Australia's ruling center left party, Labor, is on notice.
A devastating defeat of its party at a state level — in a weekend election held in Queensland — has sent Prime Minister Julia Gillard a strong message: a large number of Australians are unhappy with their political leadership.
Queenslanders didn't just vote out the party — they obliterated it, leaving the opposition Liberal National Party poised to take 78 seats in an 89-seat Parliament, once all votes are counted.
And Labor may only end with six of those remaining seats, with the rest going to independents and a third political party newly formed before the election, named Katter's Australian Party.
"On the plus side, ALP can car pool now," tweeted one wit, Winnie Lau. "This isn't a swing, it's an entire playground set," Gemma Jones quipped.
The result demonstrated many things about Australian voters — and as a percentage of the population, there are many of them, with voting compulsory for all adults aged 18 and over.
Among the messages sent to Labor politicians everywhere is that even the most ardent followers of the party — traditionally blue-collar workers, lower-income families and young people — can, and will, change habits of a lifetime to get rid of underperforming or untrustworthy representatives.
(One of the biggest criticisms of the outgoing leader Anna Bligh was that she sold off state assets to private interests after vowing not to do so, and without consulting those who elected her. Gillard, too, has been accused of dishonesty — over the issue of a controversial carbon tax.)
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What makes the situation gloomier still for Labor, however, is national polling showing that — a year out from national elections — voters throughout the country are as disillusioned with the Australian Labor Party as Queensland voters were with the state branch of the same party.
According to the Fairfax press, a Newspoll conducted late last year suggested Labor’s federal support in Queensland was at a lowly 29 percent. Labor's primary vote in Saturday's election (that is, the number of people choosing Labor first at the ballot box, rather than the Greens or an independent who then gave the vote to Labor via a system of "preferences") was around 27 percent.
Bligh was quoted by the Australian Associated Press as admitting as much herself:
"There is a message in this result for Labor generally and Labor at all levels of government. We simply can't walk away from the fact that we've seen results similar to this in other states of Australia. It's tough times for Labor."
The Twittersphere added its two cents:
"Anna Bligh quits politics in wake of crushing defeat. I hope that's what Gillard does," tweeted Chris Morris (@MrDenorris)
"This is what you get when you say one thing before election and do exact opposite after. Carbon tax will have same impact on Julia Gillard," posted Mathias Cormann (@MathiasCormann).
Queensland Labor's election loss comes a year after a similar humiliating defeat for Labor in the most populous Australian state, New South Wales, and after lost elections in Victoria and Western Australia.
Four of the six state leaders are now conservatives.
Bligh fell on her sword, announcing her resignation not just from office but from politics, perhaps having been reminded one too many times since yesterday that this was her party's single biggest electoral defeat in Australian history.
"The size of the loss, the loudness and clarity of the message sent by the people of Queensland is unmistakable, she told reporters. "In fairness to Queenslanders I don't believe I should ignore it."