Australians, finally able to rejoice at the demise of the hated Howard government, can count themselves lucky that the Queensland Labor Government's undemocratic local government amalgamations program enacted at the behest of the Property Council of Australia did not fatally undermine Federal Labor's election campaign in Queensland as had been feared earlier earlier by Margo Kingston amongst others.
In the early stages federal Labor Leader Kevin Rudd did publicly oppose the forced amalgamations and correctly supported Prime Minister John Howard's Federal legislation#fn1">1 to over-ride the now infamous Queensland Government's legislation under which councils which attempted to consult their communities about the amalgamations through ballots could have been dismissed and under which any councillor who even voted in favour of any motions enabling such ballots could have been fined.
In spite of Rudd's support public distancing of himself from the Queensland Government the "Friends of Noosa", opposed to the forcible amalagamation of the Noosa Shire Council into the Greater Sunshine Coast council, launched a "Dump Labor" campaign in early September 2007 which featured demonstrations in which effigies of Rudd, as well as Beattie, were put in a bin. A large hoarding on a major road on the northern approach to Brisbane also featured the "Dump Labor" slogan.
Had they succeeded and returned a Howard Government this could have paradoxically, been counterproductive to their stated goals. State Labor governments, including the Queensland Beattie Labor Government have been notorious for their undermining the electoral prospects of Federal Labor in order to serve their own cynical survival strategies#fn2">2. This is because the state parliament election dates have tended to occur near the middle of the three year Federal parliamentary election cycle, when the Howard Government had felt most immune from popular opposition. At these moments, when the Howard had chosen to inflict his nastiest policies upon the Australian public, state Labour governments have been able to exploit the resultant public backlashes in order to be able to cling to office themselves. Thus, former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks was re-elected in 2006 in spite of breaking a 2002 election promise to build a freeway, instead deciding to have a privately operated tollway built. The unpopular New South Wales state Labor Government of Morris Iemma was re-elected in March 2007 largely as a result of a backlash against Howard Government's "Work Choices", even though the Government in which he was a minister under the leadership of former Premier Bob Carr helped bring about "Work Choices" by undermining Mark Latham's election chances in 2004.
Given all of this there would have been little reason to suppose that either Premier Peter Beattie or his successor Anna Bligh would have been concerned in the least by the "Dump Labor" campaign.
As the election date drew closer other leaders of the anti-amalgamation movement appealed to Kevin Rudd for his public support. Had he done so, there would have been every reason to expect that the Queensland Government would have have been forced to abandon the amalgamations. However, he did not, even ignoring appeals for him to do so contained in full paid advertisements from the "Local Democracy" group (one partially in Chinese in which Rudd is fluent) published in the Courier Mail prior to the elections. Predictably, at least two large advertisements which called on Queenslanders to vote against Federal Labor were published in the Courier Mail in the last week before the election.
However, Rudd's gamble appears not to have backfired against Federal Labor and the appeals of the anti-amalagamation movement to vote against Labor went largely unheeded by Queenslanders, most fortunately for both Queensland and the rest of Australia. There was a 8.31% swing against the coalition in Queensland (as of 3.45pm AEDST) giving Labor 51.22% of the vote on a two-party preferred basis.
Whatever the reason for the high vote for Federal Labor may be, Queenslanders, opposed to the Howard Government, who may have objected to the anti-Labor campaign, would be ill-advised to turn their backs on their rural cousins. If the undemocratic amalgamations are not stopped it will eventually harm the interests of ordinary Queenslanders to the benefit of land speculators, property developers#fn3">3 and other powerful vested interests, who at the moment have at least the Queensland Government in their collective pocket, if not the now defunct Federal Liberal Government.
It is important that people vote in the areas living in council areas affected by the amalgamations use Australian Electoral Commissions plebiscites, scheduled to begin on 26 November with the mail-out of postal ballots, to make their opposition to amalgamations emphatically clear.
Furthermore, if the democracy is to have any real content in this state the Queensland Government must be made to accept the outcomes of these plebiscites and, if necessary reverse the amalagamations now underway.
#fn1" id="fn1">1. Howard's support for democracy in Queensland stands in stark contrast to his own record in Government and to his own attitude to forced amalagamations in New South Wales and Victoria. See, for example, Media releases by the Indepenendent NSW Federal MP Peter Andren (since deceased) Howard's paper thin hypocrisy on amalgamations and my article Dictatorial Conduct published in Online Opinion on 21 Sep 07.
#fn2" id="fn2">2. This was revealed in the Latham Diaries, with examples of how the Victorian, New South Wales and Tasmanian state Labor governments had acted to harm his own election prospects. Sadly, Mark Latham has, himself, more recently emulated this behaviour which he had so rightly exposed in his own diaries, by turning on Federal Labor in two articles published in the Australian Financial Review (see article Mark Latham's Political Gift to John Howard dated on 19 Nov 2007 on Margo Kingston's web diary).
#fn3" id="fn3">3. See Cate Molloy : Forced council amalgamations planned by Property Council of Australia, 7 Sep 2007
Peter Beattie bent on destruction of Rudd's chances Margo Kingston, 18 Aug 2007
Online Opinion discussion forum: Don't let Peter Beattie save John Howard's political hide 8 Aug 2007
Dictatorial conduct by James Sinnamon, 21 Aug 2007
Queensland's burning - local government amalgamations Beattie-style by Scott Prasser, 27 Sep 2007