Queensland’s election landslide: a message for state, country or the world?

March 26, 2012 |

Iconic conservative Australian politician Bob Katter

The northeastern Australian state of Queensland completed a bruising election campaign this past weekend, and the center-right Liberal National Party walked off with 76 of the 89 seats on offer in an historic landslide.

A state election, conducted primarily on state issues – important for Queensland, and also Australia. But why is this election of interest to the broader global public, especially those focused on bioenergy?

Two reasons why Queensland’s election stands out.

First, the election was also notable for the electoral debut of the rural, populist Katter’s Australian Party, which was formed last year – socially conservative, pro-growth, protectionist, pro-manufacturing and strongly pro-agriculture with a special accent on sugarcane ethanol. More on their policies here.

The party secured just two seats in the unicameral parliament but picked up a surprising 12 percent of the primary vote, and outpolled the sitting government in 20 of the state’s 89 electoral districts.

The Katter party stand on ethanol? As Katter told the ABC’s Richard Aedy in a pre-election interview: “Within five years you will move to five percent ethanol, within eight years you will move to ten percent ethanol, to 22 percent ethanol…There’s hardly any now, they’re closing all the bowsers in Queensland, and New South Wales – you had ten percent, but the LNP who absolutely hates ethanol, they’ve cut it back to six percent because they’re owned by the gas and oil companies.”

Katter also promoted sugarcane-based power as an alternative to expanding the coal seam gas industry, protection for the struggling dairy industry, faster mining permitting, support for small business and policies that would reduce the influence of major retailers at the expense of small business in regional areas.

Queensland’s sugarcane resources are a spark for the debate over resource allocation. Robert Henry of the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation observed, “Australia’s likely to be importing most of its oil by 2020 and that’s more than a $30 billion import price, and so if we can replace some or all of that with domestically produced energy that’s an enormous benefit to the Australian community.”

A split on the right over protectionism

Second impact? The election featured a split in the right-wing over protectionism. The LNP is generally a free-trade, pro-growth party; favoring limited government, and generally opposing subsidies, tariffs and mandates and other mechanisms of protectionism, and thereby generally supportive of established industries.

A split on the left over sustainability and growth

The defeated Labor government generally took the modern center-left position, which is to say it was protectionist in terms of fostering new industries, favored regulation over protection of established industry, favored a carbon tax, and strongly favored renewable energy and biofuels trade development, and as well as R&D funding for algae and sugarcane-based advanced biofuels.

The Labor Party itself faced a challenge from the Green Party on the left, which is socially liberal in outlook, generally anti-growth-for-growths-sake, and iffy on biofuels over sustainability concerns.

Is a split on the right over protectionism a local phenomenon, or the shape of things to come? Also, will we continue to see the left split over biofuels, generally on concerns over food vs fuel and indirect land use change?

Our take

The Queensland election is a harbinger, especially for countries rich in agricultural resources. Farming regions are generally conservative, especially on social issues, but have historically been pro-protectionist. EU and North American manufacturing industries are increasingly pro-protectionist in the face of foreign competition. We expect to see opportunities for rural, protectionist, socially conservative voices to divide the vote on the right with Wall Street, and free traders.

And we expect to see a continuing drift of support on the left away from biofuels over food prices, and a broad swing from long-term investments in renewable energy over short-term focus on gasoline prices,

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