Queensland: Flegg Dumped In Win For Common Sense

A BITTERSWEET triumph of good sense over the bonds between “maaates” was won by Queensland’s embattled LNP yesterday, with Bruce Flegg dumped — on the third attempt — as its candidate in the safe seat of Moggill; the selection of AMA figure Christian Rowan means Moggill will be held by a likely minister and possible Premier. Exactly what to do with Campbell Newman, however, remains unresolved just weeks from a tough election.

The preselection meeting in the Queensland state seat of Moggill yesterday afternoon — at which former Liberal leader Bruce Flegg was finally, and belatedly, disendorsed — represents a great win for good common sense, and whilst this acrimonious sideshow in Queensland politics has seen local buddies pitched against the contrary directives of the LNP’s central office, it is beyond question that yesterday’s result was the right one.

This column has given quite some coverage to the proceedings in Moggill, disproportionately pivotal to the state of health of Queensland’s conservatives in Brisbane as the seat is: firstly in October, when the LNP executive exercised its right under the party’s constitution to exclude Flegg from seeking preselection, and subsequently when the local branch members in Moggill vetoed the LNP’s preferred candidate, former AMA Queensland head Dr Christian Rowan, instead demanding a ballot at which Flegg was allowed to stand.

Now, on the third go — with Dr Flegg and Dr Rowan going head to head — the job is finally complete, with Rowan defeating Flegg as the LNP’s candidate for Moggill.

Throughout this process, I have been careful to separate out the politics from the personalities; Flegg is a good guy, very likeable, and it is entirely understandable that his allies and friends in the LNP branches in Brisbane’s west would stick to him as glue as they have — to the end — in an admirable but politically misjudged display of loyalty.

Yet as I outlined in the first of the October articles I’ve re-linked today, Flegg has been the recipient of an embarrassment of riches when it comes to political opportunities as a federal candidate (twice), state leader of the Liberal Party, and as a minister: all of which, viewed objectively, ended in abject failure.

Indeed, Flegg’s ill-fated leadership of the Liberals was arguably the single factor that derailed the Coalition’s state election campaign, on day one, back in 2006; his gaffe in a press conference that day over who would be Premier if the Liberals won more seats than the Nationals was unforgivable, and should have terminated his career in Parliament the day after the election was held.

Instead, he will have limped on for almost nine additional years by the time the polls open at next year’s state election and again, nobody could argue he was deprived of opportunity.

Moggill — traditionally the safest conservative seat in Brisbane, and usually held with well over two-thirds of the two-party vote — is not an electorate the LNP can afford to indulge a time-server with; more to the point, the looming carnage, as Campbell Newman’s government is brutalised (and perhaps beaten) at its first re-election attempt, dictates that a secure electorate such as Moggill should be held by someone who is part of the LNP’s future and not a reminder of its past.

In this sense, the decision to endorse Dr Rowan to replace Flegg is an inspired one; this is an outstanding candidate with a lifelong link to the electorate as a resident, and a man who will almost certainly serve as a minister and — in time — perhaps as Premier of Queensland.

Importantly, as a doctor and former head of the AMA in Queensland, he brings to Parliament intimate first-hand knowledge of an area that traditionally bedevils conservative parties — health — and offsets the loss to the LNP of Dr Chris Davis, who quit his seat of Stafford earlier this year in protest over health reforms.

This episode has been an ugly one, marked by the confrontation between the local branches in Moggill and the LNP’s head office; it has almost certainly contributed to the political damage to Newman’s government; and marks out the differing objectives of the branches (still mostly dominated by moderate ex-Liberals) and the party’s executive (controlled by conservative ex-Liberals and ex-Nationals).

It is difficult to point the finger of blame conclusively at one of these groups over the other; the executive acted in accordance with the party’s Constitution to prevent Dr Flegg standing for re-endorsement in the first place and the branches acted in accordance with the Constitution by exercising their right to veto this.

Still, it goes without saying that this nasty little soap opera could have been handled far more adroitly by all concerned. The fact it wasn’t means that the LNP still has some work to do if it is serious about the degree of professionalism it claims to bring to Queensland politics, which was one of the justifications for merging the state Liberals and Nationals in the first place.

That said, this is a bittersweet triumph for the future of the LNP; it belatedly cauterises a suppurating sore that threatened to bleed and pustulate all the way up to polling day, and this grotesque spectacle will be one less thing for the party to worry about as the campaign proper begins in the new year.

But it leaves the issue of what to do with Premier Campbell Newman unresolved, and that opens a whole other (and perhaps bloodier) slate of issues for the LNP to navigate.

It now seems certain that Newman will lose his seat in Parliament; the “Moggill option” is now not simply closed off, but sealed shut with the preselection of Dr Rowan yesterday.

Newman has repeatedly insisted he will not countenance moving to another, more winnable electorate.

Yet the LNP refuses to publicly contemplate who its leader, in the event Newman exits Parliament, might be; and I think — weighed against the nasty, petty, and downright dishonest campaign Labor is certain to fight in Queensland anyway, without volunteering this kind of fodder for it to work with — that it needs to resolve this question, and to resolve it quickly.

Putting up deputy Premier Jeff Seeney won’t do; he is so unpopular as to be a virtual hate figure in Brisbane and the south-east, where half the state’s seats (and those most vulnerable to Labor) are located.

Health minister Lawrence Springborg is a great bloke, but he has already lost three elections as leader, has been a controversial minister, and his Southern Downs background is arguably (and unfairly) a bar to him carrying a reasonable haul of electorates in the south-east as leader.

Local Government minister David Crisafulli needs time, former leader John-Paul Langbroek is said not to be interested, Ray Stevens is cooked, and Transport minister Scott Emerson’s name — which I have heard muttered in a leadership context — should probably be muttered in any other context, but not that one.

I have said in this column many times that the obvious and best successor to Newman — Treasurer Tim Nicholls — is also, by exclusion, the only choice of any substance or merit that is open to the LNP and, should Newman’s date with the voters indeed end his tenure in Parliament, it is Nicholls the party should turn to.

But all indications from the LNP’s bunker are that it will play the “simply stand firm” game that is reaping such brilliant political dividends for the Abbott government at present: it will insist Newman will win in Ashgrove, that the LNP will be re-elected, and that life will carry on after polling day — if not, perhaps, with the swollen backbench it presently boasts.

The reality is that this kind of approach will not play well with Queensland voters, who will be receptive to the mother of all scare campaigns built around Seeney that the ALP is readying in its silos for launch.

It is also — to be entirely blunt — totally delusional.

The resolution of the Moggill debacle is welcome, overdue, and a positive move forward. But the LNP has bigger problems to worry about.

Newman — and who might replace him — is now the biggest, and the most publicly glaring, of the lot.

 

Moggill Debacle May Seal State Election Defeat For LNP

THE ESCALATING FRACAS between backers of dumped Moggill MP Bruce Flegg and the executive of Queensland’s Liberal National Party tested dangerous new political ground last night, with local branch members vetoing the LNP’s preferred new candidate; the increasingly bitter feud threatens to bleed LNP support well beyond Moggill, and could end — literally — anywhere between the Supreme Court and the state’s opposition benches.

Rise and shine campers, it’s Groundhog Day…

Forgive the invocation of that infectiously addictive 1990-something US rom-com, but it feels that way at times when it comes to Queensland’s LNP, the problem of Bruce Flegg, the virtually unloseable Brisbane electorate of Moggill (we’ll come back to that) and how Queensland’s conservatives proceed to and beyond a state election that already looms as a hurdle without their own antics raising the bar any further.

So far this month, we’ve looked at these matters twice already; once on 3 October, when the LNP state executive effectively disendorsed Flegg as its candidate in Moggill, and again last week, when this column made the call that with the scramble for the likely leadership vacancy after the election becoming public and an array of similarly ugly and damaging behaviour exploding into the waiting pages of the Brisbane press, the LNP — very simply — had to get its shit together.

Less than a week later, the portents are not good, and whilst I agree with some of what Flegg’s supporters have had to say in this latest round of embarrassing self-immolation by the LNP, I stand by my call that the decision to dump Flegg — on purely political grounds — was essentially correct.

But the vote of local branch members in the Moggill electorate last night (by the reported margin of 56 votes to 48) to veto the LNP’s preferred replacement candidate, former AMA Queensland president Dr Christian Rowan, is a stunt that threatens to backfire badly on the LNP well beyond the boundaries of the Moggill electorate, and could even trigger events that seal an unbelievable election defeat just three years after the party recorded the biggest state election win in Queensland’s political history.

First things first: depending on your preference, here are the Murdoch story today and the Fairfax offering a fortnight ago, which adequately background readers for the comments I intend to make this morning.

I have never met Bruce Flegg, although I know many of the people around him; the so-called “Western Suburbs Group” to which he belongs was centred on the same part of Brisbane in which I was a member of the Queensland Liberals in the 1990s, and whilst that group and I sometimes locked horns in the past I supported them as often as I opposed them.

Factionally unaligned by choice and by instinct, this group always “suspected” I was an agent of “the forces of dark and evil” as they described the rival bloc within the party centred around controversial former MP Santo Santoro, and whilst I was friendly with Santo, and supported his group from time to time as well, I was never an adherent of it, nor subjected to the belligerent abuse periodically meted out by some within the Western suburbs lot if I couldn’t support Santoro.

I begin thus because that 56-48 margin, ostensibly in Flegg’s favour, represents the current state of play between the two blocs locally in Moggill; the little slice of personal history I have just recounted also provides some clues as to what is driving the players on either side of this self-destructive political bullfight.

Much has been made by the Flegg forces, since his disendorsement by the LNP executive, of the emotive and populist spectre of head office stripping branch members of the right to determine who their candidate would be (with Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney stating memorably that he “strong disagreed” with it) and whilst I agree to a point with their sentiment, the fact is that in joining the LNP when it was created and accepting the terms of the LNP constitution that was adopted at that time, the LNP executive was perfectly within its rights to exclude Flegg from recontesting the seat as an endorsed candidate.

It’s disingenuous to proclaim adherence to “the rules” when things go the way you want them to, but raise merry hell — publicly — when they don’t.

But with a majority of those present at a preselection council in Moggill last night voting “no” to the sole candidate — Dr Rowan — nominations for the seat will now reopen, with both Flegg and Rowan putting their names forward: with the obvious attendant prospect of Flegg being excluded from eligibility a second time, which the LNP’s constitution permits its executive to do.

The scope for this to spiral into disaster is plain to see, but it gets worse.

One of the (many, many) reasons I was completely and resolutely opposed to a merger between the Liberal and National parties in Queensland was that I viewed it as being motivated as an attempt by the Nationals (who were disproportionately driving it under their leader, Lawrence Springborg) to slither back into Brisbane electorates by stealth under the “one party” mantra, as well as providing a mechanism for ex-Nationals to continue to represent seats in south-east Queensland and up the coastline where demographic change — and the absence of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the notorious Queensland gerrymander — meant those state electorates were never going to vote for candidates from a party purporting to be based primarily on rural issues.

To this end, I actually echo the sentiments of Flegg — recorded here in the Fairfax article I’ve linked — that the LNP Executive, stacked with ex-Nationals, has attempted to parachute an ex-National into what should only ever be regarded in its current configuration as an outer suburban Liberal seat: Nationals overwhelming Liberals with their historically greater numbers, which is exactly the danger I warned of in the opinion piece I wrote for the Courier Mail at the time of the merger (and I apologise for including it once again today).

Yet this in no way invalidates LNP procedures; and it in no way provides recourse for Flegg and his mates, with their memberships of the LNP subject to those procedures as I noted earlier.

And whilst I agree that local members should ideally be given a vote, I am also steadfast in my belief Flegg needed to be moved on, one way or another: and with the Western Suburbs Group firmly in control of the branches in Moggill as it has been for decades, the only way to get rid of Flegg was to blast him out — which the LNP quite properly did in accordance with its constitution.

It is at this point that the whole thing threatens to turn into a complete mess; just how much damage it does to the party’s election campaign on a wider basis rests heavily with the Western Suburbs Group and how it decides to proceed.

Already — with statewide (and national) media increasingly focused on Moggill — some of what Flegg has had to say is hardly helpful for a party pilloried relentlessly by Labor as representing “out of touch Tories;” his depiction of Moggill as an area where 1% of the population are medical practitioners, with “senior legal people including Supreme Court judges, senior barristers, lawyers and QCs” also disproportionately represented simply provides subliminal support for the ALP’s message, and invites voters who are less well-to-do in other parts of the state to question why they would vote for the LNP at all when its operatives are so determined to fight over a piece of electoral real estate so clearly more valuable than their own.

The word that has been allowed to filter out by Flegg acolytes — that his margin has increased from 0.9% when he took over from the previous Liberal member in 2004 to 23.9% today — is based on the false premise that Flegg is personally responsible for this increase in Liberal support; the simple (and uncomfortable) fact is that the 50.9% after preferences recorded by David Watson in 2001 came at one of the lowest ebbs of conservative support in Queensland’s history, and this electorate (historically held on margins greater than Flegg’s now) was always going to return to its status as the safest Liberal seat in Brisbane, and by some distance.

It is also virtually unloseable, so strongly ingrained in its DNA is conservative political support; there were those who decried Watson as a terrible local MP (I never thought that) but irrespective of whether such assessments were right or wrong, the fact Moggill withstood the Labor onslaught in 2001 is akin to proof that barring the endorsement of a rapist or a paedophile or a murderer, this is one electorate that is not going to disappear from the Liberal fold.

So let’s hear no more of the indispensability of Flegg as the local MP, or to ridiculous suggestions that Moggill might be lost to the LNP because Flegg has been disendorsed. It won’t be. Not even if Flegg ends up running as an Independent (which I doubt).

None of this changes my view that politically Flegg is finished, yesterday’s man, and whilst he might be a good local MP, he offers nothing in terms of the LNP’s future in the broader electoral sense — for all the reasons I outlined ad nauseum in the 3 October article linked at the top of this one — and on several other occasions previously.

If the Western Suburbs Group were smart, they would find a new candidate to back from within their ranks who might offer 10, 15, 20 years’ service, and who holds out promise of being a potential future Premier: last night’s vote shows, if nothing else, that it retains the numbers to prevail if it can produce a candidate who matches the selling points of Rowan as perceived by the LNP executive.

But clinging to Flegg now, at any cost — when he has already had his “fuck you” moment of triumph over the LNP executive, surviving an alleged and less procedural move to dispense with him three years ago — is likely to get very bloody very quickly if his supporters seek to repeat that feat now.

The LNP is already facing a colossal swing against it at next year’s election; its leader is almost certain to lose his seat; candidates are already jostling to succeed him as Premier (assuming the party survives the election); the threat posed by Clive Palmer, whilst perhaps diminishing if recent polls are any guide, will still nonetheless drain votes from the LNP and complicate its struggle to hold critical seats; and it is obvious to Blind Fred that all is not well in a party racked with disarray, factionalism, a few less-than-loyal MPs, and a penchant for displaying dirty linen in public.

At some point — and it will be imperceptible when it arrives, but the eventual damage won’t be — the blood feud in Moggill, if it continues to escalate and become increasingly bitter and vicious, is going to become a microcosm to the voters of Queensland of everything wrong with their LNP government. When that occurs, the cynical campaign of trite noise being run by the ALP is going to resonate strongly with voters in marginal seats.

This could end up in the Supreme Court, if Flegg’s backers are so inclined; they would probably lose, of course, provided the LNP executive can show it has acted within the authority the party constitution confers on it (which, I’m informally told, it can).

Whether it does or doesn’t, at the very minimum Flegg will now be forever marked as the man his party threw out. If he somehow manages to survive the current round of machinations, he is going to be made the whipping boy for the campaigns of opposing parties across Queensland whether his own constituents are inclined to vote for him or not.

And aside from anything else, the whole Moggill fiasco is just another bloody mess at a time the LNP already has too many of those to be able to afford another.

I don’t know Flegg but I am assured by many people who do that he’s a good, decent bloke, and I’m sure he is; I’m not without sympathy, and my own stance that he should be moved on is certainly not personal in any sense.

It would be prudent of Flegg and those around him to identify someone else to stand in his place, and with their blessing, now they have had the Pyrrhic victory of forcing the reopening of nominations in Moggill.

But a localised meltdown of the LNP infrastructure in Moggill will reverberate across the state, and if the LNP’s task in winning the imminent election is already fraught, such a development might just make the difference between “difficult” and “impossible.”

Then again, perhaps Flegg is the unlikely agent of the disaster I always thought a merged Liberal and National Party would be, and if that’s the case then this was always going to happen somewhere — and sooner rather than later.

Rise and shine, campers.

 

Queensland: Flegg Disendorsement Right Call By LNP

THE DECISION THIS AFTERNOON by the LNP hierarchy in Queensland not to endorse sitting Moggill MP Bruce Flegg for the imminent state election is absolutely the correct call; Flegg — a veteran candidate over more than 20 years — has been given opportunities by the Liberal Party and the LNP that he has failed to deliver on in return. Whilst some will quibble about process, Flegg will not be missed by the LNP. His utterances this evening prove it.

This column has conducted an intermittent, unapologetic and concerted campaign for the disendorsement of Moggill MP Bruce Flegg by Queensland’s Liberal National Party for several years, and the news out of Brisbane this evening — that the LNP did precisely that this afternoon — is laudable, entirely justified, and long overdue.

It is true that in calling for Dr Flegg to be abandoned as the conservative candidate in Moggill — the safest non-Labor state seat in the Brisbane area — I have been just as adamant that its replacement candidate should be Premier Campbell Newman; that may or may not occur, and since we last talked about it on Sunday, Newman has recommitted (again) to going down fighting in what appears a doomed bid to hold his present seat of Ashgrove.

But whether Newman stands in Moggill or not, today’s decision should not be construed as personal, although there are already indications Flegg will present it as exactly that.

My comments this evening really have nothing to do with Campbell Newman at all, and the LNP’s decision to dump Flegg is the only one it could make in weighing a range of factors such as his performance as a candidate, MP, minister and leader, his age, his likely political future, and the value of the seat he occupies — potentially at the expense of a better candidate to hold it.

Flegg has been provided with opportunities by the Liberal Party — and the LNP — that the conservative parties do not dispense with reckless abandon, and which the overwhelming majority of their members will never enjoy.

In 1990, he was the party’s candidate for the critical marginal federal seat of Petrie; needing a swing of 1.4% to win, Flegg lost ground, with Labor’s Gary Johns re-elected with a 1% swing toward him; to be fair, Queensland swung heavily to Labor in 1990, which probably entitled Flegg to another chance.

This came three years later, at the 1993 federal election won by Paul Keating, but at which Queensland swung back toward the Coalition; at this election Flegg was endorsed in the new seat of Dickson (held by unpopular Attorney-General Michael Lavarch). Owing to the death of a candidate, a supplementary election for this seat was held about a month after the federal election, effectively gifting Flegg’s campaign a by-election environment in which to operate.

Despite all of this — and needing a modest swing of 3.2% for victory — Flegg again fell short, achieving a swing of just 2.9% against Lavarch.

In contesting Moggill in 2004 after the previous MP, David Watson, retired, it is true that Flegg took over a seat that had been held by less than 1% of the two-party vote at the 2001 Queensland state election.

But that state election was the biggest ALP win in over half a century, with the National Party decimated and the Liberal Party almost wiped out, and Moggill — an 80/20 seat for the Liberals for most of its existence (including when earlier known as Mt Coot-tha) — was always going to again become extremely safe for the conservatives irrespective of who their candidate was.

So let’s hear no more about the high level of electoral support “enjoyed” by Flegg: like the LNP’s decision today to dump him, it wasn’t personal. Voters in the areas of Brisbane his seat covers have always supported non-Labor candidates, and mostly supported them very strongly indeed.

As Liberal leader at the 2006 state election, Flegg arguably derailed the entire Coalition election campaign on its very first day with his inability to answer a question from journalists as to whether he (or the Nationals’ Lawrence Springborg) would be Premier if the Liberals won more seats than the Nationals: an unlikely proposition indeed at the time, but nonetheless an easy question to answer for a savvy and competent individual standing in Flegg’s shoes that day.

The brouhaha over whether Flegg had been offered “an inducement” or not to stand aside for Campbell Newman in 2012 meant that Flegg was always going to be permitted to serve out a final term in Moggill; it was the only way to comprehensively refute the allegations of corruption that were being thrown around the LNP (and more widely by ALP apparatchiks) at that time.

And his stint as Minister for Public Works and Housing in the early days of Newman’s government was brief, disastrous, and a salutary illustration of the fact Queensland dodged a bullet the day Flegg squandered his only opportunity to lead it as Premier.

All of this has served to mark Flegg out as a dead man walking, and had the LNP failed to terminate his endorsement today, then serious questions would have to be asked about just how professional that party really is.

Flegg — who will be 61 by the time the coming state election is held — is obviously not going to return to the Newman ministry; logic and common sense dictate that he will have no leadership role to play when the LNP returns to opposition (whenever that is), and it stands to reason that even if he made it that far, there is no ministerial post waiting for a 70-something in the first-term lineup of the next conservative government, perhaps 15 years away or longer from becoming a reality.

In this context, Flegg has well and truly passed his use-by date.

I know some will argue he is a good, effective MP; I don’t live in Moggill and I never did when I lived in Brisbane, so I can’t comment. But I would make the point that providing good local representation and acting as an effective state MP are not skills exclusive to Bruce Flegg, and just as Moggill residents have been well represented in the past, they will be well represented by conservative MPs in the future.

I would suggest that over at least a quarter of a century, the Liberals/LNP have been more than loyal to Flegg, which makes his protest today that he had given “ten years’ loyal service” a trifle irritating.

It is also disingenuous, conveniently overlooking his status as a serial loser in winnable marginal seats: a track record few others are allowed to return from, and which suggests that deprived of his blue-ribbon ticket to George Street in Moggill, Flegg might not have ever made it to Parliament at all.

There will be those locals in Moggill — and, of course, LNP branch members loyal to him on factional grounds — who will protest the “anti-democratic” nature of his removal; it will be an outrage, a disgrace, part of a sinister plot, and blah blah blah. Some will publicly state they will never vote for the LNP again. Most of those will nevertheless do exactly that once confined to the privacy of the polling booth.

The simple fact is that all political parties must renew themselves, and with such a prime LNP seat apparently wasted on a man who has not been starved of opportunities by Queensland’s conservatives, there is a broad responsibility the LNP must discharge in ensuring its parliamentary composition is the very best it can achieve — both for the present day, when it sits in government, and for the future.

As I said at the outset, readers can see that most of what I have said has absolutely nothing to do with Campbell Newman at all, although it is at this point I would observe that a Premier with an election win to his credit presents a stronger claim to such a seat than does a career backbencher destined to serve out his time in Parliament in relative obscurity.

Two other sitting MPs faced the LNP executive today, in the same process Flegg did, with both being permitted to contest their preselections, although one — the aptly named member for Redlands, Peter Dowling, who shot to international notoriety after sending a picture of his penis immersed in a glass of red wine to his mistress — is said to be unlikely to win a local preselection ballot.

But whether he (or Ros Bates, an MP from the Gold Coast) return to Parliament under the LNP banner or not, the party’s constitution gives it the right to undertake the review process Flegg was subjected to today, and in joining the LNP and in serving it as an elected MP, Flegg himself agreed to submit to the rules and processes that govern the party’s operation under that constitution.

There has therefore been no abuse of process, and no witch hunt. Again, given his record of non-delivery on the opportunities he has been given over many years, the LNP could be said to have been extraordinarily patient.

For all his talk of loyalty, Flegg has already flagged the possibility of quitting the party; for all his talk of not being “a spoiler,” Flegg allowed the prospect he would sit on the crossbench for the rest of his term — where he would be a lightning rod for LNP dissent — to fester when he met journalists this afternoon. For all his talk of not acting out of spite, Flegg refused to rule out contesting Moggill as an Independent, standing against the party he claimed to still be proud to represent.

And perhaps unsurprisingly, he has spent the afternoon and evening presenting himself as a champion of local branch members, and lashing out at the “faceless people” of the LNP. It’s been well worn as a final stance of defiance by others who have found themselves in a situation resembling the one that befell Flegg today. It is also disingenuous, facile, and abjectly pathetic.

The simple fact — as unpalatable as it will be for those who do not wish to hear it — is that Bruce Flegg will be no loss to the parliamentary LNP, and his constituents in Moggill should be well pleased that with a new parliamentary representative will come the opportunity to secure a new effective local voice in government for many years to come.

I may be a harsh judge, but Flegg is a political liability the LNP can well do without, although like any political party, he’s hardly Robinson Crusoe on that score.

But at the end of the day, it is the LNP who has made the right call, and acted correctly, in excluding Flegg from LNP endorsement for the looming election: and whilst that may be a bitter pill for some to swallow — and for Flegg himself — in this instance, the greater good is best served by what has transpired.

In the end, Flegg — by all accounts a good doctor and astute businessman, and said to be quite a decent fellow — has been lavished with the kind of political opportunities most people can only dream of; in almost every case, he has singularly and spectacularly failed to deliver. And whilst the whole thing may be about to end for him, he can at least reflect that whilst he failed to ascend to the heights he probably aspired to reach, he was at least able to make it as far as the scaling ladder in the first place: even if, in the final act, the ladder was kicked out from under his feet.

 

LNP Debacle: It’s Time For The Liberal Party To Claim Queensland

The cesspool into which Queensland’s LNP has descended is a complex ecosystem; populated by diverse organisms, its murky depths are the backdrop to an unedifying brawl over the spoils of power. There is one solution, and one only: reformation of the Liberal Party in Queensland.

At the outset, I wish to emphasise that The Red And The Blue has no argument with the legislative agenda of Campbell Newman’s government or with its program of cuts and austerity measures; Queenslanders knew that in discarding the ALP in March, they were electing a government that would take drastic but necessary action to repair public finances and to put Queensland on the path to becoming, again, the powerhouse of economic growth it has traditionally been.

That said, however, Queensland’s conservatives find themselves in office — and in disarray — at the end of what they should be celebrating as their most successful year in four decades.

Instead, the rot afflicting the new Queensland government threatens to destroy it.

It is now my contention that there is really only one solution to what is going on with the LNP and that, simply stated, is to abandon it: for the Queensland Division of the Liberal Party to be reconstituted, the LNP dissolved, and for the Liberals to finally claim what has eluded them since the Party’s formation in the late 1940s — government, outright, in Queensland.

It’s necessary to separate out three issues — the “Flegg factor,” the brawl between the parliamentary and organisational wings of the LNP, and the departure of three LNP MPs — to fully make the case for the change I advocate; I will be especially interested in the comments of Queensland-based readers in response.

Yet unless something is done — and quickly — then Newman’s government, replete with the strongest majority enjoyed by any government in Australian political history, seems destined to lurch through the next two years toward an electoral defeat every bit as stunning as the win it enjoyed a mere eight and a half months ago.

I want to deal with the Flegg issue first, representing as it does an enduring Liberal contribution to the present mess in which the LNP finds itself; Flegg is an irrelevance and a red herring whose exit papers from Parliament must surely be stamped.

On paper, he is an impressive candidate, but in practice a political failure and, to be brutally frank, a liability.

Flegg arrived in Parliament in 2004 to replace the equally impressively-credentialled but gaffe-prone former Liberal leader David Watson in the usually-safe seat of Moggill, which Watson went within a breath of losing to Labor in the landslide of 2001.

Already a two-time loser — as the Liberal candidate for the highly marginal (and winnable) federal seats of Petrie in 1990 and Dickson in 1993, losing both — Flegg’s performance as a Parliamentarian has been less than sparkling.

As Liberal leader, Flegg’s performance on day one of the 2006 state election campaign cruelled the Coalition’s prospects from the outset: questioned by journalists as to who would be Premier if the Liberals won more seats than the Nationals, Flegg’s rambling non-answer gifted Peter Beattie the means with which to raise merry hell over the prospect of Coalition disunity and instability in the event of a conservative win.

In previous discussion of the 2006 campaign, I am on the record as describing then-National leader Lawrence Springborg as a good man whose party had been overtaken by the passage of time; the Nationals in Queensland were no longer relevant to the state’s burgeoning urban population, especially in the south-east.

It is certainly true that the presentation of a National as the alternative Premier was a factor in that 2006 loss. But the culpability for it lies with Flegg, who was proven — at a stroke — to lack the political judgement and smarts required of the leader of a major contemporary political party.

As a minister under Newman, Flegg was both a disaster and a liability; little secret was made of the fact he resented his allocated portfolio of Housing and Public Works.

It’s clear now that even this was an assignment beyond his political capabilities, and his tenure ended amid controversy over alleged moonlighting as a GP and surrounding the propriety of access to his office by lobbyists, and specifically by his son, Jonathan.

Flegg flatly refused to get out of the way for Campbell Newman prior to this year’s election in order to allow the latter a secure seat in Parliament; based on recent events it is very difficult indeed to ascertain any tangible benefit from the retention of his services as the member for Moggill.

And whilst Moggill, on Flegg’s watch, has returned to its usual status as the safest conservative constituency in Brisbane, it is next to impossible to ascribe any of the credit for this movement to Flegg.

Not only did he take on the best patch in Brisbane for the Liberals at a low ebb, but the upward movement in the Liberal vote in Moggill has done little more than mirror statewide trends and the tendency for safe seats to disproportionately accrue votes by the party which holds them.

As a side issue, the preselection challenge from Flegg Jr to the federal LNP member for Ryan, Jane Prentice, must surely now be dead; aside from stirring up additional unrest in conservative ranks (and formalising its spillover into the federal sphere), there is no constructive point in elevating another Flegg to a conservative sinecure.

Dynastic politics are a fact of life across the democratic world, but there is no value to be gained from building dynasties based on the respective merits or otherwise of Bruce Flegg.

This brings me to the departure of three MPs from the LNP — Ray Hopper, Alex Douglas and Carl Judge — and spillover issues involving the also-departed LNP benefactor Clive Palmer and Bob Katter’s mad band, Katter’s Australian Party.

Palmer — with his unfounded allegations of official misconduct by the Queensland government and by individuals within it — has stomped out of the LNP, essentially because he can’t get what he wants from it.

His threat to start a new political party in Queensland would be laughable were it not for the ample funds at his disposal with which to bankroll it.

Destined to fail, of course, but guaranteed to further destabilise the conservative cause, the sort of outfit Palmer seeks to aspire to seems to be predicated on the same type of directionless populism as the endeavours that precede it (think One Nation and the aforesaid mad band of Katter adherents) which are typically based on single issues, or protest for the sake of protest, or a bit of both.

Unlike many start-up political parties, Palmer’s would certainly not be wanting for cash. But in the absence of a cogent, well-constructed and broadly appealing platform, it is just as destined to fall on its face as those that have blazed the trail before it.

These parties achieve very little except to spoil; certainly, none has ever won government anywhere in Australia, and none, ultimately, have ever endured.

Yet they are capable of inflicting great destruction on the entities from which they are spawned, and Palmer — a lifelong conservative — must be aware of that fundamental reality; not least given he was a witness to the destruction of the Borbidge government in Queensland, largely owing to the emergence of One Nation, in 1998.

It’s a fact of democratic political life that two-party systems are almost inevitable, and certainly so in the types of Parliaments Australia elects in its lower Houses* — Independents and minor parties come and go, but even after near-annihilation, the ALP and some form of Liberal/National association always ultimately constitute the main body of elected representation.

Palmer claims that many other LNP MPs would follow Hopper, Douglas and Judge out of the party, and that many of these would join the new outfit he has suggested he will start.

But thanks to some late-night machinations — led by deputy Premier Jeff Seeney — such MPs will find themselves in a party without status; not only must “a party” comprise three or more MPs in Queensland, but as a result of the Seeney changes these MPs must now have been elected under the banner of that party.

As a result, Katter and his band cannot and will not displace the seven Labor MPs as the official Opposition in Queensland; I’m certain this was part of the objective when Hopper jumped ship to join them, and the fact KAP cannot claim the role of Opposition has surely given other prospective recruits pause for thought at the very least.

In the meantime — whether intentionally or not — Palmer is providing a sideshow that is generating considerable attention which, in turn, reflects negatively on the LNP and adds to the sense of crisis engulfing the Newman government.

Television footage of Palmer on the steps of the Parliamentary Annexe with defecting LNP MPs, being spotted at lunch in nearby restaurants with those MPs, and similar “events” might be helpful in raising his profile in advance of a party launch, but the ultimate political benefits they generate will be reaped by the ALP.

And that should give Palmer something to think about.

Yet even in looking at the three MPs who have left the LNP recently, there is little of adequate substance to justify the destabilisation wrought upon their party, and none of the trio represents any great loss to either the LNP or to mainstream conservative politics in Queensland.

Ray Hopper — originally elected as an Independent who quickly joined the National Party — was preselected to his current seat of Condamine in a ballot against fellow LNP MP Stuart Copeland following the abolition of both of their electorates.

I will simply say Copeland was loyal to his party until it knifed him in favour of Hopper, and that he should be re-endorsed in Condamine by the Nationals for the next state election should he continue to wish to serve.

Beyond that, the aptly-named Hopper can be treated with the contempt he deserves.

Judge — member for the naturally ALP-inclined seat of Yeerongpilly — is a likely one-term member present in Parliament by virtue only of the high tide mark of conservative support and who, as one newspaper noted this week, has little ideological synergy with the LNP other than a dislike of the previous Labor government.

And Douglas is the MP whose wife countersigned a complaint by Palmer to the LNP’s organisational wing, seeking the dismissal of Treasurer (and former Liberal) Tim Nicholls from his ministry; grievously wronged Douglas may claim to have been following his removal as head of a parliamentary committee, but his case would appear to be an instance of the old adage “as you sow, so too shall you reap.”

There is an additional issue with Douglas; before the 2006 state election he won his seat of Gaven in a by-election; endorsed as a National and a “Coalition candidate” (read: the Liberal Party capitulated to the National Party) he won Gaven narrowly following the resignation of his Labor predecessor and held it for all of four months, losing it again at that year’s state election.

It is true that he regained it in 2009, again by a narrow margin, and that Gaven (on paper) is now nominally a very safe LNP seat following this year’s landslide.

But Gaven is also the type of seat at which a National Party candidate should never, nowadays, be endorsed, and it is no surprise that it is an ex-National in Douglas who now finds himself at odds with the LNP.

In fact, most of the trouble bedevilling the LNP is based on the Liberal-National divide.

Palmer vs the LNP. Douglas vs the LNP. Ray Hopper vs the LNP. Mutterings from reliable sources about “bushies” (country ex-National Party MPs) being deeply disgruntled with the LNP. The very existence of KAP, started by a National-turned-Independent and bolstered by — you guessed it — more defecting LNP MPs who jumped ship or were pushed post-merger, and of whom only one (Shane Knuth in Dalrymple) was re-elected.

This brings me to the LNP organisation itself.

Whilst registered as a state division of the Liberal Party, the LNP exists, in structure, in a virtually identical form as the National Party that preceded it: a strong organisation with power over the parliamentary wing, backed by a powerful state president in Bruce McIver and a management committee.

It is certainly true that this structure has some merit and has had some success in the presentation of the LNP as a viable conservative force; for example, this column has no objection to the multiple disendorsements in the seat of Broadwater that preceded the 2012 state election, and from a purely operational perspective it has proven to be a lean and efficient outfit.

Yet it is also, in essence, the same structure over which Sir Robert Sparkes presided in the National Party of the Bjelke-Petersen era of the 1970s and 1980s; and whilst it is inarguable that a party’s organisational wing must retain some influence over its parliamentary wing on behalf of the rank-and-file membership, it is the parliamentary wing which must, in a democracy, retain ultimate primacy.

And thus — having regard to all of these issues and factors — I arrive at my overall point: in light of the state of events in conservative politics in Queensland, it is time to abandon the LNP experiment.

Even without Carl Judge, there are between 45 and 47 ex-Liberals sitting in Queensland’s Parliament; clearly, with 45 seats constituting a majority, there is no bar to a reconstituted state Liberal Party forming government.

In Campbell Newman, conservatives in Queensland are led by arguably the most substantial figure to emerge from their ranks in decades, if ever; rather than allow Newman to be trashed and his government crippled, it is in the best interests of both the Liberal Party and the state of Queensland to take the drastic course of action suggested here to enable his government to do the job for which it was elected.

Inevitably, the reformation of the Liberal Party would be followed in short order by the reformation of the National Party (including, I would wager, Clive Palmer).

I see no problem with the National Party reforming, and I don’t even have an issue with the resumption of a Coalition between Liberals and Nationals.

But what I would suggest — strongly — is that any alliance between Liberals and Nationals be drawn in such a way as to permanently preclude the National Party from ever contesting seats over which it has no logical, demographic contemporary claim: the likes of Gaven, for instance, should be a straight Liberal vs Labor contest; similarly, once her career is over, Fiona Simpson’s electorate of Maroochydore should never again be held by a National.

The Liberals find themselves confronted by present circumstance armed with two things they have never had: a leader of Newman’s standing, and the weight of parliamentary numbers.

On account of the latter, Nationals in the past — as recently as the merger between the parties in 2008 — have been ruthless in using those numbers to permanently retain control over conservative state politics, with the direct result that Liberals in Brisbane have been kneecapped in their attempts to take seats from Labor under agrarian-focused National Party leadership.

So it should be now for the Liberal Party.

And were this to happen — a Liberal government constituted by former Liberals already in Parliament as LNP MPs — the slender majority it would take office with could very well be increased at the next election if the platform Newman was initially elected on is delivered in full.

As representatives of the duly affiliated division of the federal Liberal Party, there would be no bar to the reconstituted Queensland Division of the Liberal Party acquiring party status — even after the changes rushed through by Seeney.

The crisis afflicting the Newman government isn’t one of policy and it isn’t one of leadership. It is a crisis of cross-party factionalism that was always going to occur.

With a bit too much self-interest and a bit too much ego into the mix for good measure.

On Flegg, I would simply note that the problem was foreseeable and should have been avoided outright.

That said, Newman is likely to require transfer to a much safer seat in 2015, in part on account of the difficulty Flegg has caused the government to date.

It is to be hoped the rank-and-file Liberals in Moggill are astute enough to choose Newman to represent them next time the Moggill preselection falls due.

*The Queensland Parliament is unicameral (i.e. it has one House only), elected by optional preferential voting in 89 single-member constituencies.

To See A One-Term Government, Look North Of The Tweed River

Shenanigans in Queensland in the LNP and its new-ish government are a one-way ticket to oblivion; if nothing changes, Labor is two years from a stunning return to power in the Sunshine State, and the LNP’s antics, left unchecked, cast a pall over the prospects of the Coalition federally.

It seems an age ago now, but in reality it is little more than six months since Campbell Newman led the LNP — a merged, hybrid Liberal-National Party — to an historic and awe-inspiring win in Queensland, virtually wiping the ALP out of the state Parliament after the dirtiest and nastiest election campaign in recent Australian political history.

The conservatives had won Queensland outright for the first time since 1986, and it seemed that for the LNP — if it played its cards correctly — a generation in government beckoned.

How quickly things change in politics.

The Newman government in Queensland was already feeling the heat on the back of public sector job cuts and other fiscal measures designed to begin the torturous process of rebuilding Queensland’s public finances and paying down its debt.

These measures, whilst painful and (understandably) unpopular, are entirely consistent with the LNP’s election manifesto and, I believe, no less than the difficult job Queenslanders quite knowingly saddled the LNP with when they overwhelmingly endorsed it to form government back in March.

More recently, however, the LNP appears to have embarked on a deliberate program of self-immolation that can, if allowed to continue, only end in tears.

And in opposition.

There had already been a minister sacked before he was even sworn in; a scandal around LNP figure and Newman government departmental Director-General Michael Caltabiano; and some early rumblings from the Clive Palmer direction that, at that stage, were quickly papered over.

But now…billionaire mining magnate and major LNP donor, Clive Palmer — sometime candidate for LNP preselection, and no stranger to controversy this year — launched an extraordinary tirade against Treasurer Tim Nicholls, accusing him of “cooking the books” and misrepresenting Queensland’s net debt at $65 billion (Palmer claims it is $11 billion).

Unbelievably, Palmer filed a complaint in conjunction with the wife of a LNP MP with the LNP organisational wing to have Nicholls stripped of his job.

Palmer has also opined, of the LNP government, that “never have such a bunch of crooks held office in Queensland.”

Palmer’s LNP membership has been suspended in the wake of his outburst, pending further consideration — normally a euphemism for expulsion — and in retaliation, he’s threatening to sue.

Clearly aggrieved and believing he had been denied due process, Palmer likened the LNP’s actions to Nazi tactics.

For good measure, Palmer also asserted publicly that deputy Premier Jeff Seeney was “a thug and a bully.”

Housing minister Bruce Flegg’s son — who works for a lobbying firm in Queensland — has been stood down from his job over unauthorised liaison with his father’s office on business matters.

Flegg, meanwhile, has sacked a longtime Liberal Party adviser, Graeme Hallett, who in turn called a press conference to accuse Flegg of being unfit for office, and to demand Flegg either resign or be sacked.

Liberal identity and powerbroker — and one-time Queensland government minister and  Senator — Santo Santoro has been referred to Police by the LNP organisation over alleged internal party matters.

And despite the bickering, petty fiefdoms and tinpot brawls, from a general perspective the LNP’s organisational wing is largely estranged from its parliamentary wing.

These are just some of the goings-on being served up in Queensland in the full glare of public scrutiny by the LNP itself.

And they potentially reopen the door to a discredited state Labor Party that, by rights, should be studying its navel for decades.

It’s not a difficult ask, if the present political environment persists until the next state election in Queensland is due: recycle those defeated MPs who either had their promising careers chopped off (Cameron Dick, Andrew Fraser etc) and/or those relatively untainted by the death throes of the Beattie/Bligh years — and hold them up as an experienced team-in-waiting, ready to return to Parliament.

The political quality of the Labor leader would pose a problem; still, as Newman showed, it’s not implausible for an outside figure (like Dick) to fight an election as leader from the outside.

And speaking of Campbell Newman, his chances of facing Kate Jones in Ashgrove have to be nearing 100% the longer all of this internal fighting continues.

I’m not going to comment on the rights or wrongs of the various battles being played out in and around the LNP at present; the merits or otherwise of the positions of the various combatants is for others to judge.

But as one of the thousands of Liberal Party members in Queensland who unswervingly gave a lot of time over many years to doomed election campaigns during that state division’s darkest years before I moved south in 1998, it is frustrating — to say the least — to sit in Melbourne and watch what my northern brethren seem determined to piss away their opportunity in government over.

And right now — standing on the outside, looking in — Newman’s government has the distinct look of a one-term government about it.

Were all this nonsense to continue unchecked, I see four possible courses for the LNP:

1. The party brings its disputes and vendettas and grievances behind closed doors, closes ranks publicly, and gets on with the job of governing;

2. Things continue as they are, with the likely end result the LNP splinters into Liberals and Nationals, but with the business of government largely relegated to the backburner whilst the current internecine warfare increases in intensity and the present Premier, in all likelihood, quits;

3. The LNP nominally remains in place, but a sizeable number of disaffected members and MP deserts it, either throwing their lot in with the likes of Bob Katter’s mad crowd, or setting up a similar protest party of their own;

4. Campbell Newman and those of his MPs who are ex-Liberals (believed, depending on who you talk to, to be between 46 and 49 of the LNP’s 78 MPs) exit the LNP, re-establish the Queensland Division of the Liberal Party in Parliament and govern in their own right — for now, at least — in the face of an official Opposition composed chiefly of National Party MPs and in a climate of absolute and unbridled hatred.

Clearly, anything less than the first of these four scenarios risks inflicting colossal damage on the conservative political forces in Queensland, to the point the Labor Party becomes a real chance to win the next state election, presently due in March 2015.

Yet as things stand, it is difficult to see the LNP getting its act together.

Having gone through the process of a merger, the LNP has, for some years, been at pains to prove the naysayers (like me) wrong; discipline has been rock-solid, indiscretions pounced on, and the veneer of unity maintained in order to realise the ultimate objective: the winning of a state election in Queensland.

With that event now out of the way, there is every indication that the Liberal-National rift some (like me) foresaw prior to the merger was always latently present and has now been rent asunder: it seems to be no coincidence that the combatants in the various battles and fracas being played out in the LNP are facing off, broadly, across Liberal-National lines.

This isn’t like it was in the 1970s, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen slaughtered Labor in 1974, with the ensuing decade of warfare between the Nationals and the Liberals giving little lift to the ALP’s political prospects.

For one thing, Joh had the ever-present spectre of Whitlam and his government to point to; for another, Labor at the time was too badly damaged by its 1974 experience to pose any serious electoral threat.

Since then, of course, the Hawke-Keating government, with its modernising reforms and its modernisation of Labor, has come and gone.

Since then, too, the Labor Party — having heeded most of the lessons of its internal splits and of the disastrous experiment that Whitlam’s government was — is a far more professional and relevant outfit today than it was 30 or 40 years ago.

And at the state level, Labor has now held office for periods of at least a decade in every Australian state since the Queensland Coalition government split in 1983 — in some cases, such as in SA and Victoria, it has done so twice — and with the possible exception of Victoria, it is in Queensland that the ALP has enjoyed the most success of any state since that time.

My point is that whilst Labor governments still can’t manage money (and are generally wreckers of economies), when it comes to the hard and actual politics of it, Labor today is no easybeat.

So as I said, this isn’t like the aftermath of the 1974 election, when it was safe for conservatives to fight publicly with each other over the spoils of government.

To do so now would be to facilitate the early return of a discredited state Labor machine, under what increasingly appears to be an ineffectual and ineffective alternative Premier in Palaszczuk, well before the electoral cycle and the weight of public opinion might otherwise conspire to do.

Readers may recall that prior to the March election, I hinted at a potential election strategy which, if employed by the ALP, might have seen Bligh scrape across the line: and now the election is in the past, I’ll share my thoughts.

The strategy called for a campaign based almost exclusively on simmering tension between Liberals and Nationals in the LNP; firstly, to abandon Kate Jones in Ashgrove (Jones could have been promised anything for her participation in the strategy), withdrawing every conceivable resource from the Ashgrove Labor campaign, even to the extent of running dummy independent candidates in that electorate to direct preferences to Newman. It was, in this scenario, in the very best interests of the wider Labor cause to maroon Newman in Parliament as leader of the opposition.

That done, Bligh and Labor should have fought on one issue and one issue only: the capacity of the LNP, riven with irreconcilable internal factional differences, to effectively govern Queensland. The unwillingness of bush Nationals, who had kneecapped the conservative cause for years in their determination to retain the upper hand over the Liberals, to be led by a moderate city Liberal. The history of infighting between the traditional Coalition partners. Bruce Flegg’s effective termination of the Coalition campaign on day one in 2006 over his answer to a question about who would be Premier if the Coalition won. And so on.

The end objective would have been to engineer a Labor victory, however narrow, on the back of the one great gift historic Liberal-National relations offered the ALP, and to strand Newman as Opposition Leader in the process to face the recriminations: a come-down and humiliation indeed from the lofty heights of the Brisbane Lord Mayoralty.

As readers might expect — and despite my genuine outrage at the time — I couldn’t believe it when Bligh went down the “Newman’s a crook” path without a scrap of evidence to back the contention. Aside from proving what a complete shitbag she really is, she threw away a winnable election.

I relate these details now partly because it is too late for the strategy to damage the conservative cause (and if it’s used in 2015, the current crop of combatants can only blame themselves) but also partly because, based on its current behaviour, the LNP is showing that such a scare campaign would have been no ruse.

And should the LNP persist along its present course, it runs a great risk of jeopardising the electoral prospects of the Coalition federally next year: as Peter Brent (of Mumble fame) pointed out in his column in The Australian today, every five-point improvement in the federal voting numbers for Labor in Queensland equates to a one-point improvement in its overall federal numbers.

The Labor federal vote in Queensland has already increased by well over five percentage points in the last couple of months: and to put it into perspective, yesterday’s 51-49 lead to the Coalition in Newspoll would be 53-47 if the state LNP weren’t letting the ALP back into the game federally in Queensland.

As Bob Hawke once said: “if you can’t govern yourselves, you can’t govern the country.” The irony that the disunity to which those remarks referred, in 1987, emanated from Queensland is distinct.

The ALP will, of course, return to government in Queensland one day. But it shouldn’t be in 2015, and it most certainly shouldn’t occur on the receiving end of a gold-plated gift like this.

Quarterly Newspoll Figures: Labor’s Stuffed In Queensland

I’m sorry to put it so indelicately, but it’s as clear as the O’Farrell case in NSW earlier this year, or the Kennett case in Victoria in 1992, or even the Fraser case federally in 1975: The ALP is about to come a cropper, to use the vernacular. Big time.

This time it’s in Queensland, where Labor has been in office for five terms since forming minority government in 1998; the electoral drubbing is coming, and it’s at least two terms overdue.

Who could forget — the day the 2006 state election was called — National leader Lawrence Springborg and Liberal leader Bruce Flegg, fronting a press conference, their campaign derailed on the spot on day one by a simple question: who would be Premier of Queensland if the Liberals won more seats than the Nationals?

It should have been easily enough deflected: Springborg was Coalition leader heading into the election and barring surprises, would be Premier if the conservatives won.

“Barring surprises” would have been wriggle room enough for the mandatory to occur: if the Liberals won more seats, Flegg would have had to be Premier.

And if questioned about “what surprises,” it would — should — have been easy enough to dismiss the question in terms of the vagaries of the ballot box.

I’m not going to discuss the merits of Bruce Flegg as any sort of leadership contender. Suffice to say, however, Labor was gifted a term in office.

And in 2009 the electoral correction, at least, occurred: the swing back to the Coalition at least left the numbers in Parliament a little more balanced. But Springborg was on his third attempt to become Premier, and teamed with a well-liked but completely ineffectual Liberal leader in Mark McArdle, the duo didn’t stand a chance.

So here we are…another state election looming, and a new quarterly Newspoll from The Australian to dissect.

Newspoll is showing primary vote figures of 50% for the LNP in Queensland (-1% since April/May); 27% for Labor (-4%), 8% for the Greens (+1%), and 15% (+4%) for “Others.”

In two-party terms this equates to 61% for the LNP (+1%) and 39% for the ALP (-1%).

This poll doesn’t exactly mirror the Galaxy poll we looked at in Queensland a month ago — but it doesn’t exactly contradict it, either.

Galaxy found Queenslanders voting 63-37 after preferences; Newspoll finds 61-39, The gap between the two could simply be the margin of survey error, and so broadly, the two validate each other’s findings.

Campbell Newman continues to be a popular putative leader for the LNP, with 51% of respondents approving of his performance and 27% disapproving. This remains, in round terms, a two-to-one margin of approval over disapproval.

Anna Bligh, by contrast, registers 38% approval and 52% disapproval: figures back slipping quite close to those she was registering prior to the flood crisis in January, which provided her with a temporary fillip in her polling.

Tellingly, Newman leads Bligh on the “preferred Premier” measure by 48% to 34%; this is the second-largest lead on this measure, in any poll, by an opposition leader in Queensland since Labor took office in 1998.

Second only to the 49-35 figure Newman recorded in Newspoll in the previous survey: three months ago.

I’m certain that barring a major scandal (and Labor is trying desperately to find one, albeit with a total lack of success to this point), Campbell Newman will be Premier of Queensland before Easter — and will win in a landslide.

Brisbane alone will likely deliver him enough seats: the LNP currently holds just five of the 28 truly metropolitan Brisbane electorates (Aspley, Clayfield, Indooroopilly, Moggill, and Cleveland). Even if the polls overstate the LNP vote, expect that party to win a swag of new seats in Brisbane including Ashgrove, Mount Coot-tha, Mount Ommaney, Mansfield, Springwood and Chatsworth).

And much has been made of Bob Katter’s Australia Party, or whatever it is calling itself this week.

I like Bob Katter, but a) he hasn’t been a member of state Parliament in Queensland for 20 years; b) his appeal is limited in electoral terms; c) he isn’t likely to resonate with voters in south-east Queensland; and d) he certainly isn’t going to be the electoral sensation that “flash in the pan” and right-wing wacko Pauline Hanson was in 1998.

I’d count three seats — perhaps five — as a chance for Katter’s crowd; no more.

And even then, the ructions in Aidan McLindon’s Queensland Party — or at least, what’s left of it — should neatly split the protest vote at the coming election and ensure that most of the protest candidates fail to get elected.

Which brings us back to a two-horse race: Labor and the LNP.

It’s fairly obvious that the ALP is not going to be re-elected in Queensland; the only question is how much it stands to lose by.

I was no supporter of the Liberal/National merger and in many ways remain opposed to it; a decent Liberal leader who gave the finger to the Nationals over seat allocations was all that was required — and the “decent Liberal leader” is now the likely next Premier.

I will concede the LNP has operated much more professionally, and in a more disciplined fashion, than the pre-existing Coalition did.

And so, to use the colloquial expression, Labor is stuffed in Queensland; I’d expect them to record a result of 1977 proportions (not the 1974 bloodbath, just something approaching it).

35 seats as a net gain to the LNP, in other words.

And like so many other Labor administrations around Australia these past few years — be they there, going or gone — will anyone miss the state ALP government in Queensland, 1998-2012?

I doubt it.

What do you think?