REGIONAL Queenslanders feeling neglected by the LNP was one of the key factors which shaped the weekend’s David and Goliath State election result, says federal opposition leader Bill Shorten.
While the final result is yet to be determined, Labor has already achieved a significant swing which could see it achieve an outright majority or secure a deal to claim a minority government over the LNP (Liberal National Party).
Mr Shorten said it was an “extraordinary result” for Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk and her team, running against the incumbent LNP government which had 80 more seats in parliament; a war chest of funding for advertising; and the backing of a Liberal government in Canberra.
He told the ABC yesterday that regional Queensland was “yelling out for attention from the LNP”.
“I had the opportunity to be there on 11 occasions and regional Queensland certainly felt let down by what they perceived to be a Brisbane government,” he said.
“But there were federal issues at stake. Tony Abbott wouldn't go to Queensland for a whole month. He wouldn't go for one reason, because if the voters saw even more of him, he and Campbell Newman were afraid the swing would be bigger against the LNP.
“As it was, him not going proved to be almost as big a mistake as him going.”
Mr Shorten said voters understand the different levels of government - State, federal and local - but issues like education, healthcare, jobs and keeping promises do overlap.
“It's the way that both levels of Liberal government have conducted themselves,” he said.
The weekend’s election result has now placed an even sharper focus on Tony Abbott’s leadership credentials and ongoing difficulties achieving his Coalition government’s agenda, including delivering agricultural policy to increase the sector’s contribution to the national economy.
Mr Abbott spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra today, giving what some analysts say will be one of the most significant speeches of his career as he fends off mounting leadership speculation.
Yesterday he told media that Campbell Newman – who lost his own electorate at the weekend’s poll and retired from politics – had been a good premier of Queensland.
But he said, “Obviously there are lessons from the result in Queensland”.
“The lessons are not to give up on reform, but to make sure that everything you propose is fully explained and well justified and obviously that's a lesson that we’re determined to learn in Canberra as well,” he said.
Mr Abbott conceded his knighthood of Prince Philip in the closing stages of the Queensland campaign was “a distraction for a couple of days, I accept that and I very much regret that”.
But he said in the end, the voters of Australia are pretty smart and “They judge State elections on State issues and they judge federal elections on federal issues”.
Mr Abbott said he was determined to ensure Australia doesn’t join the “weak government club of the world”.
“Let's not forget that just 16 months ago, the people of Australia elected a government and a Prime Minister to clean up Labor's mess, to build a strong and prosperous economy for a safe and secure Australia, and that is exactly what we're doing,” he said.
“Every single day, we have been hard at work with the best interests of the Australian people at heart.
“Now, I don't say for a second that we haven't made mistakes.
“I don't say for a second that we can't do things better, but I am not going to be distracted from the essential task of giving this country the good government that it deserves.”
Mr Abbott said the government had experienced some difficulties in the Senate, but had listened and learnt and would be “a more consultative and collegial government in 2015 than we were in 2014”.
“We will not take the Senate for granted in 2015, as perhaps sometimes we were tempted to do in 2014,” he said.
“But the important thing is not to navel gaze, it's not to focus on ourselves, the important thing is to get on with the job of being a better government today than we were yesterday, being a better government tomorrow than we are today.
“That's the constant challenge of government, every day to get on with delivering for the Australian people.”
Rural focus needed
Riverina Nationals MP Michael McCormack conceded the Queensland election result delivered a strong message from regional voters and lessons in other areas for federal politicians.
He said former Victorian Liberal Premier Kennett had suffered a similar “folly” of initially delivering good government, but then he started rationalising government spending on rural and regional health services and hospitals and merging local government services, including country sporting programs.
“But country people won’t cop it - and nor should they,” he said.
However, Mr McCormack said modern governments and elected officials had to understand they were now on short notice from voters.
He said the Queensland result showed “how fickle electorates can be, especially city-based electorates”.
“Those voters who jumped on board the Campbell Newman surge in Queensland a short while ago, jumped off it just as fast,” he said.
“That shows you have to work hard continually to maintain voter support, especially with social media where community expectations are such that people quickly forget there is a debt crisis and Coalition governments are working hard to pay down the debt.
“But people get caught up in something shiny and new and they jump on board, so there’s a lesson to be learned for all politicians and parties.
“It’s a little bit like the McDonald’s drive-through mentality we have, where people expect things to be done instantaneously, but things like building infrastructure and paying off debt all takes time.”
Mr McCormack said he believed the days of governments being elected to serve for long periods of time could be over, like the Howard government’s 11-year stint.
He also urged against changing leaders in reaction to current events.
“If Tony Abbott was to change as Prime Minister that would be four changes of Prime Minister in five years - but we have to stay the course,” he said.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and the people who should really be changing the leader are the people of Australia.
“Just because a few Liberal MPs get a big jumpy or nervous they should not go and spear the PM of the day.
“That said we do need to listen to the people more.”
'We can deliver a better government'
Victorian Nationals MP Darren Chester used social media at the weekend to urge calm over the federal Coalition leadership.
On Twitter he said, “Newsflash: polls are bad, 'better sack the leader' because that worked so well for Labor didn't it? Time for cool heads to prevail”.
“We don't need a new Liberal leader, we all need to lift our game: focus on Australians' needs & fix Labor's mess. Big job left to do”.
On Facebook, Mr Chester stressed that as a National party member, he doesn’t get to vote in Liberal Party leadership ballots.
But he said, “We don't need a new Prime Minister, that's up to voters to decide at a general election”.
“We just need the current team to unite behind the guy they have and get on with the job of governing better for all Australians,” he said.
“Ministers need to be given the freedom to run their portfolios.
“Liberals who are sneaking around behind the scenes white-anting their leader should take a lesson from recent Labor history - sacking Prime Ministers in party room ballots is not a good move.
“That's the voters’ job.”
Mr Chester said in politics, when looking for someone to blame, “it's always a good idea to look in the mirror first”.
“I accept that there's always things I could do better to help the government and deliver more for regional people, maybe some of my colleagues should stop looking for someone else to blame and lift their own performance,” he said.
“The Queensland and Victorian elections were largely fought on State issues with unpopular governments voted out of power – but there's no doubt that federal factors didn't help the Coalition governments.
“The Queensland result wasn't so much a 'please explain' yourselves better, it was a 'please change' the way you are governing.
"It's a message we must listen to - from the Prime Minister down to each backbencher.”
“For the record, I don't always agree with Tony Abbott - and we've had a couple of private discussions about our policy differences - but I believe in supporting a democratically elected leader and he has my support.
“He has made mistakes, but he has also made some significant achievements and I'm confident we can deliver a better government into the future.”