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Bonus cash a vote-grabber

By John Black - posted Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Labor picked up enough grateful family tax-benefit recipients in the outer suburbs and bush to hang on to a narrow majority. Throwing money at voters still wins votes in the short term. PAYING people money is a good way to get them to vote for you.

In the 10 days before the March 21 state election, the Federal Government began handing out the first tranche of its latest $12.7 billion stimulus package, to lower-income and single-income families.

In-depth profiling of the election results shows that a significant number of voters who received this public money swung to Labor and away from their previous 2006 vote for the National Party.


At the same time, however, the 4.4 per cent statewide swing to the Liberal National Party was led by higher-income and higher-taxed workers, who are means-tested out of most of the Federal Government's payments. By contrast, the swing towards the ALP was led by the 15 per cent of voters, typically rural men, who had left high school by year 9, like Lawrence Springborg. They have low incomes, unskilled blue-collar jobs and low mortgages.

Transfer payments from the Commonwealth Government are a vital part of the weekly budget for these voters, who live in country electorates, outer-urban seats such as Woodridge and Waterford, or coastal retirement seats such as Pumicestone.

These unskilled blue-collar voters flirted with Pauline Hanson's One Nation in 1998 and then moved into the group of one-in-eight Queenslanders voting for both Beattie Labor and the Howard Liberals, and they continued supporting Howard until he introduced Welfare to Work reforms.

Last election this group tended to support Kevin Rudd and in normal circumstances we would have expected them to switch their vote to non-Labor at the state level, to make sure they had a state government to fight Canberra on their behalf. This is the same cycle of political attrition which eventually ground out every state and territory Liberal government under John Howard.

But not in Queensland; not while some nice young man in Canberra keeps paying them money for nothing and his friend in George Street tells them she will make sure they keep their jobs.

Timing in politics is everything. The West Australian Labor defeat last September 6 was a warning for Bligh not to risk an early poll, despite the fact the state was facing deep regional recessions along the coastal tourist strip, collapsing revenues and a downgraded credit rating. Not the best recipe for winning a state election.


Then the Australian economy began to tank late last year and the Rudd Government decided on big-spending initiatives in an unsuccessful bid to pump up the economy. In December $8.7 billion began landing in bank accounts in bundles of up to $2,100 for pensioner couples, low-income families and carers.

Once the money started flowing, federal Labor's two-party-preferred vote hit 59 per cent in Newspoll and the Queensland Labor Party's vote jumped in sympathy, from 51 per cent to 57 per cent on a two-party-preferred basis.

However, subsequent polls showed that the impact lasted only until the money was spent and Queensland Labor's two-party-preferred voted soon dropped back to 53 per cent in January and had hit 49 per cent by February. So any snap state election had to overlap future federal transfer payments to be certain of a boost in Labor votes.

On February 3, the Commonwealth announced another cash handout of $12.7 billion for lower-income families and single-income families with much of the money to be paid over March 10 to March 20.

This sort of election bounce was just too much for Queensland Labor to pass up. And so, on February 23, Anna Bligh announced the March 21 state election, to be held just days after the next flood of money from Canberra. Sure enough, while the Nationals were successfully slugging it out in the city, the Labor candidates picked up enough grateful family tax-benefit recipients in the outer suburbs and bush to hang on to a narrow majority of votes.

So, throwing money at voters still wins votes in the short term, but we don't yet know whether those high-income voters you will find any Saturday morning, sipping their lattes in the electorate of Griffith, represented by Kevin Rudd, will harbour future resentment.

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Research sponsored by the Local Government Association of Queensland. First published in The Courier-Mail on April 1, 2009.

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About the Author

John Black is a former Labor Party senator and chief executive of Australian Development Strategies.

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