THAT LABOR — restored unexpectedly (by some) to office in January — could govern only to erase the handiwork of its LNP forebears is unsurprising; that the LNP is incapable of gaining ground on a spiteful, mediocre outfit populated by dubious individuals is unforgivable. The avoidable problems ailing Queensland conservatives are an old, familiar list; their next order of business must be to forever jettison their least successful leader in 60 years.
Readers know that six months after it was elected in the biggest electoral landslide in Queensland political history, this column — to the gleeful ridicule of some in the LNP’s inner sanctum in Brisbane — wrote Campbell Newman’s government off as unlikely to secure re-election on account of the characteristically amateurish behaviour some of its ex-Liberal elements had seen fit to indulge in.
Whilst I tempered my remarks a little during the state election campaign in Queensland at the start of this year, I was nevertheless insistent (and had been for months) that Newman was dead in the water in his inner north-west electorate of Ashgrove, and my article the day before the election — explicitly arguing that the election might well be lost in a swing of 12% or more, and would go right down to the wire either way in an extremely tight finish — remains the most read piece on this site for 2015 in a year readership has grown significantly despite the extreme limitations on my time for writing commentary.
And one day later, as Queenslanders went to the polls, I published a highly qualified and heavily conditional endorsement of the LNP that unambiguously stated that should the LNP (whether re-elected or defeated) use the leadership ballot that was certain to follow the election to restore three-time loser and rural MP Lawrence Springborg as either Premier or opposition leader, then my endorsement of the LNP “should be regarded as void.”
There were good reasons for taking such a stance: and whilst I like Lawrence — you couldn’t not like Lawrence if you’ve ever had anything to do with him — he isn’t the man for the job, he is never going to win a state election for Queensland’s conservatives, and the longer he remains in his present post the likelier it is Labor will be re-elected despite growing evidence it wasn’t fit to hold office in the first place.
And those reasons, it seems, came home to roost yesterday, with the first Newspoll of Queensland voter sentiment since the January election appearing in The Australian; despite the headline that a “small target strategy” had proven a big winner for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, the hard truth is that her Labor government might as well have had a huge bullseye painted on it: but so inept has the LNP onslaught against it been, Labor could have safely gone out and painted such a bullseye on itself.
I’m not going to bog down in the specifics of the poll — readers can peruse the attached article if they choose — but I will just note the 1.9% swing to the ALP Newspoll finds since the election and the 53% two-party standing it translates to (which mirrors other polling during the year, suggesting a 52-48 Labor lead) would, if replicated uniformly at an election, add eight seats to the ALP’s existing 44 in the 89-seat unicameral Parliament to claim a substantial majority and a second term in office.
Of those eight seats, three are in Brisbane — where the LNP now holds just 10 of 36 — with an additional seat on each of the Gold and Sunshine Coasts; the biggest historical criticism I have made of the LNP (and the Coalition before it) is that Queensland conservatives are incapable of winning seats in the south-east of the state, and the way things are going it appears the party is simply reverting to type.
It doesn’t take a genius to spot the source of the problem.
Opposition leader Lawrence Springborg — now heading toward a fourth election as leader unless an intervention is made — is approved of by just 34% of Newspoll’s respondents, with 43% disapproving of the job he’s doing; for a figurehead Queenslanders have known for many years (including passing judgement on him at the 2004, 2006 and 2009 state elections) that 34% approval number is a clear message to give up the game: especially after seven months back in the post.
Frank Nicklin might have lost five elections before eventually profiting from the Labor split in 1957 and winning the ensuing election that year; times have changed, and even if Springborg managed to survive to contest a fourth it is inconceivable that he could win — or make it any further as leader.
This column has repeatedly made the point over the years Palaszczuk has led the ALP that she is a mediocrity; nice enough, but not really cut out for the job of party leader, which only fell her way after her party was almost wiped out in 2012.
Labor itself didn’t believe it would win this year’s election, which is why former Bligh government minister Cameron Dick now sits in Labor’s safest seat of Woodridge; the clear ALP intent was to reinstall Dick in Parliament to lead it from a seat that was almost impossible to lose (although the party gave it a decent shake in 2012, only winning Woodridge on preferences), and however Palaszczuk’s government plays out in the longer run, that reality should be lost on nobody.
Yet on the “preferred Premier” metric, Palaszczuk heads Springborg by a 49-28 margin, and whilst this might be regarded as a “normal” poll setting after a change of government, it needs to be remembered that Queensland is a state with a minority government, and that government houses several alleged miscreants, the antics of any one of whom could easily trigger a by-election that may hypothetically force a change of government on the floor of Parliament.
Viewed this way, Springborg — the so-called “father” of the LNP and a man he and others believe was born to be Premier — ought to be making mincemeat of Palaszczuk.
Instead, Newspoll finds 53% of voters approve of the job she is doing; just 33% do not.
I’ve decided to comment on this today because whichever way you cut it, the LNP has a very big problem that it largely has only itself to blame for; in and around the results of this Newspoll have erupted mutterings that I had been hearing around the traps privately, but which have now been leaked to the press using the Newspoll results to circulate and build public legitimacy around a “let’s get Lawrence” mentality that could be a further blunder into more trouble.
Make no mistake, the LNP should indeed dump Springborg: it should never have restored him as its leader to begin with.
Like anything to do with the Queensland LNP, it is regrettably necessary to say the same thing over, and over, and over again, for the impermeable reason that whatever else the LNP might offer, sound and/or astute political judgement rarely features.
For once, I’m not going to revisit the merits or otherwise of the wisdom of merging the Liberal and National Parties prior to the 2009 state election; for now we’ll leave that alone, although I note that of the 42 LNP MPs currently sitting in George Street, 22 appear to be ex-Liberals (one associate in Brisbane disputes this, saying 24 of them are Liberals) but either way, for the second time ever what was once the Liberal Party has primacy in Queensland conservative politics.
But the point that has to be made — ad nauseum and it seems, ad infinitum — is that whatever the troglodyte ex-Nationals and the spineless, gutless, gormless, clueless ex-Liberals who capitulate to them might think, the days of conservative parties in Queensland storming to victory under the guidance of a rural leader from west of the Great Divide are over.
It’s perfectly simple: no leader from the city, no conservative government in Queensland.
It is impossible to say this often enough, for it seems that whenever anyone in Brisbane who “gets it” lets their guard down, along comes Lawrence Springborg, propelled by the decrepit and politically moribund National Party rump, to “save” the LNP all over again.
It makes for interesting speculation as to who will be leading Queensland’s conservatives in 30 years’ time, but this is beside the point.
Since the abolition of the gerrymander a tick over 20 years ago, south-east Queensland has had a majority of the state’s electorates for the first time; and whilst the other half of the state is no less important, of course, those seats away from the south-east that are winnable by Old Nationals will (phenomena like Pauline Hanson and the Katter party aside) vote for the LNP no matter where its leader comes from.
But the south-east is different: and this is a reality successive generations of politically incompetent Liberals and Nationals in Queensland have ignored, denied, rationalised away or tried to circumvent to their enduring detriment.
There is no longer a gerrymander to “fix” this problem.
Now — confronted by a terrible opinion poll (which validates others) and pushed into a corner by the leaking of the mutterings of mutterers and plotters — the LNP in Queensland is facing a very, very serious leadership crisis indeed.
More or less obliged to act (for the detailed confirmation of Springborg’s planned execution will not go away now, however much they wish it) LNP MPs must now find a viable leadership ticket: the problem is that anyone who’s suitable (and some who aren’t) has been smeared, nobbled, or generally buggered up by their own party, and those who don’t fit that category have something else wrong with them in that their seats are so marginal they might not survive an election.
So it is with Tim Mander, whose Everton electorate sits on a 1.8% margin; hardly what anyone would describe as natural Liberal territory, the LNP hold on Everton would be broken if yesterday’s Newspoll were uniformly repeated at the ballot box.
So it is with Mansfield MP Ian Walker, whose seat is even more marginal than Mander’s and would be lost on a swing of half a percentage point.
Current deputy leader (and former leader) John-Paul Langbroek is apparently slated to get it in the neck in a gruesome double sacrifice with Springborg; already damaged as a leadership prospect by the way he was overthrown to make way for Campbell Newman four years ago, it now appears the LNP is content to render him permanently unviable as a leader by destroying him again now for no better reason than the fact he put his hand up to serve at the same time the idiocy of another Springborg leadership was entertained.
“JP,” as he is universally known, would almost certainly have led the LNP to victory in 2012 and, as I have said before, been a solidly competent — if unspectacular — Premier. On balance of probabilities, the LNP’s re-election prospects would have been better this year with him at the helm.
But never mind that: JP can be dispensed with like a lolly wrapper. It’s just a shame the kids in the candy shop are so hardwired on sugar that they are incapable of any rational thought, let alone the exercise of any credible political smarts.
Perennial joke candidate Fiona Simpson’s name is getting bandied around — presumably by ex-Nationals who, I’m told, regard her as “royalty” owing to who her father was — but those who continue to try to elevate her are wilfully and blissfully blind to the fact that in Brisbane (home to more than a third of the state’s seats) Simpson is regarded as a wowser, a God botherer, a frump, and an utter turn-off.
(I should note for the record I don’t necessarily think that of her, but what LNP figures in the parliamentary party, the organisational wing and the membership base see and what ordinary voters in the “burbs” perceive are two totally different subsets — and for the former to be indulged, the latter has to be ignored completely: hardly a recipe for building credibility in the electorate).
Some are talking about Indooroopilly MP Scott Emerson — perhaps as a deputy to someone else — and whilst Emerson is a decent fellow and was a reasonable performer as a minister, he isn’t (in my view) a serious candidate for the Premiership, and to draft him into the LNP leadership would be a mistake.
Moggill MP Dr Christian Rowan (with whom I’m very impressed despite his National Party background) might or might not lead the LNP one day; right now, he’s not even a senior shadow minister. Rowan is two to three terms away from being ready, and the best use of him by the LNP now would be to promote him and see how he performs.
And after all of these people have been excluded, the only realistic name left is that of former Treasurer Tim Nicholls — easily the LNP’s best minister in government — who elements in the party are determined to squash into oblivion for the hanging crime of being a mate of former Liberal Party identity Santo Santoro.
Just to safeguard against any shred of viability as a leader Nicholls might have still retained, apparently a book written by Newman that is due for release is going to crucify him: highly, highly helpful where the LNP’s present predicament is concerned.
It’s beyond childish; these people would rather live in opposition as a squabbling rabble, it seems, than operate as a professional political outfit and win something; Nicholls engineered a compelling case for re-election through sound financial management that was squandered by the inability of those appointed to serve the government and the general political ineptitude of the LNP as a whole.
This is the “labyrinth” I so often find myself alluding to when the dysfunction in conservative politics is discussed; it’s not just the MPs, or the members’ representatives on the party’s executive wing, or the employees who soak up membership dues and donation monies who fail to deliver consistent results, or the faceless powerbrokers who aren’t necessarily elected to anything yet wield more power than the rest combined (and they know who they are, and so do I): it’s the whole rotten, stinking, putrefying edifice, and in the LNP’s case in particular, it seems determined to race to a crushing election defeat as quickly as possible.
Yes, Springborg must go: as a party leader he has forged a career out of losing winnable state elections that spans more than a decade; enough is enough. He’s a spent force, yesterday’s man, and he should leave both the LNP leadership and the Queensland Parliament if he seriously wants to help his party.
Just look at the opportunities that have been squandered this year: an accidental and clueless government has been rocked by scandal involving backbenchers Billy Gordon and Rick Williams; others are known to be waiting to leap out of the closet like skeletons; minister Jo-Ann Miller is yet to provide a satisfactory answer as to why she was talking to Williams in suspicious proximity to revelations of alleged past misdemeanours becoming public; the government has the hand of the CFMEU inserted squarely into its collective anus, and does whatever that lawless entity decrees; it governs solely to erase the legacy of the Newman government from the statute books; and it is faced with a failed leader who has been recycled in defeat.
The ALP in Queensland probably couldn’t believe its luck, for on any evaluation of probability back in February, Springborg could hardly be considered to pose any kind of formidable threat.
His first act back in the chair? To waste time and momentum chasing a by-election in the Court of Disputed Returns in a traditionally Labor-leaning seat (Ferny Grove) that the LNP had been lucky enough to win in the first place in 2012, let alone lose by a handful of votes three years later.
How a thrice-failed leader from west of the Range, who had failed to attract support in any more than half a dozen Brisbane seats at all three previous attempts, might have expected to win a by-election in a seat like Ferny Grove with the tide running strongly against the LNP beggars belief, but there you go: Springborg did, or at least the people around him did, which is tantamount to the same thing in any case.
Almost a third the way through its first term in opposition — one which, unless it gets a grip on itself, will by no means be its last — the LNP has entrenched itself on the opposition benches even more securely than the voters who put them there in January did.
Never mind the embarrassment and humiliation of squandering an Australian-record parliamentary majority in one fell swoop: the LNP is back where is belongs in Queensland, it seems, and its antics and misadventures since that point prove it.
The charade of its recent State Convention aside — replete with the kind of feelgood, rah-rah bullshit that so often and so tragically typifies such gatherings — the LNP almost needs one of the Deen Brothers’ notorious midnight demolition jobs performed on it to knock the entire structure over, and to rebuild it from scratch.
Its list of MPs, with a handful of exceptions, is talentless; it is bereft of fresh leadership prospects; the people the party has employed (at its own expense and on the taxpayer dollar where entitled) have served it extremely poorly, and a look at the results tallied on 31 January is deadly proof of it; and before anyone insults my intelligence with protestations of wholesale change at Convention, I should point out that the faceless hacks who have run the Liberal Party into the ground over decades, and their counterparts from the Nationals who are little if any better, still pull the strings from behind the scenes.
Which, of course, is the point.
The LNP is a mess.
Fixing it will take time, skill, money and patience — all of which, with the exception of the first, the party appears to have none of — and an injection of the tactical and strategic nous that is in such short supply in Australia’s conservative parties, which these days are more clubhouses for juntas of useless, sinecure-addicted cronies than they are serious vehicles for the achievement of sustained political success.
But first things first, the LNP needs a new leader.
Should Nicholls emerge from the current murky round of malicious mischief-making to lead the LNP — or, failing that, if JP is detached from Springborg and the latter shot separately — some indication of a brain, if not intelligence, will have been exhibited.
Anything else, I’m afraid, simply doesn’t cut it: and if Mander emerges with the chocolates, the LNP will have made a rod for its own back that could well see two of its leaders booted out of Parliament at consecutive elections.
Now that really would be an achievement of sorts.