15 Queensland

Paul D. Williams

Key terms/names

accountability, country-mindedness, Fitzgerald Inquiry, meta-populism, political culture, populism, regionalism, state chauvinism, unicameralism

Given that Queensland’s 1.85 million square kilometres make the state Australia’s second largest in area, any meaningful analysis of Queensland politics must be made on regional bases.[1] Moreover, given it is also farther from Brisbane to Cairns than it is from Brisbane to Melbourne, it is unsurprising scholars have argued a ‘two Queenslands’ thesis that divides the state into ‘coast versus inland’[2] or, more commonly, between ‘Brisbane and the bush’.[3] It has been argued elsewhere, however, that Queensland’s economic, political and cultural variations are far more nuanced, and that a ‘six Queenslands’ model is required for more meaningful analysis.[4] Queensland’s population surpassed five million in May 2018, to make the state Australia’s third most populous. Queensland’s capital city houses 2.4 million people and it is the nation’s third most populous city.[5] Brisbane, Australia’s largest local government authority since 1924, is just one of 77 councils and shires – down from 156 in 2007 – comprising local government under state control. The fact that more Queenslanders live outside their capital city than within it – the only Australian mainland state where this occurs – indicates the power of Queensland’s regions. More often, however, Queensland is anecdotally referred to as a state divided between the two-thirds of residents who live in the state’s ‘southeast’ and the one-third who reside in the ‘rest’ of the state.[6]

Political culture and populism

While each of Australia’s states and territories enjoys its own political culture, it has been argued that Queensland’s varies from the norm more than any other Australian state, largely due to its regionally centred industries, heavily decentralised population and huge variations in topography, climate and natural resources.[7]

It has been further argued that ‘populism’ – a political movement that mobilises a ‘common people’ against a vilified ‘elite’ – sits at the core of Queensland political culture. Populist leaders – notable Queensland examples include William Forgan Smith, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Bob Katter Jr, Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer – harness support by appealing directly to (often less educated) voters who, usually located in the regions, regard themselves as ‘outsiders’ who feel ‘dispossessed by technology or other social or economic change’.[8]

Queensland’s special brand of populist political culture consists of five mutually reinforcing elements: strong (often authoritarian) leadership that allows premiers to dominate party, Cabinet, parliament and public opinion; political pragmatism (from bypassing due process to policy flexibility); regionalism (appealing to the ‘country-mindedness’[9] of rural Queensland); state development (a mission to develop Queensland’s wilderness); and a state ‘chauvinism’ that asserts Queensland’s economic, cultural and moral difference from other jurisdictions.[10]

Moreover, as increasingly better educated Queenslanders become aware of these populist appeals – and as leaders become increasingly self-aware of the electorate’s own cognisance – these mantras, in turn, have evolved into a ‘meta-populism’, whereby leaders engage in populism to the point that all stakeholders – leaders, media and voters – accept this leadership style as part and parcel of ‘doing’ politics in Queensland. In this sense, meta-populism has extended the life of traditional populism far beyond that normally expected in an increasingly educated electorate.[11]

Queensland’s historical themes

Queensland’s populism is a function of at least seven core themes that have come to define the state’s history. These are: a heavy emphasis on regionalism borne from the dominant primary industries of pastoralism, agriculture and mining; a propensity to pit one group against another for base political gain; a propensity to re-elect, often for decades on end, strong governments with huge parliamentary majorities to create ‘electoral hegemonies’;[12] the mission to pragmatically develop the tabula rasa[13] (or ‘blank slate’) of the state’s regions; a propensity for governments to manipulate the checks and balances on executive power;[14] a tendency for Queensland politics to polarise into extremism, from Labor’s early state socialism on the left to One Nation’s reactionary conservatism on the right; and, last, Queenslanders’ longstanding support for the public ownership of state assets.[15]

Periodising Queensland history

Indigenous Queensland

It is vital to distinguish Aboriginal Australians – who have occupied that part of the continent now known as Queensland for at least 50,000 years – from Torres Strait Islander peoples. Collectively, Indigenous Australians comprise 4 per cent of the state’s population (90 per cent of whom identify as Aboriginal, 6 per cent as Torres Strait Islander, and 4 per cent as both), with wide variations in language and culture evident. As with other Australian colonies, pioneering farmers’ poor relations with Indigenous peoples, sometimes culminating in violence and murder, remain a stain on early European settlement.[16]

The ‘pre-party’ period, 1860 to 1890

After separation from New South Wales in 1859, Queensland’s ‘pre-party’ period (1860 to 1890), saw MPs elected as independents without party affiliation, but almost always on the converged political interests of rural and urban capital under loosely defined labels of ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. Consequently, MPs frequently ‘crossed the floor’ as governments rose and fell with alacrity. Between 1860 and 1890, for example, Queensland saw 14 discrete premierships.

Table 1 Queensland premiers, first period, 1859–1890.
Source: University of Western Australia n.d.




Robert Herbert



Arthur McAlister



Robert Herbert



Arthur McAlister



Robert Mackenzie



Charles Lilley



Arthur Palmer



Arthur McAlister



George Thorn



John Douglas



Thomas McIlwraith



Samuel Griffith



Thomas McIlwraith



Boyd Morehead



‘Proto-party’ period, 1890 to 1910

A second ‘proto-party’ period (1890 to 1910) saw the major parties find early form without modern definition. This period was dominated by the ‘Continuous Ministry’ that saw the conservative McIlwraith and the liberal Griffith unite to create a powerful proto-party – the ‘Griffilwraith’ arrangement.[17] Interrupted by the short-lived Dawson Labor government in 1899,[18] the Continuous Ministry endured until 1903. In 1908, the dissident Labor premier William Kidston ‘fused’ with Robert Philp to form the first Liberal Party to produce the state’s first two-party system.

Table 2 Queensland premiers, second period, 1890–1911.
Source: University of Western Australia n.d.




Samuel Griffith



Thomas McIlwraith



Hugh Nelson



Thomas Byrnes



James Dickson



Anderson Dawson



Robert Philp



Arthur Morgan



William Kidston



Robert Philp



William Kidston



‘Pre-Fitzgerald party’ period, 1910 to 1990

The landmark 1989 Fitzgerald Inquiry into police and government corruption in Queensland (1987–89) proved so traumatic that its recommendations to completely overhaul the state’s political, electoral and public administration institutions have cleaved the state’s history between a ‘pre-accountability’ period before 1990 and a ‘post-accountability’ period since. Consequently, we can describe Queensland’s third political phase as a ‘pre-Fitzgerald party’ period (1910 to 1990) that saw the major parties emerge as mass-based professional organisations capable of stable, long-term government and, critically, enormous power with few checks and balances. This phenomenon of executives dominating parliaments was exacerbated after the abolition of the Legislative Council in 1922.

This period saw just two electoral ‘hegemonies’: Labor from 1915 to 1957 (with a single interruption 1929–32) and the Coalition from 1957 to 1989. Labor, under the governments of T.J. Ryan[19] and Edward ‘Red Ted’ Theodore,[20] found early support by bridging urban and regional interests in, for example, the establishment of the eight-hour day and compensation for injured workers. Indeed, Labor practised a form of ‘state socialism’ in the early part of the period when state-owned sugar refineries, butcher shops, hotels and even an insurance company were founded.[21]

This created something of a bipolarity within early Labor governments: while administering progressive, even radical, economic policies – Queensland was described as the ‘Red North’[22] – premiers exercised socially conservative, and often authoritarian, leadership. The premiership of Ned Hanlon (1946–52) is a case in point: Hanlon established the much-valued free public hospital system and, conversely, took a hard line against striking meat and railway workers.[23] While strong leadership was a key factor in Queensland Labor’s ability to avoid the 1916–17 ‘conscription split’ that engulfed other state branches, division could not be avoided in 1957 when the Labor Party’s organisational wing clashed with another authoritarian premier, Vince Gair, ostensibly over the issue of workers’ leave, but, in reality, over the conservative faction’s fears of communist influence. The resulting split kept Queensland Labor in opposition for 32 years.

By contrast, the Coalition ‘hegemony’, dominated by just two Country (later National) party premiers – ‘Honest’ Frank Nicklin (1957–68) and Joh Bjelke-Petersen (1968–87) – was marked not only by stability but by rapid economic development in the state’s south-east. It also saw the cultivation (via an electoral malapportionment that saw Country Party–voting regional seats with far fewer voters than Labor- and Liberal-voting urban seats) of systemic corruption within senior ranks of police and Cabinet. By the time of Bjelke-Petersen’s premiership in the 1970s, mining had replaced agriculture as the state’s major export sector and Queensland had become synonymous with arch-conservative authoritarian leadership.

Table 3 Queensland premiers, third period, 1911–90.
Source: University of Western Australia n.d.




Digby Denham



T.J. Ryan



Edward ‘Ted’ Theodore



William Gillies



William McCormack



Arthur Moore



William Forgan Smith



Frank Cooper



Ned Hanlon



Vince Gair



Frank Nicklin



Jack Pizzey



Gordon Chalk



Johannes Bjelke-Petersen

Country; National-Country; National


Mike Ahern



Russell Cooper



‘Post-Fitzgerald party’ period, 1990 to present

The state’s fourth era, a ‘post-Fitzgerald party’ period (1990 to present), has seen the major parties continue to dominate politics – with increased competition from minor players – but within the constraints of such key institutions as an independent Crime and Corruption Commission, a non-partisan Electoral Commission, a Right to Information Commissioner, an Integrity Commissioner, an Ombudsman, and reformed public service, Cabinet and parliamentary practices. Importantly, this period also saw economic rationalism steer the state into administrative efficiency.[24] Indeed, reforms in agriculture and pastoralism caused such significant economic (and consequently political) dislocation in regional Queensland that populist minor parties were empowered to seize significant vote shares.[25] Given this looming economic backlash, the reformed National–Liberal coalition under Rob Borbidge and Joan Sheldon assumed minority government in 1996.[26] Debilitated by the rise of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) – itself fuelled by regional anger over gun control and the High Court’s Mabo and Wik decisions – Labor returned to (briefly minority, and later majority) government in 1998 under Peter Beattie, whose inclusive populism,[27] affable leadership and ubiquitous media presence[28] complemented his penchant for mea culpa and policy backflip.[29] Indeed, Labor under Beattie in 2001 attained its largest parliamentary majority since 1935.[30] Anna Bligh, succeeding Beattie as Queensland’s first woman premier in 2007, was popular for her handling of the 2011 Queensland floods, but asset privatisation and public policy failures saw Labor suffer its worst ever defeat in 2012.[31] When Annastacia Palaszczuk assumed leadership of the Labor Party most expected that the party would be in opposition for a generation, but the incoming LNP government’s own privatisation policies and an unpopular leader in Campbell Newman saw the LNP defeated after a single term.[32] Palaszczuk’s Labor Party won government in its own right in 2017, largely on voters’ fears of political instability in any LNP–PHON coalition.[33]

Table 4 Queensland premiers, fourth period, 1990–present.
Source: University of Western Australia n.d.




Wayne Goss



Rob Borbidge



Peter Beattie



Anna Bligh



Campbell Newman



Annastacia Palaszczuk



Key institutions and actors

Queensland’s political parties grew organically from local industrial bases. Pastoralism, Queensland’s first industry, nurtured a wealthy ‘squattocracy’[34] that dominated parliament and government, and later comprised the core of the first Country Party. Agriculture, the colony’s second industry, in turn created a smaller rural middle class unique to Queensland. Many agriculturalists – often reliant on government infrastructure – gravitated to late 19th-century social liberalism and would later comprise the early Liberal parties.[35] A small but more traditional middle class also developed among professionals and business owners in urban centres and that, too, gravitated to the Liberals. With the discovery of gold in Queensland in the 1860s, mining soon comprised Queensland’s third industry and, as elsewhere, miners often looked for more radical political solutions.[36] Farm labourers in the bush and industrial workers in the city were, however, the core of Queensland’s working class.[37]

Australian Labor Party

Queensland Labor governed Queensland for 75 of the 110 years between 1910 and 2020 and, consequently, has been labelled Queensland’s ‘natural party of government’.[38] Trade unions became legal in Queensland only in 1886 and therefore took root later than in other colonies. Despite this, the first Trades and Labour Council was soon formed to represent workers industrially and, later, to nominate ‘labour’ candidates for election. By 1889 the Australian Labour Federation (ALF) was established, but the monumental shearers’ and maritime strikes of 1890–91 – called to fight falling wages in the teeth of looming economic depression – depleted ALF resources. After the strikes failed to achieve desired outcomes, workers established a new Australian Labor Party in Barcaldine, western Queensland, to sponsor trade union candidates who could change industrial laws from within the parliament.[39]

Labor remains a ‘labourist’ party based on trade union membership – the Australian Workers’ Union (formed by sheep shearers) has comprised a key powerbase within Queensland Labor for more than a century – and has enjoyed enormous success for several reasons, including strong populist leadership, balancing urban and regional interests, a comprehensive branch structure, close union affiliation and support, delivery of social services, and a commitment to the ownership of public assets. Since 1989, Labor’s success has also been found in its ability to manage internal dissent through an organised factional system. Prior to 1980, Queensland Labor resembled a blue-collar trade unionist clique that, prone to internecine warfare under Trades Hall control, proved electorally unappealing. After federal Labor removed this cabal and introduced internal democratic practices, a transparent ‘consociational’ (formal power-sharing) factional system developed where the conservative ‘Old Guard’ (now Labor Unity) would share power with the right-leaning Australian Workers’ Union (now Labor Forum) and the Socialist Left.[40] Labor Forum proved the strongest faction between 1989 and 2012; since 2015 the Socialist Left has controlled both caucus and Cabinet. Consequently, women, middle-class white-collar workers and migrants joined the party in significant numbers. Labor today demands at least 40 per cent of its candidates should be women, and aspires to have 50 per cent women MPs by 2025.

National Party

The conservative National Party owed much of its heritage to 19th-century pastoralists, with Thomas McIlwraith as arguably the party’s spiritual father. But the party itself began life – as Labor did – as a sectional pressure group designed to enhance members’ conditions. Faced with a growing Brisbane ‘liberal’ faction in the Ministerialists, a few farmers in 1895 formed a Farmers’ Union ‘to watch over, encourage, and endeavour to develop agricultural interests’.[41] By 1902, the organisation had unsuccessfully contested elections; most farmers remained loyal to the Ministerialists. By 1909 the Farmers’ Parliamentary Union had formed, then reformed in 1913 into the Country Liberal Party (CLP), and again into the more successful Country Party in 1920.

Wearied by successive defeats by Labor through a splitting of support between Country and Nationalist (Liberal) candidates, the two non-Labor parties merged into a single Country and Progressive National Party (CPNP) in 1925. After winning government in 1929, the CPNP was despatched to opposition after a single term in 1932, and dissolved in 1935. The revived Country Party, anxious to modernise its image and capture urban votes, became the National–Country Party in 1974, and the National Party in 1982. The transformation worked: the National Party (now known colloquially as ‘The Nationals’) under Joh Bjelke-Petersen – who married rural agrarianism to urban development while exercising authoritarian leadership under a law-and-order mantra – won government in its own right at the 1983 and 1986 elections.[42]

Part of the National Party’s success during those years lay in its organisational wing’s power – less than Labor’s but exceeding the Liberals’ – to set party policy and direct MPs. The Nationals lost the electorate’s confidence after 1987, however, as Bjelke-Petersen embarked on an ill-conceived campaign to become prime minister, and after the Fitzgerald Inquiry revealed widespread government corruption. Forming government only briefly with the Liberals (1996–98), the Nationals struggled for both credibility and identity and, in 2008, dissolved.

Liberal Party

The Queensland Liberal Party owed its heritage to a rural (agriculturalist) and smaller urban (business and professional) middle class, with Samuel Griffith a guiding force. Long before formal organisation, however, numerous MPs adopted an ill-defined ‘liberal’ label despite sharing many ‘conservative’ values. Liberals and conservatives pragmatically set aside their difference in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to form the ‘Ministerialists’. But, by 1909, progressives had merged with Labor defectors to assume the name ‘Liberal’ and, in 1917, ‘Nationalist’. By 1923 the party had become the Queensland United Party, and in 1925 renamed again when merging with the Country Party to become the CPNP. After dissolution it became the Queensland People’s Party in 1943, and the Liberal Party in 1949, and remained in opposition as junior coalition partner with the Country Party until 1957. Hampered by the zonal electoral system that benefitted the Country (National) Party, the Liberals also suffered from Queensland’s absence of a manufacturing sector that would have bolstered the urban middle class. Only as Liberal-voting migrants from southern states resettled in Queensland did party support reach critical mass, despite the Liberals being often accused of meekly acquiescing to the Nationals’ authoritarianism.[43] When progressive Liberals demanded the Nationals install key accountability reforms, Bjelke-Petersen acrimoniously ended the coalition in 1983.

Liberal–National Party, 2008–present

Confounded by repeated defeats at Labor’s hands during the Beattie era – and concerned that dwindling rural populations would eventually extinguish the need for a stand-alone National Party – the then Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg united the Liberal and National parties under a single constitution in 2008. The LNP – technically a branch of the federal Liberal Party – enjoyed limited success in 2009 before winning in 2012 what was, to that point, the largest parliamentary majority in Australian history. The party lost the 2015 election, and the loss of 16 percentage points in primary vote between 2012 and 2017, and its easy defeat at the 2020 ‘COVID-19’ election, have prompted calls for the party’s dissolution.

Queensland Greens

The Queensland Greens – drawn from the Brisbane Green Party founded in 1984 – were formed in 1991 as a party dedicated to ‘non-violence, social justice, grassroots democracy [and] ecological sustainability’.[44] Initially slow to find traction in a conservative state committed to development and the extractive (especially coal) industries,[45] the Queensland Greens now poll 10 per cent of the state primary vote (and much higher in inner Brisbane), have enjoyed Senate representation since 2010, and saw their first state MP elected in 2017 and a second in 2020. The Greens’ commitment to internal democracy sees leaders elected – and major policy questions settled – by postal ballot among all branch members.[46]

Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON)

The economic rationalism of the 1990s placed much of Queensland’s regional and rural population under pressure. Additional fears over Indigenous rights and gun control – and the National Party that many saw as abandoning traditional Country Party values – created a vacuum on the right of Queensland politics that was filled in 1997 by PHON. Hanson, whom the Liberal party disendorsed shortly before before the 1996 federal election for alleged racism – and who would go on to win her seat of Oxley as an independent – galvanised the fears of regional and urban fringe ‘outsiders’ who felt Coalition and Labor governments each pandered to ‘elites’ and ‘special’ interests. PHON was immediately successful in winning almost 23 per cent of the primary vote and 11 seats at the 1998 Queensland election. But party unity and a coherent ideology proved elusive for the fledgling party and, within a year, all sitting MPs had resigned from PHON.[47] With Hanson and her senior advisers accused of undemocratic leadership, party support collapsed and PHON all but disappeared. Amidst more recent debates over (Muslim) immigration, PHON support returned,[48] but the party’s poor result at the 2020 state election again saw speculation of its imminent demise.


Minor and micro parties play an increasingly critical role in Queensland politics at a time when voters feel established parties no longer represent constituents’ needs. Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) – like PHON – is a populist, anti-free-trade party that increased its vote at the 2017 Queensland election. Other recent, now defunct, right-wing micro parties include the Confederate Action Party, the Citizens’ Electoral Council and the City–Country Alliance. The centrist Australian Democrats, the conservative Family First and the single-issue Daylight Saving for South East Queensland (DS4SEQ) are also recent parties, while the Palmer United Party (renamed the United Australia Party in 2018) contested the 2019 federal election without winning a single Senate or House of Representatives seat, and the 2020 state election where its vote fell well short of expectations. Independent candidates have also enjoyed recent support, with Liz Cunningham (Gladstone) and Peter Wellington (Nicklin) sharing the balance of power in recent hung parliaments.


The Queensland parliament, comprised of a single Legislative Assembly chamber, is unique among Australian states.[49] Critically, Queensland’s unicameral status since the abolition of the Legislative Council in 1922 has arguably facilitated authoritarian leaders and undemocratic practices, and compromised the checks and balances of public accountability to produce in the 20th-century systemic institutional corruption. The Council was abolished by Labor partly because of its inherently undemocratic nature – councillors were not elected but appointed, for life, by the governor on the advice of the premier; Labor was also pragmatically committed to abolishing a Council that consisted almost entirely of wealthy, conservative pastoralists who frustrated most of Labor’s reforms. Premier Theodore eventually flooded the Council with his own sympathetic councillors, who, in early 1922, immediately passed Labor’s abolition Bill.[50] A referendum is constitutionally required to reinstate the Legislative Council but, despite minor parties occasionally proposing the idea, strong opposition from the major parties and the public make restoration improbable. Despite this, it can be argued that the absence of a Queensland upper house has produced the most powerful Cabinet system in Australia, and the weakest parliament; lawmaking in Queensland is therefore more a function of Cabinet than of parliament.

Notwithstanding the above, Queensland’s post-Fitzgerald parliament is hardly recognisable from that before 1990. Before the late 1980s, Queensland’s few parliamentary committees performed only mundane domestic tasks;[51] only after the Fitzgerald reforms did Queensland gain such powerful instruments as scrutiny of legislation committees, budget estimates committees, a public works committee, a public accounts committee and an ethics committee. But even those committees do not function as intended: governments enjoy majorities on committees, thus compromising any claim to objective scrutiny. Question time is also controlled, as government MPs ask soft and contrived ‘Dorothy Dixer’ questions. In 2016 the Legislative Assembly was increased from 89 MPs to 93.

Premier and Cabinet

Ideally, the Legislative Assembly will check Cabinet’s authority but, in reality, the absence of a Legislative Council gives Queensland’s Cabinet enormous powers, limited somewhat after 1990 by various anti-corruption commissions, parliamentary committees and freedom of information requirements. Even so, Cabinet remains the ‘engine room of government’.[52] Until 2014, Labor Cabinets were elected by caucus ballot, with portfolios allocated by the premier. Since then, Labor premiers have handpicked their ministers. But both Labor and LNP premiers must ensure Cabinet reflects a balance between women and men, youth and experience, ideology (in Labor’s case, factional representation proportional to caucus representation) and geographic location.[53] The size of Cabinet is entirely the premier’s prerogative – the opposition leader will appoint the same number of ‘shadow’ ministers as portfolio ‘spokespersons’ – and, in recent years, ‘assistant ministers’ have also been appointed to create a broader frontbench. While the collective ministerial convention obliging the entire Cabinet to resign after a loss of lower house confidence is today unknown but not extinct, individual ministerial responsibility is upheld – often reluctantly – with ministers required to resign for policy or personal failings.

Much of Cabinet’s work is done by Cabinet subcommittees, with the Cabinet Budget Review Committee (comprising the premier, treasurer and two other senior ministers) the most important. While the power of premiers is today theoretically constrained, in reality an electorally popular premier can exercise enormous influence over party, policy and public debate.

Public service

Queensland’s public service remains committed to the Northcote-Trevelyan principles of 1854 that require permanent and politically neutral officers to offer sound advice to create a ‘high performing, impartial and productive workforce that puts the people of Queensland first’.[54] Notwithstanding this, Queensland’s public service, like other states’, has seen since the 1980s a degree of politicisation at its most senior levels. In short, governments usually appoint politically sympathetic department heads whose contracts can be terminated after changes of government. This development has been defended as central to developing a more cost-effective and business-like organisation responsive to rapidly changing policy environments. But politicised senior executives are arguably compromised in their ability to deliver genuinely ‘free and frank’ advice. The public service is governed by the Public Service Act 2008 (Qld) and overseen by an independent Public Service Commission. Interestingly, despite Queenslanders’ support for public ownership, there is community concern that growth in Queensland’s public service – in 2021 standing at over 242,000 employees with a total wages bill exceeding $27 billion – is excessive.[55]

Electoral system

Queensland’s first election in 1860 was democratic by contemporary world standards but would fail to meet today’s expectations. Despite the adoption of the secret ballot, only property-owning men aged 21 years and over could vote for male-only candidates for the Legislative Assembly’s 26 seats.[56] By 1872, all males over 21 years could vote and, after 1889, MPs were paid.

Queensland has seen governments manipulate electoral systems for significant political advantage that, in turn, has seen electoral hegemonies extend far beyond that normally expected. A Queensland government first manipulated election rules in 1892 when the Continuous Ministry changed the method of voting from ‘first past the post’ (FPTP) – where voters check a box against their favoured candidate, and leave all others blank – to a form of optional preferential voting (OPV) known as ‘contingent voting’ in which voters could number additional candidates, with those ‘preferences’ (if no candidate enjoyed a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one vote) distributed to the two highest scoring candidates. The system is ostensibly more democratic than FPTP as it mitigates the risk of electing candidates with less than half the public’s support. The Continuous Ministry’s motivations, however, were instead driven by a fear of a burgeoning Labor Party splitting conservative support.[57]

Later reforms included the abolition of ‘plural voting’ – where wealthy men could vote in every district in which they owned property – and the enfranchisement of women aged over 21 (both introduced in 1905), and, from 1915, the right for women to stand for election. In 1942, the Cooper Labor government returned the state to FPTP, again to split support between non-Labor parties. In 1949 the Hanlon Labor government legislated the first zonal electoral system – a malapportionment commonly but incorrectly referred to as a ‘gerrymander’ – that created additional small rural districts, each with fewer voters than Brisbane seats, ostensibly because they were distant from the state’s capital. Expediently, the zonal system also maximised Labor’s rural support.[58]

In 1958 the coalition Nicklin government introduced its own malapportioned zonal system that advantaged the Country Party over both Labor and the Liberals – the Country Party frequently controlled government with as little as 20 per cent of the primary vote – and, in 1962, introduced compulsory preferential voting (CPV) to ensure the Country and Liberal parties fully benefitted from preference exchanges. Indigenous men and women were enfranchised in Queensland in 1965 – the last state to do so. In 1973, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18. After the Fitzgerald Inquiry found in 1989 that Queensland’s unfair electoral system helped shape an undesirable political culture of authoritarian leadership and a lack of accountability, a temporary Electoral and Administrative Review Committee oversaw a permanent Electoral Commission of Queensland that today serves as an electoral ‘umpire’. Queensland returned to an OPV system and the principle of ‘one vote, one value’,[59] then returned to CPV in 2016. Other significant electoral reforms include strict electoral donation laws: as of 2018, all electoral donations of $1,000 or more must be publicly declared, and property developers are banned as donors. In 2020, the Electoral Act was again amended to include election campaign ‘spending caps’: from 2020, party-endorsed candidates may spend a maximum of $57,000, with parties allowed to spend an additional $92,000 per seat. Independents are allowed to spend maximum of $87,000, while ‘third parties’ such as business groups and trade unions would also be capped at $87,000 per seat, or $1 million overall. From 2022, a $10,000 per term donation cap will also apply. Fixed, four-year terms now see elections scheduled for the last Saturday in October.

Table 5 Queensland election results, primary vote and seat share, 1989–2020.
Source: Electoral Commission of Queensland n.d.
























































































2020 39.6 52 35.9 34 24.5 7

* The 1989 and 1992 elections saw the stand-alone Liberal and National parties compete independently; between 1995 and 2006 the Liberal and National parties contested elections under a formal coalition; the two parties merged into a single Liberal–National Party in 2008. ^ 1992 was the first election conducted on fair boundaries without a zonal system. ¥ The 1995 election saw Labor win 45 seats to the Coalition’s 44, with the Court of Disputed Returns later overturning the Mundingburra result; the subsequent 1996 re-election saw the Liberals win; the Goss government resigned in February, 1996. # One Nation’s 22.7 per cent and 11 seats comprised most of the ‘Other’ vote in 1998; ± Katter’s Australian Party (11.5 per cent and two seats) comprised most of the ‘Other’ vote in 2012.

** The 2017 and 2020 elections were for 93 seats.

Conclusions: plus ça change – major issues in Queensland, then and now

The history and nature of Queensland politics evokes the adage plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – the more things change, the more they stay the same – perhaps more than any other Australian polity. After almost two centuries of European settlement, 160 years of self-government and three decades of post-Fitzgerald reform, much has changed in Queensland. But so much more remains the same. While accountability initiatives since 1990 have wholly transformed many of the state’s Cabinet, parliamentary, public service and electoral practices, unchanging industrial and social forces suggest the state’s political culture has only partially transformed. A predilection towards populism, strong leadership, regionalism, state development and parochial state chauvinism, for example, all remain key hallmarks of Queensland politics, largely because pastoralism, agriculture and mining still dominate a state economy underpinned by a heavily decentralised population – with educational standards often below the national average – living far from the state capital. In that sense, much of Queensland politics remains the conservative politics of regional materialism and not the liberal politics of urban idealism. Despite this, a rapidly transforming southeast – home to two-thirds of the state’s population – has produced in the past 30 years a distinctive political subculture that boasts an increasingly multicultural and cosmopolitan set of values. Problematically, this development has divided the state even more profoundly along geographic, economic and cultural cleavages, with those divisions now signposting the key policy terrain of 21st-century Queensland.

Such issues include: the capacity of ‘smart’ technologies to replace Queensland’s pastoralism, agriculture and mining; the size of the public sector, the future of state-owned industries and the management of an enormous state debt; to what extent coal will complement renewable energies in Queensland’s energy mix; and whether Queensland – or at least the southeast – should join the rest of eastern Australia in the adoption of summer daylight saving. Queensland politics and political culture are evolving creatures but, for now, Queensland remains different.


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About the author

Dr Paul D. Williams is a senior lecturer in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science, Griffith University, where he teaches politics, journalism and public relations. He has published widely on elections and voting in Australian journals, is a weekly newspaper columnist, and a regular commentator on Queensland state and Australian national politics in the print and electronic media.

  1. Revised by the author in 2021. Williams, Paul D. (2024). Queensland. In Nicholas Barry, Alan Fenna, Zareh Ghazarian, Yvonne Haigh and Diana Perche, eds. Australian politics and policy: 2024. Sydney: Sydney University Press. DOI: 10.30722/sup.9781743329542.
  2. Holmes 1994.
  3. Bowers 1986; Williams 2012a.
  4. Williams 2019.
  5. Population Australia 2018.
  6. Williams 2019.
  7. Smith 1985; Williams 2009.
  8. Canovan 1981; Wear 2008; Williams 2009.
  9. Aitkin 1985.
  10. Williams 2009, 18–29.
  11. Williams 2001a.
  12. Williams 2011; Williams 2004.
  13. Waterson 1990, 139.
  14. Wear 2002.
  15. Williams 2010a, 299.
  16. Evans 2007, 70; Johnston 1988, 79–86.
  17. Joyce 1977, 119.
  18. Fitzgerald 1999.
  19. Murphy 1990.
  20. Fitzgerald 2002.
  21. Fitzgerald 1984, 6–8.
  22. See Menghetti 1981. The fact that Fred Paterson, MLA for Bowen 1944–50, remains the only Communist Party member elected to an Australian parliament suggests descriptions of Queensland as historically ‘conservative’ are misplaced. See Fitzgerald 1997.
  23. Blackmur 1996.
  24. Walker 1995; Wanna 2003.
  25. Leach, Stokes and Ward 2000, 9.
  26. The 1995 Queensland election saw Labor retain government by a single seat. Labor’s result in Mundingburra was later overturned in the Court of Disputed Returns and, after the Liberals won the early 1996 re-election, the Goss government resigned.
  27. Preston 2003; Wanna and Williams 2005.
  28. Wanna and Williams 2005; Williams 2007.
  29. Williams 2005.
  30. Williams 2001b.
  31. Williams 2012b, 643.
  32. Williams 2018a.
  33. Williams 2018b.
  34. Fitzgerald 1982, 125.
  35. Fitzgerald 1982, 125.
  36. Stoodley 1970, 164.
  37. Murphy 1975, 129–215.
  38. Costar 1988.
  39. McMullin 1991, 1–14.
  40. Wanna 2000.
  41. Bernays 1919, 147.
  42. Metcalf 1984.
  43. Fitzgerald, Megarrity and Symons 2009, 177.
  44. Queensland Greens 2019.
  45. Williams 2006.
  46. Queensland Greens 2019.
  47. Six MPs resigned to sit under the newly formed City–Country Alliance; five resigned to sit as independents.
  48. Williams 2018b.
  49. The Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory are also unicameral.
  50. Fitzgerald 2002, 144–5.
  51. Wanna and Arklay 2010, 24.
  52. Scott et al. 2002.
  53. Hughes 1980, 154–99.
  54. Queensland Government n.d.
  55. Williams 2017, 643; Caldwell 2021.
  56. Between 1860 and 1910 Queensland’s Legislative Assembly boasted some multi-member electorates with two, and occasionally three, MPs returned per district.
  57. Hughes 1980, 86.
  58. Knight 2003, 255–6.
  59. Stevens 1993.


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