Australia’s ruling Labor party is reeling from a devastating loss in a state election in Queensland, increasing the pressure of Julia Gillard, the prime minister.
The extent of the loss – which left Labor with just seven seats, down from 51 – surprised Ms Gillard, who pledged to listen to the message from the state’s electorate.
The outgoing premier, Anna Bligh, who was the first woman to win an election in Australia at state or federal level and was widely hailed for her leadership during last year’s flood crisis, stepped down as leader and is resigning from parliament.
“This result is absolutely shattering for the Australian Labor Party,” she said. “This is much more than a loss – it is without doubt a devastating defeat.”
The loss was seen by analysts as a worrying sign for Ms Gillard, particularly as both she and Ms Bligh are women leaders who have been seen – rightly or wrongly – as untrustworthy. Ms Gillard has struggled to explain her decision to breach an election pledge not to introduce a carbon tax, while Ms Bligh did not reveal a plan to sell state assets.
“The pounding [Bligh] got should terrify Gillard, who has been stalked by the ‘trust’ issue from the start,” said Michelle Grattan, a political commentator, in The Age. “How does Labor rejuvenate its brand and convince people it stands for something? How does it rebuild trust in Gillard, so that issue is not as lethal for her as for Bligh?”
Labor’s defeat in Queensland also marks a stunning reversal for the nation’s conservative parties, which had been reduced to virtual irrelevance after the election of Kevin Rudd as prime minister in 2007.
Labor held all state governments and the most powerful elected conservative in Australia was the little-known Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman.
Now, Mr Newman has been elected Premier with a 16 per cent swing, joining three other states to have dumped Labor in the past four years. At a federal level, the Coalition led by Tony Abbott is comfortably ahead in the polls.
Ms Gillard and Labor officials have insisted the Queensland election had been fought on state issues and the loss was due to the state party’s long hold on power. It had governed the state for 20 of the past 22 years.
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