QUEENSLAND voters will head to the polls on January 31 after Premier Campbell Newman’s decision to call a surprise state election earlier today.
Newman met with Queensland’s acting Governor, Chief Justice Tim Carmody this morning to dissolve parliament and set a snap election date for the end of the month, in what is anticipated to be a contentious three-and-a-half week election campaign.
The state’s LGBTI community have also been recipients of some government-led initiatives or controversial decisions.
The decision to scale back state-sanctioned civil unions – introduced by Labor – to “registered relationships” almost as soon as it came into power caused uproar in the LGBTI community.
Meanwhile, the decision to strip funding of Queensland AIDS Council added to the controversy – although Queensland Positive People continued to receive funding and in November 2013, HIV Foundation Queensland was established.
Plans to criminalise same-sex altruistic surrogacy that were later shelved, along with the majority-closure of the state’s largest HIV and STI health clinic, Biala, have also also caused concern within the LGBTI community.
However, the government voted down legislation proposed by Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) – backed by the Australian Christian Lobby – that would have placed restrictions on outdoor advertising and could have banned safe-sex and LGBTI-positive campaigns.
Brisbane Pride Festival (BPF) was also the recipient of a funding grant care of the Attorney-General’s department in the lead up to the 2014 festival in September.
In addition, despite a shaky start at first, plans are underway to expunge historic consensual gay sex criminal convictions following community consultation with the Attorney-General.
BPF president and Queensland University of Technology senior law lecturer Peter Black said while the economy would likely be at the forefront of the campaign, he urged voters to consider issues vital to the LGBTI community.
“There are issues that are important to the LGBTI community and its supporters which could be crucial to the result in several inner-city seats,” Black told the Star Observer.
“The expungement of historic gay sex convictions is one issue that will hopefully receive bipartisan support, with the LNP having already begun to consult with the LGBTI community over law reform in this area.
“I would also hope we see support from some (or all) of the parties in relation to the removal of the ‘gay panic’ defence, equalising the age of consent, and altruistic surrogacy for LGBTI people.”
Black acknowledged that the LNP would have to work to win over many LGBTI voters given some unpopular policy decisions.
“Of course, for many in the LGBTI community, the LNP will struggle to overcome some of the policy decisions it made early in its term, especially in relation to civil partnerships and HIV/AIDS funding,” he said.
“As such, there is a risk that the other parties will feel they don’t need to make policy commitments to the LGBTI community.
“As a community, we need to talk to the candidates and encourage them to develop LGBTI policies that support our rights, promote equality and tolerance, and provide for ongoing, meaningful consultation with the LGBTI community into the future.”
Allowing “gay conversion” therapies that are readily available throughout the state to continue, and the future direction of HIV treatment and testing may also emerge as matters for the major parties to consider.
Over its two-and-a-half years in power, the government lost two seats to Labor through by-elections and five LNP MPs left the party, either to defect to the Palmer United Party and KAP or to resign.
The LNP has also endured a steady decline in two-party-preferred polling and an increase in voter dissatisfaction in the Premier.
The state Labor Opposition is led by the relatively-unknown Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has managed to achieve a fairly equal footing with Newman in preferred-Premier polling.
Despite winning a record 78 out of 89 seats – a swing of 17 per cent– and leaving the Opposition with just seven seats, Labor and the LNP have been neck-and-neck in recent two-party preferred polls.
Even if the LNP return to power, there has been speculation that the Premier would fail to secure his seat of Ashgrove, an electorate he famously won from outside of parliament in 2012. The government has not yet commented on this possibility and what their alternative plans would be.
The Premier has cited economic reasons behind the sudden call for the election, saying that months of speculation about a later election date would have dragged down the Queensland economy.