The Queensland election is imminent. The general mantra from the big parties is to beware of minority government. Both Labor and the Liberal National Party will pitch for a majority government. But one group of voters may have other ideas.
Central Queensland, the coastal stretch from Maryborough to Mackay, is almost certainly key to the formation of the next Queensland government. The Sky News Reachtel poll has One Nation resurgent on 18 per cent but, crucially, its preferences favour the LNP. The two-party preferred vote is 52-48 per cent in favour of the LNP. Other polls favour Labor, but all point towards a close contest. Given the LNP could lose some seats to One Nation and be unable to govern in its own right, it encourages co-operation with One Nation in a contest against Labor in their marginals as a means of denying Labor government.
It is inconceivable that Labor would govern with the support of One Nation. So unless Labor wins a majority, the LNP will likely form a government with the support of One Nation, either in preferences or seats.
Minority parties rarely win seats in single-member electorates, especially on a preferential vote system where the big parties gang up: the precise scenario that kept Pauline Hanson out of the state parliament on a previous occasion. Typically, small parties squeeze through in multi-member electorates or first-past-the-post single-member electoral systems.
Polling suggests preferences between LNP and One Nation could make Labor marginals in regional Queensland, in particular central Queensland, vulnerable.
Although there will be no statewide preference deal between the LNP and One Nation, it is likely that there will be deals in key seats. A tight preference swap will see Labor seats fall to the LNP or One Nation.
The three-way contest in some seats is in play because of polling in particular seats and the close vote across the state, and because tight contests are concentrated in a region facing common challenges. The key is the distribution of the most vulnerable seats, and central Queensland has a cluster.
The Labor-held seats of Bundaberg, Maryborough, Mirani and Keppel are vulnerable to One Nation.
A plausible scenario is that central Queensland voters will grasp a rare opportunity to hold the balance of power.
Voters in central Queensland may well conclude that a majority Labor or LNP government would maintain the region as a flyover zone, a void between Brisbane and its coastal population and Townsville, the de facto capital of north Queensland, with its Cowboys, footy stadium, army base and public servants.
Voters in central Queensland may well conclude that strategic voting for One Nation would deliver substantial returns to central Queensland.
Labor wants to throw money it does not have at the Cross River Rail project for the Brisbane electorate, the LNP wants to throw money it does not have at duplicating freeways to the coasts, and One Nation wants the same money spent in the regions.
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