9 February 2004

ALP wary state boom will mean federal bust

Yet anyone extrapolating Peter Beattie's latest landslide into Labor gains at the federal election should look back to what happened after his previous landslide victory in 2001.

Labor won 47.2 per cent of the vote on Saturday, down from 48.9 per cent in 2001. Yet in between, the November 2001 federal election saw Labor's vote fall to 34.7 per cent in Queensland, against 45.6 per cent for the Coalition.

That means a quarter of voters who chose to make Peter Beattie Premier at the past two state elections also voted to make John Howard Prime Minister.

It is a repeat of last March's NSW election, when Bob Carr romped home in a state where federal Labor has struggled since 1996.

Indeed, Howard's majority is built entirely on Coalition support in the two rugby league states. The Coalition holds 48 seats north of the Murray to 26 for Labor. In the rest of the country, Labor holds 37 seats to the Coalition's 35.

As in NSW, some of the widest disparities in Labor support occurred in the outer suburbs. Like Sydney, Brisbane is surrounded by suburbs that elect Labor MPs with massive majorities to State Parliament, while sending Liberal MPs to Canberra.

The average house prices and incomes may be lower, but outer Brisbane is populated by voters with the same sort of aspirations as those in outer Sydney.

I think this election will be decided in the ring of outer suburban seats around Sydney and Brisbane and a group of regional seats in NSW and Queensland where the government's trade policy goes against major agricultural interests. And those seats are precisely where Latham's appeal is likely to be strongest and the spin about core and noncore promises likely to weakest.

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