaa credit rating from Moody’s Investors Service in May 2009, which Newman, a former mayor of the state capital of Brisbane, has vowed to restore.
“I’ve said from the very outset of this campaign that Labor would be fighting an uphill battle,” Bligh told reporters today as she cast her ballot in Brisbane. “We were fighting an overwhelming mood for change.”
Newman, 48, led Brisbane’s recovery efforts during last year’s floods. During his campaign, the opposition leader countered allegations that a property developer who made seven donations to his re-election fund as mayor was also conducting business from a property owned by Newman’s family.
Queensland was an agricultural heartland for Australia until the late 1980s, when international tourism, led by Japan’s booming middle class, led to a development surge in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which are now the nation’s third- and sixth-largest cities.
After winning power in 1989, the Labor Party has ruled for all but two years. In 1996, the main opposition party won a by-election that gave it a majority, which it lost in the next state election in 1998. Bligh, 51, took office in September 2007.
Bligh raised A$15 billion from selling off state assets such as coal-train operator QR National Ltd..
A former social worker who grew up in a single-parent home, Bligh won praise for her handling of the aftermath of Cyclone Yasi that hit Queensland in February 2011. The storm contributed to flooding that killed at least 35 people, affected 70 towns and cities and saw three-quarters of the state declared a disaster zone.