Griffith University’s political experts foresee the upcoming Queensland election as pivotal on several fronts, not least because it is the first time in any Australian state or federal election that two female candidates are up against each other.
However, it is the collision of the complex community health, social and economic issues around the COVID-19 pandemic that some of the University’s leading academics in the field of politics, governance and leadership find so compelling.
Dr Paul Williams, a senior lecturer in politics, journalism and public relations at Griffith University’s School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, has been watching and studying Queensland elections for 37 years.
He acknowledges the outcome for 2020 this October 31 is even harder to predict than the 2017 election, arguing that in the current climate the polls may not be the most reliable measure of voter intention.
“Looking at it through a COVID lens, the electorate is facing its greatest economic challenge and health challenge since the Great Depression”
“Looking at it through a COVID lens, the electorate is facing its greatest economic challenge and health challenge since the Great Depression,” said Dr Williams.
“But there are also political and social issues at play, as well as the legal implication of whether it’s constitutional to keep borders closed. We’ve never experienced this before in living memory.”
Despite the historic first, Dr Williams doesn’t see female leadership playing any part in the outcome.
“The bipolar system of Australian politics is an adversarial system which some would argue is a masculine trait. Politics is just as combative as it always has been, regardless of the gender of the leadership.”
Professor Susan Harris Rimmer, the director of the Policy Innovation Hub at Griffith Business School, notes that neither Premier Annastacia Palaszczuknor Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington are playing the gender card in the way it may have been in the past.
“They are very different politicians, and I don’t think they have anything in common apart from being women and lawyers,” said Professor Harris Rimmer.
“But it is still an important event in Queensland and Australian history.
“Griffith boasts extensive research on gender and political leadership and it doesn’t affect electability, but there are often issues around internal party support, and we saw that with Deb Frecklington four months out from the election and potentially now with the ECQ.”
Despite this, Professor Harris Rimmer says there is no denying female leaders face unique challenges.
“Female leaders are rare in every walk of life and they’re much more likely to cop abuse than a male candidate,” she said.
“They get a lot more hate online and people talk about them in different ways. I’ve never heard a male politician being called whiney, for example.
“…in this environment we have seen female leaders globally rise to the challenge and do particularly well in managing COVID-19”
“However, in this environment we have seen female leaders globally rise to the challenge and do particularly well in managing COVID-19.”
The youth vote, on the other hand, could play a key role in the Queensland election, in part due to the economic fallout of COVID hurting jobs and future opportunities for younger workers.
Dr Elise Stephenson, a post-doctoral fellow of Griffith’s Policy Innovation Hub, identifies this as a risk to political leaders who have failed to address the needs of this demographic.
“By the end of June there were some 343,000 people enrolled to vote who were first-time voters which is a historically high level,” said Dr Stephenson.
“Young people are far more politically engaged than in the past”
“Young people are far more politically engaged than in the past.
“Climate change, COVID-19 and unemployment have put them in a more precarious position, so they’re applying a critical lens to the issues that matter to them.
“They are more aware now than perhaps ever before and it’s a crucial time for the electorate.
“Those politicians who have not been engaging with younger people as they should have will feel it this time around.”
Dr Ferran Martinez i Coma, senior lecturer at Griffith’s School of Government and International Relations, notes that, following the local council polls cast in March this year, Queenslanders are unique around the world as this year they will have faced two elections in the midst of a pandemic.
While there is scope for disruption in voting patterns in the state election, he believes the public has adapted to voting in ways they may have never considered in the past.
“The pandemic has led to a skyrocketing of postal votes, for example, and we’re also seeing increasing trend towards early voting,” said Dr Martinez i Coma.
“At the moment, though because the pandemic in Queensland is largely under control, we should expect that people will be prepared to vote in person come election day.”
As for any guide to the outcome, Dr Williams points to Queensland’s unique political history.
“Queensland politics is the politics of electoral hegemony,” he said.
“When any political party comes to power, they tend to dominate and squeeze out the oxygen for the other side for long periods of time.
“Labor has been in office for 26 of the last 31 years.
“It was in opposition for 32 years before that.
“Queenslanders generally need a reason to change, they need a case for change and perhaps that case hasn’t been made yet.”
Griffith University experts are available to provide independent analysis of the 2020 State Election www.griffith.edu.au/queensland-state-election