Armageddon: Nuclear WA Election Result Is Turnbull’s Newman Moment

ANY TALK that WA’s election result is purely due to “state factors” is, to be kind, delusional; just as Tony Abbott’s unpopularity fortified the swing against Campbell Newman in Queensland — where One Nation and “arrogance” were factors, as they were in WA — an unpopular federal government has compounded the revolt in another Liberal state. WA provides Malcolm Turnbull’s “Newman moment.” it is inconceivable he will emerge unscathed.

I am not simply taking a potshot at Malcolm Turnbull, whose claims on the leadership of the federal Liberal Party have never stacked up in my eyes; but so bad is the outcome of yesterday’s state election in Western Australia for the Liberal Party — the worst, in fact, since the ALP first contested a state election there in 1901 — that it is impossible to argue, with any credibility whatsoever, that a deeply unpopular federal Liberal government led by a deeply unpopular Prime Minister is innocent of blame for a truly dreadful result in what has traditionally been one of the best states in Australia for the forces of mainstream conservatism.

In fact, and whilst I used the metaphor of lambs engaging in the slaughter of Liberal MPs to frame my piece ahead of the WA state election yesterday, a better analogy today is that of a nuclear Armageddon that has generated millions of tons of lethal fallout: and some of this, inevitably, must fall on Canberra and poison Turnbull’s government.

With more than a third of the 47.1% of the primary vote Colin Barnett’s Liberal Party attracted at the 2013 WA election lost — along with more than half of the 31 MPs the Liberal Party won on that occasion in the 59-seat lower house — the Liberals, along with their National Party alliance partners, appear to have been able to muster less than a third of those 59 seats, if projections of 14 Liberals and 5 Nationals come to pass: easily the worst state election result for non-Labor forces in WA in more than 100 years.

This isn’t merely an embarrassment — it is an indictment.

Yesterday’s abysmal state election result in Western Australia is a wake-up call to the Liberal Party nationally; to have been completely poleaxed in what has for decades been one of its best states can’t simply be attributed to the longevity of the Barnett government (eight years and seven months) when Labor has spent more than a decade in office continuously in every other state over the past 35 years (and in Victoria and South Australia, has done so twice in that time).

It can’t simply be attributed to the huge pile of debt that has been racked up on Barnett’s watch after the end of the mining investment boom; in Queensland in 2015 and South Australia in 1997, Labor rebounded after crushing election defeats where financial mismanagement was the key factor within a single term to force minority governments; in Victoria in 1999 and Western Australia in 2001, the ALP reclaimed office after just two terms despite the scale of financial scandals that cost it office in landslide defeats dwarfing anything Barnett might be accused of today.

And it can’t just be blamed on the silly preference deal the Liberal Party struck with One Nation, whereby the Liberals foolishly preferenced the protest party above their National Party allies.

The result in WA is, to be clear, a sign of the Liberal Party’s slide from favour across the country: and more evidence of this recalibration of the national polity will follow, as sure as night follows day, unless the penny finally drops for those Liberals in a position to actually do something to reverse it.

Whilst the Barnett government was far from perfect, it did in fact have a powerful record of achievement upon which to campaign: a message which, in increasingly typical fashion for the Liberal Party everywhere, proved impossible for it to sell.

The Barnett government spent much of its second term fighting with itself, with a clear lack of succession planning forcing it to ask voters to endorse an unpopular 66-year-old figurehead for a further four years — a big ask at the best of times, let alone in the straitened economic circumstances the WA Liberals found themselves in after eight years in office.

But it reflects on a sick and increasingly inept organisation which, right across Australia, is showing signs of being incapable of winning unless it is to capitalise on the faults and shortcomings of the Labor Party, and with the resurgence of federal Labor under arguably the least suitable individual ever presented to voters as a potential Prime Minister, it is growing difficult to ascribe even that capability to the Liberal Party either.

Readers of this column know exactly what I believe are the handicaps my party faces — and these are as applicable to yesterday’s election in WA as they are anywhere else in Australia.

A basic inability to formulate and execute effective political strategies and tactics.

An utter inability to sell anything whatsoever, and a “communications” capacity that is amateurish at best and downright juvenile at worst.

A contingent of advisors, staffers and other insiders who owe their presence to parking their noses up the backsides of factional overlords, or to pandering to minor chieftains presiding over petty dunghills and fiefdoms, rather than being selected on the basis of what they can actually do to help the party: the Liberal Party, at senior levels and wherever any degree of operational expertise is required, better resembles a crony club these days than a slick, well-oiled, effective political machine.

A lack of policies (or, indeed, a lack of any coherent platform at all) that mark the party out as a beacon for the small government, low tax, pro-family, pro-business, pro-individual constituency it has traditionally represented: the Liberal Party these days is too busy eliminating points of difference with the ALP to be bothered with cogent contemporary expressions of the timeless and noble offer it is uniquely positioned to make for the benefit of all Australians.

A parliamentary cohort increasingly swelled by former staffers, factional stooges, and other worthless types: the same thing it has spent decades (rightly) pillorying Labor for.

And whilst yesterday’s election loss might have been all but unavoidable, its scale speaks to the basic inability of the party to fight effective campaigns these days: with just 14 Liberal MPs likely to emerge after a two-party swing that looks to be in the order of 15%, nobody can argue the party in any way mitigated its losses. It didn’t.

It is one thing to win elections from opposition on slogans such as “stop the boats” or “axe the tax:” it is another thing altogether to govern effectively once government has been secured and in this sense, what happened yesterday merely reflects the malaise that has infected the Liberal Party nationally.

To win — and to win the best victory in WA history in 2013 — and spend the ensuing four years descending into hubris, squabbles over the spoils of office, and exhibiting a complete contempt for the voters who put it there far transcends the difficulties imposed on the Barnett government by cyclical events like the end of a mining boom or the related fall in the state’s GST share: a modest loss might be justified, but this annihilation is at least partly self-inflicted.

But to claim that this was an election decided purely on “state factors” is fatuous; and in this sense, the malfunctioning, misfiring federal Coalition government of Malcolm Turnbull — which itself embodies every one of the problems afflicting the Liberal Party that I have listed here — has to take its share of the responsibility too.

To be sure, Turnbull now faces an odious parallel with the Queensland state election of 2015 and the role played in it by the standing of Tony Abbott and his government, but more on that in a moment.

Right now, I think the Liberal Party is facing the bleakest period of its existence since the early 1980s, when more than a decade of opposition federally (and in most of the states) loomed large; the odd triumph (NSW, 1988) was more than offset by failures that should have been successes (WA in 1989, Victoria in 1988, SA in 1989, federally in 1990 and 1993) and the gradual elimination of what “real estate” conservative forces entered that miserable period with in the first place, losing Queensland and Tasmania to Labor in 1989 and the Brisbane City Council (which at one point represented the most senior administration the party headed anywhere in Australia) in 1991.

Since the Coalition returned to office federally in 2013, state Liberal governments in Queensland, Victoria and now Western Australia have fallen; two years out from another state election in NSW, the party’s prospects look shaky there too. Liberals are unlikely to win in South Australia or Victoria next year, and the Liberal government in Tasmania is as much a hostage to that state’s proportional voting system as anything else when it comes to its prospects for winning a second term next year.

In other words — now holding office only in NSW, Tasmania and federally — there is realistic and probable scope for the Liberal Party to surrender office in all three of these jurisdictions over the next two years, and it is looking down the barrel of an even more painful period than the 1980s, and “professional, modern” Labor, began inflicting on it 35 years ago.

If readers are wondering why I’m not devoting today’s article to a systematic analysis of the numbers emanating from what is tantamount to an apocalyptic, politically nuclear event, it’s simply because I think it represents just the latest instalment of a pattern of decline that will consign the Liberal Party to a decade of misery unless something drastic occurs to arrest it, but those who fret over such minutiae can keep an eye on the Wikipedia breakdown of the results here: I think the question of how many MPs the party emerges with, or where the swing against it finally settles, is that irrelevant in the wider scheme of things.

Just as the 2013 state election in WA sounded the death knell on Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership (and arguably Labor’s tenure in office federally overall), I can’t help thinking that the one held yesterday heralds a similar milestone — or millstone — for Malcolm Turnbull.

It is a seismic event of the importance of the 1974 election in Queensland, which effectively stamped the papers of the Whitlam government in Canberra.

And another state election in Queensland, two years ago, led directly to the so-called “challenge by an empty chair” which began a protracted process of removing Abbott from the Prime Ministership: the swing against Campbell Newman was almost identical to the one suffered by Barnett yesterday, and whilst the Queensland LNP retained enough seats to remain within spitting distance of reclaiming government, it started from an even stronger position in terms of votes and seats than Barnett entered yesterday’s contest defending.

Nobody can suggest that the lacklustre Turnbull government is blameless for what happened yesterday.

Nobody can claim the Prime Minister, as Abbott was in Queensland in 2015, was anything less than a direct negative that amplified the movement away from the incumbent government.

It is time for Turnbull’s colleagues to seriously consider the damage his continued presence stands to inflict upon the Liberal Party’s fortunes, federally and around the states, should he be permitted to continue as the party’s most senior — and visible — standard-bearer.

But dumping Turnbull will be pointless unless the other structural problems the party has lumbered itself with are also addressed and in this sense, those who “control” the Liberal Party — and who dish out patronage and paid employment to the useless, the inept, and the downright incompetent — ought to take a hard, critical look at themselves in the wake of yesterday’s disaster, and make brutally honest decisions about where they want the party to head: and whether, despite their cosily entrenched sinecures, their handiwork is conducive to the best interests of the party at all.

Yesterday was cataclysmic. Without extensive change at almost every level, many similar humiliations will soon follow.

End Of An Error: Clive Palmer Quits Parliament

AN UNMITIGATED FARCE unworthy of even a single vote has ended, with news Clive Palmer will contest neither a Queensland Senate seat nor his electorate of Fairfax; too gutless to face his incensed constituents — who will now be denied their opportunity to boot his voluble arse onto the pavement — Palmer leaves Canberra having arguably helped destroy a state government, a Prime Minister, and to help facilitate the return of the ALP to office.

And so it ends, that which should never have started.

The unmitigated farce that was the Palmer United Party — with Clive Palmer, who was going to win 100 lower house seats and become Prime Minister in “a revolution” — came to an end with a whimper rather than a bang today, with the not-unexpected news that not only was Palmer wimping out of facing the wrath of the voters he walked all over in the seat of Fairfax, but that he couldn’t even be bothered trying to take the cheat’s route back to Canberra by trying to secure a Senate berth.

There’s a good reason for that. Palmer would be lucky now not to be eliminated in the early rounds of any Senate count.

First things first: depending on preference, readers can peruse the Fairfax or Murdoch press attached to this afternoon’s news.

This column — right from the outset — was scathing of Clive Palmer and his egomaniacal pretensions to the Prime Ministership; an unsuitable candidate — for anything, if we’re honest about it — Palmer’s alleged mass uprising turned out to be small-scale but politically toxic incursion into three Senate seats, and a single House of Representatives electorate by 53 votes after preferences off the back of just 26% of the primary vote, at the 2013 election.

It was as good as it got for the self-styled billionaire and mining baron.

As far back as April 2013 — more than three years ago — we called out the “popular revolution” Palmer claimed to embody for what it was: an unabashed, arrogant pantomime, shamelessly aimed at personal advancement and the settling of not-so-old scores, with the delusional insistence he would become Prime Minister paling into insignificance beside the very real prospect he would find some way to kill off Campbell Newman in Queensland, Tony Abbott in Canberra, or both.

At root, the sole discernible pretext for Palmer’s political aspirations — aside from megalomania — was the fact that having donated millions of dollars to the Queensland Division of the National Party (and later the LNP), Palmer found the Newman government singularly unwilling to do whatever he wanted: planning approvals, land zoning decisions, favourable tax treatment, the whole box and dice.

With astonishing chutzpah (and notwithstanding the very sensitive antenna post-Bjelke-Petersen Queenslanders retain for anything with so much as a whiff of corrupt behaviour about it, even now), Palmer launched into a savage diatribe against Newman, all but accusing him of corrupt misconduct, accusing then-Treasurer Tim Nicholls of having “cooked the books,” and labelling the LNP a “bunch of crooks.”

There obviously wasn’t a mirror handy that day.

And of course, somewhere along the way, Tony Abbott and the federal Coalition became just as hated in Palmer’s eyes as Newman and the Queensland LNP; a cynic might say it was at the intersection between a massive ego and the need to retain votes, and the fact that offering to sluice huge amounts of cash around as the price for allowing legislation to pass the Senate might help curry empty but populist favour with the “battlers” for whose situation in life he had thitherto exhibited scant regard.

The balance of power in the Senate — which is what his bloc of three votes, in practice, amounted to — was used to no better ends than to cripple the Abbott government.

It is a point of record that I have criticised the 2014 budget as loudly as anyone, so misguided and poorly managed as it was.

But with Labor and the Communist Party Greens blocking everything in sight, it was Palmer’s votes that tipped the balance: and invariably, it was to vote unpopular measures down to make himself look like a champion of the oppressed. On at least one occasion — the repeal of the mining tax — he allowed the measure to pass, but only after insisting on billions of dollars in spending that ensured that far from helping fix the state of the Commonwealth budget, the abolition of the mining tax actually worsened it.

Palmer stands condemned for a distinct lack of judgement in ensuring the election of imbecilic Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie by throwing large sums of cash into her campaign; Lambie — probably the stupidest individual ever elected to any Australian Parliament — has made Parliament and Australia a laughing stock, with her childish prattle about chasing rich men with big dicks, or her excruciating distinction between “Chinese” and “Communist Chinese,” and who advocated some kind of nuclear strike against the latter contingent.

Lambie, unbelievably, stands a good chance of surviving the imminent double dissolution, and if she does, it will be a permanent indictment on Palmer for enabling the moron to get anywhere near the Senate in the first place.

More recent times have seen Palmer pick — and lose — legal fights with an array if institutions and identities, not least his state-backed business partners in China; for those who always knew what Palmer was like and/or could see straight through the wafting cloud of bullshit he tried to cloak his “people’s party” in, it was a deeply satisfying process to watch as court loss followed court loss, and the 68-zip record of success in lawsuits Palmer used to boast about was obliterated.

I’m reliably told that the only real difference between the Clive Palmer who was a Young Liberals member in Brisbane in the 1970s and the Palmer of just a few years ago is the fact that his business success meant that he was actually able to make good on the threats to sue anyone who pissed him off that were commonly made even as a teenager.

It’s a telling insight.

The idea of a full-scale replica of the Titanic — built in China and escorted into harbour in the USA by a Chinese submarine — was laughable beyond belief, and it goes without saying that there will never be a second sinking of the Titanic because there will never be a Titanic to sink.

But there has been nothing to laugh about as his business empire crumbles, killing off jobs and family livelihoods with it: first his resort at Coolum, in his electorate, and lately the Queensland Nickel refinery in North Queensland, the spectacle of hundreds of jobs being lost is of far more concern than listening to Palmer whinge in the press about his declining business fortunes.

In the end, nobody is going to miss Palmer when he vacates the national political complex on 2 July.

Except, perhaps, Bill Shorten, whose Labor Party is arguably the sole beneficiary of the antics of Palmer and his eponymous party; even though the 2014 budget was a political obscenity of the most unbelievably grotesque proportions, it is impossible to believe that even the misfiring Abbott government could have been hauled to the brink of defeat over it were it not for the tactics employed against it in the Senate by Palmer and his cohorts.

The fact the budget itself was deeply flawed does not automatically make Palmer’s actions right, but if Bill Shorten wins the election on 2 July, Palmer will be able to take a fair share of the credit for it — and this is an indictment on an individual who claimed he was starting his own party to promote the “true” virtues of Australian conservatism.

I feel very sorry for voters in Palmer’s seat of Fairfax; they have paid a heavy price for his purported advocacy on their behalf, and their communities are poorer for his continued presence in them. The Coolum resort was once a major community hub, a driver of economic activity in the region, and a provider of hundreds of jobs. Now it is as good as defunct. It seems an indicative metaphor for the trail of scorched Earth that seems to follow Palmer wherever he goes.

Electors in Fairfax deserve the opportunity to piss all over their rotund parasite of an MP from a great height, and to propel his sizeable arse across the pavement and into the gutter: so ungracious is Palmer, and so utterly self-serving, that he hasn’t even got the decency to face the music and allow them to pass judgement upon him.

Australian politics has seen its share of self-important hero figures — consumed by hallucinatory visions of their own grandeur, and fortified by the sheer gall to suggest people actually like or even love them — who are almost without exception the worst kind of people anyone could find to entrust with the mandate of acting on their behalf.

In this sense, Palmer isn’t the first — and regrettably, he won’t be the last. Even as I write, Lambie is sitting in Tasmania somewhere quietly congratulating herself on what a legend she is in her own mind.

But Palmer leaves public life with no discernible achievements, no track record of making the lives of the ordinary folk he was charged with serving any better, and nothing for which he will be remembered fondly or, indeed, remembered at all.

Nothing, that is, except the abuse of power implicit in seeking elected office to further his own business interests, and to destroy those who refused to do it — improperly, indecently, or even corruptly — on his behalf.

It is a sick and sorry record of “achievement” by a leech whose chief conviction seems to have been that a little money entitled him to whatever he wanted, and that the refusal of others to capitulate to his demands merely legitimised his abuse of that power in seeking to destroy them personally, politically, and with malice.

Vale, Clive Palmer — Prime Minister of nothing.

Good riddance.

 

Queensland: Newman Only One Factor In LNP Demise

WITH CONTROVERSY dogging re-recycled LNP leader Lawrence Springborg for praising former Premier Campbell Newman at the recent LNP Convention, this column fears that at parliamentary, organisational and membership levels, blaming Newman for its election loss is being used to mask flaws that existed long before he was drafted from City Hall. Making Queensland’s conservatives electable requires more than erasing Newman from history.

When I joined the Queensland division of the Liberal Party in 1990, one of the things by which I was soon struck was the fact most of the people who were prominent in running the party had been at its epicentre for decades; and whilst I am not going to name them — even though drawing attention to the fact at the time earned me the wrath of a powerful junta that I’m probably still paying for 25 years later and 1,200 miles away — it is an unbelievable reality that aside from a key member of that junta who died six or seven years ago, most of those individuals (and most of whom are now approaching their geriatric years) remain in influential (but not necessarily elected) positions in the LNP today.

And whilst I can’t speak to the internal dynamics in the old National Party in Queensland, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that even though some of its public faces changed over the years, most of the key players behind the scenes did not: and in any case, between the two, the Coalition/LNP have managed to eke out two wins — one in minority — from the ten state elections in Queensland since the final election won by Joh Bjelke-Petersen in 1986.

But in late 2012 — less than nine months after scoring the biggest state election win in Queensland history, eclipsing even the bloodbath Bjelke-Petersen inflicted on Labor in 1974 — I published the first in a series of articles in this column that collectively and rather baldly stated that the LNP was on track to be defeated at its next encounter with the voting public, which at that time was more than two years away.

Predictably enough, word filtered south that as far as my old “mates” in Brisbane were concerned, I was an idiot who knew nothing: those western suburbs types who I alienated as a teenager and early twenty-something with too much positive energy (which they dismissed as arrogance) were in their own minds vindicated that their moves to wreck my political prospects all those years ago were justified.

Yet as subsequent events have shown, an unequivocal declaration to a friendly Brisbane journalist later in 2012 that the LNP would lose the 2015 state election showed my judgement as rather more astute than theirs, and whilst I hate to be right about events that win elections for the ALP, the LNP was doomed in office almost from the day Campbell Newman took the Premier’s desk in the Executive Building.

(The journalist made a point of ringing me the morning after the election to note the prediction two-and-a-bit years earlier had been right and I thought, for a horrified moment, I was going to be asked to cover Queensland politics as an analyst: I like Queensland and I enjoy returning every so often for visits, but Melbourne is home. Happily, the situation didn’t arise).

The reason I recount all of this is because the problems inherent in the government the LNP formed in March 2012 — just like the problems with at least the Liberal Party in Queensland for as long as I ever had anything to do with it, which predated my membership by some years — were so appallingly obvious at almost a first glance it was and is a source of some amazement that any group of intelligent, supposedly politically talented people could bear to go through the motions of such a counter-productive waste of time.

Don’t get me wrong; I would have done just about anything (legal) for the Liberal Party in those days, and even after some in that awful western Brisbane junta made it clear — directly and indirectly — that I was to be driven out and destroyed at all costs, I still strove to serve it in whatever capacity I could.

But when I see reports from respectable people claiming to have diagnosed the causes of the LNP’s defeat this year — and then find out from an internal source that the real report* is basically a noisier and nastier version of the same thing that simultaneously still misses the mark whilst enjoying the silkily sexy status of secrecy — and then learn independently that the goal of “hanging as much on fucking Newman as possible” to provide a scapegoat was the objective in some cases of those who were instrumental in persuading a good Lord Mayor to embark on a career in state politics that he didn’t really want as their salvation, it’s pretty clear Queensland conservatives have learned nothing.

In this sense, re-recycled LNP leader Lawrence Springborg was right — albeit a bit too brave for his own good — to positively acknowledge and praise Newman before the LNP faithful at their State Convention at the weekend.

It is true that Newman was arrogant, autocratic, polarising and sometimes highly impersonal: and whilst none of these qualities is particularly appealing in high doses, the fact remains he wasn’t elected to win a beauty pageant.

It is also true that as the captain of his team, he came to personify public resentment and hostility toward the LNP in a way few leaders — even those beaten at elections — truly manage to do. Paul Keating’s name comes to mind. Gough Whitlam’s, too. So does that of John Cain in Victoria, although he battled off into the wilderness rather than stand and face the wrath of the enraged Victorian electorate in 1992. Or even Jeff Kennett, the Liberal Premier who made Melburnians feel warm and content and confident in their booming, majestic city but was brought undone by regional voters who were incensed at being likened to “Melbourne’s toenails.”

But to group Newman with these examples is unfair: when the LNP was elected, Queensland was in a mess, and fast heading toward the now-traditional, time-honoured end destination of long-term Labor governments of becoming a debt-addled economic basket case. In the circumstances, nobody would be wildly popular fixing it, and Newman himself certainly copped a disproportionate share of the fallout.

I don’t intend to dig extensively into the murky depths of the abyss of which the LNP is now balanced upon the edge; by virtue of its election loss that was as narrow as it was totally unexpected (by most) and completely unacceptable, there is in fact some merit in a degree of circumspection when the prospect of a return to office may come sooner than some believe.

But the simple truth is that if Newman is to blame, so is the LNP organisation, the party’s MPs, the advisers thrown out of the ministerial wing when the election was lost, and the members — or, at least, certain groups of members — all of whom, if they were honest, are just as culpable over the defeat as their beaten leader.

And whilst he’s enjoying some positive (and deserved) press at the moment, the fact Lawrence Springborg is leading the LNP at all is a symptom of a clueless and directionless party that doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near government, for now at least: that a three-time election loser with precisely zero appeal to voters in marginal Brisbane seats is the best the LNP can put up speaks volumes, and it isn’t Springborg himself — an excellent fellow — that I’m being critical of.

Courtesy of the ridiculous coup that installed Campbell Newman as LNP leader from outside Parliament in the first place, former leader John-Paul Langbroek — a solidly competent, if unspectacular, eventual Education minister — more or less had his viability as a leader summarily trashed by the coup conspirators.

Spooked by an illusory spike in the Bligh government’s opinion numbers, certain individuals jumped to the thoroughly misguided conclusion that Langbroek couldn’t guarantee an election win. Well, guess what? Nobody can, until the votes have been cast and counted. I think Newman is one of the most substantial figures to emerge in conservative politics in Queensland in decades. But how much better off the LNP might have been with a solidly competent, if unspectacular, Premier is pretty obvious in hindsight.

Former Treasurer Tim Nicholls — a class act indeed — has been comprehensively trashed for no better reason than his friendship and his association with controversial powerbroker Santo Santoro. I don’t know Nicholls but I have known Santoro for years, and — whilst I was never “in” with his group in the way some were — and despite the fact Santo is as human and mistake-prone as the rest of us, the hysteria and rhetoric and bullshit about him that is and was peddled by his opponents fails to match the reality. It always did.

Former Transport minister Scott Emerson seems to have been a future leader whose time never was; none of the people I speak to see him as a plausible contender, and with safe Brisbane seats at a premium, he should probably be moved on.

But aside from these gentlemen, the fact the LNP’s only other “contenders” are second-term MPs re-elected very narrowly in usually reliable ALP seats is damning; Tim Mander could only be made leader by moving him — at the risk of sounding like a broken record — into one of the party’s few safe Brisbane seats, whilst Ian Walker (arguably the more substantial of the pair, and in a seat that should be rusted onto the LNP in Mansfield, but isn’t) holds his electorate, like Mander, by just a few hundred votes.

With rural MP Springborg at the helm, it’s not hard to see the LNP’s remaining marginal seats in Brisbane at grave risk of falling to the ALP at the next election in the absence of any serious anti-Labor backlash; in turn, that would mean — having by then spent 21 of 26 years in opposition — that the LNP had substantially failed to regenerate its leadership stocks, and those it retains within its ranks (Langbroek and Nicholls) have been perhaps fatally injured by their own party’s antics.

It’s true that some of the Newman government’s policies — the so-called VLAD legislation, for example — unsettled people, even frightened them; and no government obliged to enact deep cuts in public expenditure, as Newman’s was in the face of the mess left behind by Labor, is going to be everyone’s favourite.

But — and this is becoming an old story where governments formed around the country by conservatives are concerned — Newman’s government proved utterly incapable of selling them; certainly, a lot of noise was made in the name of “communications” and disseminating information, but nobody would seriously argue those efforts were in any way effective, or competent.

In fact, poor judgement and a distinct lack of political professionalism was everywhere, right from the outset, where the Newman government was concerned; the early scandal involving former MP and controversial Liberal identity Michael Caltabiano could be regarded as a virtual proxy for the scandal that quickly descended on the Borbidge-Sheldon government soon after it took office in 1996, when it appointed disgraced Bjelke-Petersen era figure Allan Callaghan to a plum bureaucratic post: nobody is suggesting that Caltabiano is a crook, as Callaghan was, but the appointment was that poorly judged.

It continued through the Scott Driscoll affair; and whilst any party can have the misfortune to find a rotten apple in its barrel — especially one with nearly 50 new MPs — the length of time it took to act on Driscoll, and to remove him from the LNP even if expelling the grub from Parliament would always take longer, sent a shocking signal to the Queensland public.

It was the same story with Peter “The Plonker” Dowling, who — upon being discovered in photos taken in a parliamentary office with his dick in a glass of wine, and sent to his mistress — should have been instantly and summarily expelled from the LNP; instead, the party allowed him to continue on under its banner for 18 months after the scandal broke, and even a ridiculous review of his status for this year’s election by the LNP state executive in late 2014 “permitted (Dowling) to proceed to preselection” in a pompous, toothless, and entirely damaging charade that failed to excise a political liability on the spot — the failure to do so earlier notwithstanding.

These are just a couple of pointers to the fact that standards — in the decent sense — were not a high priority for the LNP. Newman cannot be blamed for all of them.

In fact, preselection reviews were late in a long, long series of woeful demonstrations of abysmal judgement by the LNP in office; the decision to similarly allow controversial former minister Ros Bates to “proceed to preselection” — a bloody ridiculous, jumped-up phrase — further signalled to the electorate that LNP disciplinary processes were a farce, and that sloppy or questionable behaviour would be tolerated and subject to no more than a sham trial or, in Driscoll’s case, firm action that gave every appearance of being reluctantly undertaken in the face of sustained public outrage over a period of months.

To be clear, a lot of what I am talking about is based on perception; but the simple fact — like it or not — is that perception counts very heavily in politics.

Yet the thing that quickly tipped me off to the LNP’s likely mortality was Bruce Flegg, the MP who should never have been allowed to contest another election after the disgusting amateurism he displayed as Liberal leader in 2006.

The controversy that quickly embroiled him as a minister in 2012 over his lobbyist son’s unauthorised access to his ministerial office was foreseeable, avoidable, and spoke to the ingrained political ineptitude I am talking about; that Flegg was dispatched to the backbench shortly afterwards didn’t matter a tin of beans, for the damage — in public estimation — was done.

The LNP seemed to ignore the fact that it was more or less the same outfit in which the Borbidge-era Attorney-General, Denver Beanland, ignored a censure vote in Parliament to defiantly continue in office, and whilst replacing Beanland at the time would not have seen the Borbidge government fall, it set a despicable precedent that the LNP’s enemies were eagerly awaiting a repeat of under Newman. For the ALP and its noisy outrage machine, the Flegg debacle provided it, and the rancour the episode attracted in the press provided Labor an early fillip.

The ALP couldn’t believe its luck. Yet by the end of the LNP’s first year in office it had lost two ministers — one before he was even sworn in — and endured the fallout from Caltabiano’s ill-advised appointment, a gift that continued giving for Labor well after the immediate furore died down.

At the very least, the LNP executive did have the balls to try to disendorse Flegg last year — a move that should have been undertaken ahead of the state election in 2009 if Flegg couldn’t be persuaded to get out of Parliament: so incompetent was his performance as Liberal leader in 2006 it is fair to assert there was no value whatsoever in the retention of his services, and his blue-ribbon seat of Moggill was hardly in danger of being lost with a different candidate carrying the conservative flag.

Yet the fact it took three attempts to get rid of Flegg sums up practically everything that was wrong with the LNP during its time in office; thanks to his western Brisbane “maaates” (who have always put fidelity to each other ahead of the exercise of genuine political nous, if they ever had any), Flegg defied his disendorsement by the LNP machine which — whaddayaknow — quickly climbed down and “permitted the candidate to proceed to preselection” after all.

I’m reliably, but unverifiably, informed that new Moggill MP Christian Rowan only won the ensuing preselection ballot thanks to the votes of LNP executive members who participated, and the fact Flegg’s buddies stuck fat by him even at the eleventh hour is an indictment on them.

Meanwhile, Queensland voters — and those in Brisbane in particular, who had taken more than 20 years to fully re-embrace a conservative state government — were revulsed by what they saw unfold.

I could go on, but the LNP’s state election defeat in January had far, far more to do with other elements in the party than just Newman, but I suppose if the notion that crucifying a scapegoat somehow makes it all go away Newman must have been an irresistible target for some of the less scrupulous and in some cases hypocritical hatchet men who needed a diversion, and quickly.

The LNP was built, in short, on a fusion between the National Party’s authoritarian organisational model and the Liberal Party’s more democratic membership participation structures — an obvious incompatibility — and behind closed doors, each blamed the other for engineering the January defeat.

None of that had anything to do with Newman at all.

I’m told State Convention resolved some aspects of this, empowering the membership and making the organisation more accountable to it. Whether any of this makes one jot of difference remains to be seen. Ominously, however, the state President who presided over the whole thing, Bruce McIver, remains in his position with his tenure in the post renewed.

That said, nobody could accuse the party’s head office of running a professional campaign in 2015.

Even the decision to go to the polls at the end of the school holiday period — described in the Borbidge-Sheldon review as “arrogance” when in fact, it was a desperate attempt to outrun decaying opinion polls that were finally suggesting defeat for the government — hammered fresh nails into the Newman government’s coffin, and the hands that drove them home were not (as some suggest) Newman’s alone.

Whichever way you cut it, the basic truth is that the LNP — incredibly, after 14 years in opposition, and 20 of the previous 22 — was simply unready to govern when it was elected.

For that, the same people who have run Queensland’s conservative parties for decades are very heavily culpable but as ever, none of these people ever find themselves driven away from the circles of decision making and influence within the LNP.

The fact Campbell Newman wasn’t even on the state political circuit at all until about nine months before the election that swept the LNP to office in a landslide makes it obvious there is a limited amount as to how much he can be made a scapegoat for.

And as competent as his government might have been (which, broadly, it was, despite its extreme unpopularity), many of the functions around media and personnel management, communications, political strategy, organisational effectiveness and the like — which might have made a difference to its eventual political fortunes — were, almost without exception, the responsibilities of other people.

No effective capacity to negate the bellicose onslaught of ALP abuse was tangible. No strategy was devised to counter its use of union stooges masquerading as emergency services workers at by-elections. It could be argued that the success of the unions’ stunt in Queensland emboldened similar activities in Victoria and contributed directly to the defeat of another conservative government in another state. The strategy is apparently being adapted and readied as I write by union thugs for use against the Abbott government. The LNP’s handiwork and its consequences by no means stop at the Tweed River.

By the time Clive Palmer stomped out on his crusade to destroy the LNP because he couldn’t control it, a lot of the damage was done; but Palmer — himself a veteran of decades’ involvement in Queensland politics — would have been ruthlessly obliterated by the National Party machine had he done what he did in Bjelke-Petersen’s day. By contrast, the LNP proved almost utterly incapable of any meaningful response, to the point snivelling grubs like Alex Douglas who were lured out of the LNP by Palmer were themselves able to compound the political damage Palmer undoubtedly inflicted.

And again, nobody can lay the blame for these shortcomings at Newman’s feet.

I think, despite whatever assertions are made to the contrary, that back room “hard” heads in the LNP lost sight of the fact that despite its gargantuan majority, the huge win in 2012 was harvested from a primary vote of 49%: by contrast, the Bjelke-Petersen avalanche in 1974 saw the National and Liberal Parties pull in 60% of first preference votes between them. The 2012 win merely saw outright support for the conservatives return to the level they achieved in 1995, at which time it failed to yield a majority thanks to rigged boundaries. And just like 1995, that 49% vote proved surprisingly soft.

Now in opposition and theoretically needing just a couple of seats to return to government, the old Nationals have their man back in the saddle — whether because the party really wants it, or because the self-inflicted damage to the LNP’s other contenders is too great to overcome — and this, too, suggests the party has learnt nothing from its time in the wilderness. Bushies do not attract votes in Brisbane. It might be cruel but it is true.

Yet just like Groundhog Day, Springborg is back. He is in dubious company; the only leader of a major party anywhere in the country to lose three elections and later win office was the Country Party’s Frank Nicklin in Queensland in 1957 — and only then on account of one of Labor’s self-destructive splits. It is no wonder the LNP’s present strategy seems to be to get back into office through a change of government on the floor of Parliament rather than at an election.

But really, the LNP isn’t in much better shape than it was after the 2009 state election, or even 2006: a raft of talented MPs have come and gone from Parliament — David Crisafulli, Lisa France, Jack Dempsey, Rob Cavallucci, to name a few — whilst the party boasts just a handful of Brisbane seats over and above its pitiful haul in 2009, and holds them by the collective margin of just a couple of thousand votes.

In the meantime, that cabal of ageing western suburbs Liberals — in addition to their similarly moribund counterparts from the National Party — continues to wield all power inside the LNP, and whilst I’m told State Convention skewed the balance away from the organisation and put more power in the hands of the membership, such proclamations are probably no more than the empty crap that has been heard all too often in the past.

If the same vigour and energy with which Santoro has been pursued over the years were devoted to rooting out dinosaurs who arguably had little to offer the conservative parties to begin within — let alone for decades — then perhaps something might have been learned from the embarrassment that was their second term in office in Queensland from ten attempts.

But such an overhaul would require largely unelected purveyors of power, prestige and patronage to surrender their stranglehold over the spoils of almost uninterrupted defeat, and whilst such baubles are in the bigger scheme of things worthless, in the eyes of those who hold them they convey far greater value than nothing.

In fact, dispensing with the obsession with doing hatchet jobs on each other and cutting their noses off to spite their faces by driving good people away for no better reason than superficial disagreements over policy, personality and strategy — and focusing on doing what they’re supposedly there for, which is fighting the ALP — would do wonders in terms of knocking the LNP into some kind of professional outfit rather than the amateurish joke it is almost invariably exposed as being.

The passage of time does different things to different people; in my own case I grew up, deserted the rabble of Queensland conservative politics when I was 25, and got on with other things.

As fatuous and disrespectful as it sounds, it’s debatable as to whether a raft of people, older, richer, and better connected than I am, have ever grown up: and the proof lies in the fact the party they have controlled for so long, whether jointly or severally, is once again mired where it seemingly belongs — in opposition.

I haven’t bothered to name names; it isn’t worth the time or effort of the people involved launching pointless defamation proceedings that would inevitably fail, just for the look of doing so, nor my time defending them. Everyone has better things to do with their time or at least, that’s the theory.

But they know who they are, and if they were honest — brutally, viscerally candid about the fruits or otherwise of their handiwork — they would know that Campbell Newman is near the bottom of any list of people who should be blamed for the debacle that was the LNP in power, and that they should instead seek answers in a mirror.

*Despite my best subterranean efforts, I never managed to acquire a copy of it: although to be clear, my interest arose from curiosity only, for it is impossible to believe the “secret” report was any more perceptive of the LNP’s defeat than the public one. There is no offence or disrespect intended toward Rob Borbidge or Joan Sheldon; God knows how they were even able to frame the report they did, given the pressure that existed to crucify Newman. The truth would have been too much to expect — if, that is, anyone at the LNP really wanted it at all.

Labor Wins Queensland: LNP Should Not Challenge Ferny Grove

ROUNDING OUT Labor’s stunning state election win in Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk has been invited by Governor Paul de Jersey to form a government; the resulting administration will have a narrow mandate, and no public consent to deviate from the few policies it presented to voters. It may not see out a three-year term, and it would be imprudent for the beaten LNP to act on plans to challenge the result in the disputed seat of Ferny Grove.

I had intended to take a day off posting today, and not least to take a breath from the endless Liberal leadership spill fiasco, the problem of Peta Credlin, and all the other contortions these events have thrown up over the past week; given they continue to resurface, however, here I am: although I want to talk briefly about Queensland to begin with.

We will be revisiting the Liberals in Canberra later this evening or tomorrow, which is quite soon enough.

But first things first: belated congratulations are due to Queensland Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk, who two weeks after producing the political upset of the century to date at a state election was invited earlier today to form a government by Queensland’s Governor, Paul de Jersey; whilst I wish the ALP no goodwill whatsoever at any level it is critical, in the interests of Queenslanders, that Palaszczuk’s government makes at least a modestly competent fist of the task it is now to be entrusted with.

The signs are hardly promising.

I was reasonably certain more than two years ago, as readers know, that the LNP — despite the biggest election win in Australian political history in 2012 — was unlikely to survive its initial re-election attempt, and so it has eventually proven; its defeat (which was obvious on election night) is outright, clear, and should not be mistaken by the LNP as amounting to a stint as a “government in exile” or any similarly dangerous delusion about the result.

At time of writing it nonetheless appears that Labor has managed to amass some 51% of the two-party vote, which in turn represents a swing of a shade less than 14%: almost exactly reversing the belting it suffered at the hands of the LNP in 2012.

The difference — and the fact Labor is re-entering office one seat short of a majority — can be attributed to the LNP’s retention of a swag of seats (especially in Brisbane) on paper-thin margins that were won by the ALP in 2009, and should not be construed as proof my assertion that the boundaries in Queensland are skewed toward Labor is wrong: the fact Labor is in a position to form any sort of government at all is in part a by-product of that bias rather than something achieved despite it.

And the reality that a further uniform swing to the ALP of 2% would net it an additional eight seats ought to be a sobering one for LNP hardheads, who are now confronted by the memory that every Labor state government that has taken office in minority in the past 15 years or so — Queensland in 1998, South Australia in 2001, Victoria in 1999, and NSW (admittedly by one seat) in 1999 — went on to score landslide wins at the subsequent elections they faced, almost annihilating the Coalition in Queensland in 2001 and in Victoria in 2002.

The Palaszczuk government arrives in office with a very narrow mandate; light on solid policies or specific initiatives, the ALP based its campaign against the LNP squarely, in effect, upon not being Campbell Newman: the strategy has obviously reaped great dividends, but it opens Labor to a number of uncomfortable problems that have likely laced the road ahead of it with political land mines.

Having made so few specific undertakings, Labor will expose itself on its foreflank to charges of harbouring a sinister secret agenda if it springs any surprises: exactly the kind of charge it freely made against the Newman government, and not least when it came to the small matter of attempts on the LNP’s part to clean up the abject disaster into which Queensland’s last Labor government unceremoniously dumped it.

On the aft flank, should it abandon those pledges it did in fact spell out, it will expose itself to the same vicious retribution it engineered against the Newman government for doing the same thing although again, I note the mess Labor left behind in Queensland last time, and the flexibility that was needed to deal with it but which has now been made to inflict a fatal consequence on the LNP at the ballot box.

And some of the measures Palaszczuk takes into office are now going to require some serious explaining: how, for example, Labor can repay the mountain of debt it racked up last time it was in government without a privatisation program of some kind? Its plan to use dividends from state-owned enterprises (such as the electricity network) might be worth listening to if the monies weren’t already committed — a fact Labor well knows.

The fact any such dividends, short of sabotaging the commercial operations of those enterprises, would be insufficient to do more than cover interest repayments (leaving the debt bill intact) is another nicety her government will have an interesting time trying to explain away.

And Labor has exposed itself, by the methods it used to return to power, to two potential consequences.

One, that Independent Peter Wellington will have to be more rusted on than “independent” if he is to be expected to turn a blind eye to some of the somersaults and backflips the ALP will need to perform against its stated agenda; a government delivering unheralded nasties and U-turns is inevitable if the ALP is remotely serious about turning in a responsible performance this time around.

And two, if it does that, its own tactics have given a green light to the LNP to engage (if it so chooses) in the kind of savage, vicious dishonesty and abusive megaphone politics Labor has proven so adroit in executing over recent years, and just as Campbell Newman’s obvious unpopularity was magnified by these tactics from Labor, so too can Labor be a victim of them in due course if its opposition opts to respond in like kind.

Of course, a third possibility is that Labor will simply sail through three years in office doing very little at all and no care for the consequences, content simply to seek re-election in three years on the pretext its minority status prevented it from governing properly (its claim in Victoria, at least, in 2002). After all, Labor these days doesn’t stand for much more than simply being in power wherever it contests elections, and there is every chance Queensland will prove no different.

I think the LNP, in the ordinary course of events, would stand an excellent change of winning office at the election likely at the end of 2017, although I note a snap election in, say, 18 months to capitalise on any sustained positive polling and/or LNP disunity cannot be ruled out.

Yet the signals emanating from the LNP are ominous, if Labor governments are not your cup of tea.

It has endorsed three-time election loser Lawrence Springborg to return as its leader, and “yesterday’s man” — however decent or affable — is unlikely to win on his fourth attempt.

The return to a Darling Downs-based rural leader runs the very real risk of alienating a huge chunk of the LNP’s remaining support in Brisbane and surrounding districts, and the additional terms in opposition this gamble may yet inflict on Queensland conservatives would be a hell of a price to pay for ex-Nationals reclaiming what they arrogantly believe is their birthright.

(I would note, too, that of the LNP’s 42 remaining MPs 23 are ex-Liberals, but I digress).

And in re-selecting Springborg it appears to have chosen a leader it thinks the two Katter party MPs will somehow make Premier of Queensland despite the fact Labor’s MPs, plus the Independent Wellington who is pledged to Labor, add up to a majority.

With all of this in mind, the LNP would be certifiable to proceed with its stated intention of challenging the result in the northern Brisbane seat of Ferny Grove in the Court of Disputed Returns.

I’m not going to bog down in the constitutional arguments tonight — although they don’t shine benignly upon the LNP’s plans either — but the fact the Palmer United Party candidate was an undischarged bankrupt (and thus ineligible to stand) does not, in itself, invalidate the election conducted in that district.

The LNP would need to prove the status of the candidate affected the outcome (which, given it was publicly unknown until several days after the election, it obviously didn’t) and that another Palmer candidate’s preferences may have flowed differently to those from the 993 Palmer votes actually cast, overturning a 466-vote win by Labor’s Mark Furner (which there is no way on Earth it actually can).

But the real argument for the LNP to refrain is less complex: as it stands, Labor won Ferny Grove and now requires a swing against it of 0.8% to lose it; the political tide in Queensland is running strongly in Labor’s favour; the machinations and goings-on of the Abbott government federally — an undeniable factor in the state election result — continue apace; the LNP would seek to win back a highly suburban electorate as the first test of a rural leader who on three occasions could muster no more than four seats in Brisbane (with Ferny Grove never one of them); and if the challenge actually succeeded, the LNP would face the additional campaign hurdle of justifying sending the 32,500 voters in Ferny Grove back to the polls five minutes after they clearly returned a Labor member.

Based on the ability (or lack of it) of conservative governments anywhere in the country to sell anything to voters at the moment, the dangers of forcing a by-election in Ferny Grove should be readily apparent to all but the exceedingly stupid and the retarded.

Yes, the LNP could win the seat: and three years of rural-dominated government in an unhappy alliance with the Katter party and with Springborg as Premier would almost certainly end in heavy defeat, and the LNP could be confident of a return to near-obliteration in Brisbane at such a defeat.

The likelier outcome is that Labor would romp home in Ferny Grove on a further significant swing, legitimising Palaszczuk as Premier and wounding Springborg, probably fatally, triggering bitter recriminations and infighting within the LNP, and destroying whatever tiny nugget of political authority on which ex-Nationals in the LNP thought it appropriate to base his return as leader.

Played correctly, the ALP will survive in Queensland for a single term only. The problem is that yet again, the LNP has illustrated the sheer present political ineptitude of the conservative side of politics.

Unlike Labor, however, the LNP’s eventual fortunes are in its own hands: and in a storyline that seems depressingly familiar in the context of Queensland’s conservative political forces, the portents are anything but good — far from it.

 

 

Labor Win In Queensland A Clarion Call For Liberal Party Reform

THE LABOR state election win in Queensland is neither surprising nor deserved; for a second time in nine weeks, the cumulative impact of poorly contrived, badly executed and barely professional political operations by the Liberal Party (or LNP, in this case) has cost it office after a single term where it could have governed for many years. A federal election is due in 18 months. Without urgent, extensive change, the Liberals will lose that too.

At the state election in Queensland yesterday — with counting still in progress — the Labor Party scored a stunning victory, winning between 44 and 46 of the 89 state seats on a swing against the first-term LNP government of Campbell Newman of about 13%; even if it ends up with 44 seats the ALP can still expect to govern, for Independent MP for Nicklin Peter Wellington signalled before the election that he would support Labor ahead of the LNP in any hung Parliament. Labor is likelier, however, to narrowly achieve majority government.

Before we get too far into things, I have a message for those who run the Liberal Party, who have blacklisted me from employment in (or other formal involvement with) the inner circles of the party, and who have made it smugly clear both publicly and privately in internal forums that they believe themselves to be astutely professional and competent political operators.

I WAS RIGHT.

And I have to say that, not out of any sense of conceit and certainly not with any satisfaction about what happened yesterday, but because for far too long, I (and others who have foreseen the proverbial writing on the wall) have been dismissed as a disgruntled member, a troublemaker, an attention seeker and a fruit cake, when at all times I have merely sought to highlight the very real problems the party faces, but which those who run it are too blind or delusional or conflicted to see.

I am actually not going to dwell too long on what happened in Queensland yesterday; after all, a win is a win is a win, and Premier-elect Annastacia Palaszczuk and her team must be congratulated on pulling off what ranks as one of the greatest upsets in Australian political history, if not the greatest.

Queensland Labor takes office with perhaps the narrowest mandate of any incoming state government anywhere in Australia in at least the past 30 years; having run a campaign based chiefly on not being Campbell Newman — and offering precious little by way of a detailed policy agenda — it now finds itself embarking on a three-year term in office with the moral authority to enact very few initiatives indeed. It means there should be a rich seam of political detritus for the conservatives to mine in the lead-up to the election I think will be held in late 2017, but that’s a story for another time.

For anyone with shrewd enough political judgement to separate flutter and noise from genuine political markers, the risks the LNP would lose yesterday’s state election were visible as far back as late 2012, and I called them as such in this column in November 2012: for my trouble I was the recipient of a number of highly abusive phone calls from persons located north of the Tweed River, and the message was conveyed to me that I had made a fool of myself.

Whilst platitudes about sticks and stones are well and good, it is this kind of summary dismissal of any strategic discourse that deviates from what we will call “The Plan” that has cost the Liberal Party (and affiliates like the LNP) very dearly over many years, and which — unless something fairly drastic is done, and quickly — will continue to do so.

In the case of Queensland, the signposts I initially recognised less than nine months after the LNP virtually obliterated Labor in Queensland quickly proved to be no illusion; we have intermittently discussed them in this column, with examples of the kind of thing I’m talking about able to be revisited here and here for those who might have missed them.

(It is also the reason I instantly seized on Joe Hockey’s federal budget last May as an election-losing abomination — and it will prove to be so unless a new approach is devised — although that’s another story).

I owe readers an apology, for at times I too have been guilty of falling into the trap of proclaiming the LNP would win narrowly when for most of its term in office I thought it headed for defeat, and people will note the heavy qualifications in these past articles I placed on its prospects at an election it has indeed now lost.

But late last week — whilst backgrounding and talking points were pouring out of LNP headquarters in Brisbane to suggest the government would romp home — I published a piece that was unequivocal that Campbell Newman would lose his seat of Ashgrove (he did), and that the government could lose the state election altogether as well (it has).

The only reason for suggesting a 46-49 seat haul for the government was a hedge purely against the sheer size of the swing required for the LNP to lose, and as it turns out, that prediction at the upper end of my expectations was far too generous.

But we have been here before, and not so long ago.

In Victoria, an insecurely seated Liberal government led by a reasonably popular figure in Denis Napthine had, in my view, a compelling story to sell voters last November, despite the leadership change 18 months earlier that removed a dead weight in the form of Ted Baillieu as Premier and the directionless drift the party had succumbed to as a result.

Yet that’s the point: the story was never sold, as the Coalition in Victoria waged a campaign as inept as it was misdirected; and in the aftermath of that event I wrote a brutal critique of what went wrong, and how a radical overhaul of every aspect of the Liberal Party’s operations in this state is crucial if it is to reclaim office again any time soon.

Since then, it has become apparent that legendary Liberal powerbroker Michael Kroger will resume the state presidency of the Victorian division in March: a move that on its own is enough for me to continue my membership of the Liberal Party, for when Kroger last held the post in the 1980s and early 1990s, the changes made to the party in Victoria enabled it to enjoy a period of electoral success that has not been experienced since. In the absence of another does of Kroger restructuring, the Liberals’ prospects in Victoria are bleak.

It is at this point I note that a federal election is now just 18 months away, and unless “The Plan” and those who persist with it are dispensed with very quickly, the Coalition will lose that election too — and lose it, perhaps, very badly indeed.

One of the key points I want to make today is that in many respects — with the Liberal Party’s prospects rapidly disappearing around the proverbial S-bend across Australia — it does not matter who leads the party in various jurisdictions, or even (to an extent) how unpopular or otherwise they might be.

Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott are undoubtedly polarising figures, at whom the ALP has thrown all the vitriol and unbridled hatred it can muster; to a great degree, these gentlemen — reviled by a wide cross-section of the electorate — are held in such low regard purely as a result of the Left’s attempts to personalise its politics and destroy those to its Right who pose the greatest electoral threat.

No real effort is expended by the Liberals to neutralise this kind of thing, and whilst it sits at the lower end of what really matters in terms of political strategy, it’s nonetheless a mistake the party can’t afford to make.

But personal popularity is one thing; the lack of it was no bar to Abbott winning a landslide victory 18 months ago.

It is another matter altogether when policies cannot be sold or explained; silly promises that should never have been made are broken; government priorities and objectives are either not fully spelt out or the case for them properly made; and misdirected and inadequate election campaigns fail to demolish the opposing offering and/or to sell the merits of the Liberal proposition.

These flaws and shortcomings arguably now afflict most (if not all) of the Liberal Party’s state divisions as well as the party’s federal secretariat, and they permeate from the top down any government the party forms: with the inevitable consequence that Liberal governments have now begun to fall at their first re-election hurdles — a process I believe will continue until or unless they are rectified once and for all.

It is why I have been making so much noise about Tony Abbott’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, of late; as the head of the Prime Minister’s Office (which just happens to be responsible for the running of the federal government) she is the responsible official for most of what is wrong with the Abbott government politically.

Of course this is not a personal vendetta, or aimed at Credlin on a personal level. But responsibility must be taken at some point, and consequences meted out: and Credlin, as the person in charge, must shoulder that responsibility. Instead, she is viciously defended by a Prime Minister who noisily accuses those who would criticise her of sexism.

The federal party is the remit of Credlin’s husband, Brian Loughnane, who as state director in Victoria presided over the near-annihilation of the Liberals at the state election of 2002 before graduating to the role of federal director, where he oversaw the loss of office by the Howard government.

Loughnane’s replacement in Victoria, Damian Mantach, was recruited from Tasmania, where he had overseen as state director one of the biggest beltings the Tasmanian Liberals had ever experienced at the state election there in 2006.

And whilst these people unquestionably navigated winning election campaigns from time to time — Loughnane federally in 2004 and 2013, and Mantach in Victoria in 2010 — simply being in the right place at the right time, when the political cycle turns, isn’t enough to claim a record of any worth as a political strategist, tactician, or communicator: and the people subordinate to these individuals, for whom they are responsible in a performance management sense, and if the underlings don’t perform (and contribute to political disasters that befall the party) then they should be seen to have failed as well.

In other words, it’s easier to fall into government when Labor is on the nose than it is to stay there.

I make the diversion through that patch of the party’s history because right now, one of the few constants that Labor campaigns on is leadership: leadership of the Liberal Party’s parliamentary ranks at all levels, demonised and despised as widely as it can engineer, and I focus in on it now because the root of the problem lies far, far deeper.

Vilifying Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott is well and good, if that’s the kind of thing you like to do; but by the same token, what I am suggesting here — that the LNP’s defeat is the end product of an organisation that has served conservatives in Queensland very, very poorly — attacking the leader does not get to the heart of the problem.

It is why, for instance, readers will have probably deduced that I am open to a change of leader at the federal level despite my longstanding support of Tony Abbott: if that’s what has to happen to get rid of the current structure of the PMO, then that may be a price that has to be paid.

But there is no point changing leaders if Ms Credlin and her coterie remain undisturbed where they presently stand.

Readers will have heard me declare many times now that when it comes to strategy, tactics, and the real business of electoral politics, Labor is better at it than we are; this is not to simply be contrary, or because I think it sounds stylish — I don’t — but because it’s true. I might not like Labor’s tactics most of the time, but it’s difficult to deny Labor’s methods, on balance, are more effective than ours.

The proof of this — and of the comparative uselessness of existing Liberal Party infrastructure — is everywhere.

After yesterday, the Coalition/LNP return from the past ten state elections in Queensland is one win, one minority government, and eight losses; in Victoria, the Liberal Party has lost seven of the past ten state elections.

Elsewhere, the party’s record over the past 30 or 40 years or so is just as bad; ten state elections in South Australia have yielded three terms in office — one in minority — and in NSW, the Liberals have won three elections in 40 years, and one of those was in minority as well after squandering a hefty majority to boot.

The point is that now, after two state election losses in nine weeks capped off by the embarrassment of having the biggest election win in Australian history overturned in just under three years, what happened in Queensland yesterday is the final proof — were any more required — that the Liberal Party must reform, or accept that it will be cast into almost permanent opposition right across Australia.

It would be like the 1980s all over again.

The same junta of faux generals, who are endlessly recycled through paid executive positions within the Liberal Party, need to be rooted out and dismissed; the ranks of their subordinates — drawn from a shallow pool based on who they are allied to, or who their parents are owed favours by, or simply a masquerade of the number of years they’ve been able to fly beneath the radar in mediocrity as an accumulation of “experience” — need to be rejuvenated by people who might not curry favour in return for their positions, but who will serve the best interests of the party based on ability and skill, rather than enjoying well-paid employment at the expense of the party’s members and donors for no better reason than they are “in with the herd.”

After the Victorian state election loss in November, I said of the party’s state headquarters in Melbourne (or “104” as it is colloquially known) that it should be completely gutted and rebuilt from scratch, with Mantach’s dismissal now an overdue order of business.

I have been told by someone close to Kroger that 104 understands there is “a bus” headed its way; when that collision occurs, it is to be hoped the devastation and carnage is as widespread and extensive as possible.

There are many “buses” that need to be thus dispatched: to 104, to LNP headquarters in Brisbane, to the PMO, to the party’s federal secretariat…in fact, the political and administrative ranks of virtually every section of the party require overhaul, and if any good can come from a cringeworthy capitulation in Queensland, it lies in the thorough restructure of the party from top to bottom that has been fiddled with and deferred by those with self-preservation as a motive for far, far too long.

Even now, unbelievably, I am receiving communiques from figures inside the LNP insisting the progressive election count will result in the return of the government. Just shake your head, folks. The fact such proclamations continue to be issued really sums the problem up very neatly.

Electoral defeat is a commodity that does not sit well with the primary function of political parties, which is to win elections. Yet defeat, in all its dreadful darkness, has now begun to creep across the visage of the Liberal Party in Australia.

In November, it was Victoria. Yesterday, it was Queensland. There is a federal election due in 18 months.

There is no time to be wasted in excising the cancer that is slowly, but surely, choking the life out of the Liberal Party.

 

Queensland State Election: We Conditionally Endorse The LNP

LESS THAN THREE YEARS after scoring the biggest election win in Australian political history, Queensland’s conservative LNP government arrives at today’s state election facing a huge swing against it and contemplating defeat. The Red And The Blue nonetheless endorses the LNP for a second term, but that endorsement is qualified, and looms as a larger test of the LNP’s political maturity than the election poses to its survival in office.

The political career of Queensland Premier Campbell Newman is set to end today, as voters in the inner-city electorate of Ashgrove exercise their prerogative to select a local member to represent them and eject him from state Parliament; Newman is unlikely to resurface in any official capacity in George Street once the dust from today’s election has cleared, and there seems no realistic prospect of him returning by way of an orchestrated by-election for reasons we covered at length yesterday.

As Newman departs the political scene in Queensland, with him should go the abrasive, confrontational and at times downright noxious manner in which his government has gone about its business; it is ironic that a highly competent government that has done exactly the job it was elected to do, and which was expected of it, should have alienated so many of its subjects through poor communication, an endless procession of scandals, and belligerent political methods.

Three years ago — in my hotel room on Brisbane’s North Quay — I wrote a mostly glittering recommendation for a vote for the LNP during an hour I had spare between two business meetings I had flown to Brisbane to attend; from the contemporary perspective of that time it was an apt and noble aspiration for a belated return to conservative government in Queensland.

Three years later, it is difficult to provide such a fulsome or compelling case for the re-election of the LNP, which — despite making the changes in Queensland that circumstance demanded of it — has frittered its public goodwill away through a bizarre combination of iron-fisted brutality and torpid organisational mediocrity.

The simultaneous attraction of a reprimand from Tony Fitzgerald QC (who should have had the good grace to decline to interfere in party politics) over a supposed lack of probity whilst needing three attempts to disendorse a sitting MP provides a good idea of the farcical contrasts to which I allude.

To be sure, the LNP came to power in Queensland facing a huge challenge of governance that required tough and urgent solutions to grave problems that were the sorry consequence of 14 unbroken years of Labor government — the state’s shameful $80 billion debt bill chief among them — and it was, perhaps, inevitable that some of the tough medicine required and doled out would ostracise and even enrage some people in some sections of the electorate, and especially those who had benefited personally from the largesse and excesses of the ALP.

Yet even so, I can only think of one instance, ever, of a government being elected in such an avalanche and squandering both a massive majority and the goodwill and patience of its constituents in a single term in office, and the story of the 1993 and 1997 state elections in South Australia provide an object lesson in how not to operate in office.

In some respects, the parallels between South Australia in the 1990s and Queensland now are breathtaking: both featured conservative state governments elected upon the near-annihilation of their Labor opponents, were led into the subsequent elections by deeply unpopular Premiers who were disliked and/or distrusted by the voting public, and even the ever-present issue of electricity privatisation features in both cases.

In the case of the SA Liberals, the 1997 election saw it return to office as a minority administration before losing to Labor four years later; with the average of all the major opinion polls (including final surveys) showing a swing to Labor after preferences of some 11.5%, the LNP faces voters today at the very real risk of suffering a similar fate: with an inherent bias toward Labor of somewhere between 2% and 4% in Queensland’s electoral boundaries, the 51.8% of the two-party vote these numbers represent would, if reflected in tonight’s results, leave the LNP at the mercy of how its vote is distributed across particular electorates to stand a chance of retaining majority government.

(As an aside, I should note that no incumbent government since World War 2, state or federal, forced into minority at one election has ever won the subsequent election; the SA Liberals, beaten in early 2002, remain in opposition today: a salutary warning to Queensland’s LNP, perhaps, but I digress).

On the plus side, the LNP has trimmed Queensland’s bloated public service, restored the state budget to balance, reined in the explosive spending growth bequeathed to it by the ALP, and set in train measures to deal with the $80 billion debt pile that stands today as a continuing damnation of Queensland Labor.

On the flipside, it has treated the Queensland public to a smorgasbord of crises, scandals, public embarrassments and own goals — Michael Caltabiano, Bruce Flegg, Scott Driscoll, fights with lawyers, fights with doctors, Peter Dowling, Ros Bates, Bruce Flegg (again) — alongside the noisome opprobrium it has generated by its handling of initiatives such as the VLAD laws and the combative style of its soon-to-depart leader.

And Labor, to put not so fine a point on it, has scarcely done anything to warrant the trust of Queensland voters.

Led by an affable enough but ineffectual mediocrity, Labor has offered no plans of substance to govern Queensland (its plan to rip dividends out of state-owned corporations as a “debt reduction” measure notwithstanding), preferring instead to recycle a gaggle of failed and beaten ex-ministers from the last Labor government who are jointly responsible, in part, for the mess the state was left in to begin with.

One of those ex-ministers — Kate Jones — will return to George Street after today, expediting Newman’s departure; no world beater, Jones has been feted with generous (and undeserved) press coverage in Brisbane, casting her as a “young mum” seeking to “do something for her community” when she was as much a hack and a failure as a minister as many of her colleagues, and who has failed to even produce the ministerial diaries she solemnly declares left her offices in 2012 to be appropriately transported to the state archives, which never received them.

It’s impossible to believe this cock-and-bull story — just as it is difficult to believe very much of what anyone from Labor has to say at all.

But the ALP has been content to try to slither back into office on the back of a disgustingly personal and abusive campaign to smear and damage opponents personally, and distastefully enough, it could very well succeed if the final round of polling is accurate or, worse still, understates Labor support as Queenslanders go to the polls today.

We do not suggest the LNP is perfect; we do not claim its record in office is without blemish; and we do not deny that there is scope for the party, if re-elected today, to improve substantially on its performance over the past three years.

Yet in considering everything that was wrong with the decrepit Labor administration it replaced and especially in light of the complete absence of any meaningful ALP agenda, presented for the consideration of voters, to now govern at all, this column provides its endorsement to the LNP for a second term in office in Queensland: and should it secure that privilege, a wish that the mistakes of its first term be in no way repeated in the second.

If the 51.8% aggregate of its support proves accurate, it may or may not receive that opportunity: time will tell, and I will be watching tonight’s count with great interest.

But I place one important caveat on my endorsement of the LNP, and it is this: should it form government, its first order of business will be to elect a leader to replace Campbell Newman as Premier.

That leader must come from Brisbane or, at the very least, the conurbation of the south-east: and this means the Treasurer, Tim Nicholls, is the candidate this column advocates as the new Premier.

Ironically, the only real alternative is the man pushed out of the leadership to make way for Newman, former leader John-Paul Langbroek. Nicholls is the better bet.

And naturally, if the LNP loses then all bets are off, although I think the 46-49 seat range I predicted yesterday is probably the point at which a mauling at the hands of angry voters is likely to be survived — just.

But should the LNP return to the tired and obsolete practice of selecting leaders from west of the Great Divide, today’s endorsement of the LNP should be regarded as void; three-time election loser Lawrence Springborg is a fantastic bloke with no electoral appeal in Brisbane, whilst Jeff Seeney is an unmitigated liability in the south-east wherever any requirement to garner voter support is concerned.

Neither of these gentlemen are therefore suitable candidates to be Premier of Queensland, and if elevating either to that position is what the LNP chooses to do in its leadership ballot, ex-Liberals would be better served in the long run by leaving the LNP and reforming the Queensland division of their own party. Without a leader from the south-east, Queensland conservatives will not win another state election, and the experience of the past 15 years or so proves it.

Star candidate or not, Newman would not have won in 2012 had he not been from Brisbane. The days of the cow cocky and the country bumpkin giving gerrymandered providence to city slickers in Brisbane are over. And if it determines to test that theory, the LNP will again learn the hard way that Queensland is no longer the Bjelke-Petersen state when it next faces voters in three years’ time.

 

Queensland: Newman Gone In Possible LNP Election Loss

THE STATE ELECTION on Saturday — even if the LNP wins — is likely to prove a torrid affair for Queensland’s conservative forces, with Premier Campbell Newman now virtually certain to lose his seat of Ashgrove, and the LNP government as a whole facing the potentially existential threat of a double-digit swing after preferences to Labor. As unbelievable as it may yet prove improbable, a change of government is a distinct possibility.

Before we get started, I’d like to address the growing number of Liberal-aligned readers (and it’s in double digits, in case anyone thinks I am singling them out) who have taken issue with me privately for “damaging the government” or “harming Liberal Party interests” or similar by calling issues as I see them; can I just remind everyone that whilst I am a rusted-on political conservative and this column presents itself as “conservative comments,” it isn’t a sycophantic propaganda exercise: where I want to advocate or promote things being done by the Liberals at various levels I will, and if I see error, or make a call on foreseeable adverse consequences as I perceive them, I’ll do that too: and whilst the odd call made in this column may go awry, the overwhelming majority of them actually come to pass.

Whilst I try to keep the tone suitable for everyday people whose knowledge of or interest in politics isn’t as intricate as that of some readers or myself, at the bottom line this is an analysis and comment forum, not a campaign cheer squad. And whilst I’m reluctant to blow my own trumpet, I’ve been on the money in this column far too often not to be justified in backing my political instincts and judgement.

Moving on…

I would like nothing more, at about 11pm on Saturday night, to sit back down at the computer in my office with a red face (and a bottle of good red wine) and write an article proclaiming that I got it wrong, that Queensland’s LNP government had been re-elected by a healthy margin, and that Premier Campbell Newman had held off the challenge in Ashgrove from former Labor MP Kate Jones.

But as things stand, Saturday night will be a long evening indeed for LNP insiders, as they contemplate the defeat of Newman in his own seat, heavy losses across the state, and — quite possibly — a return to opposition just three years (and a single term) after winning the largest victory in Australian political history.

I would have liked to spend more time on the state election campaign in Queensland, short as it has been; but between being otherwise occupied for portions of it — as I’ve let readers know — and most of the time otherwise available for posting comment taken up by the foibles of the federal government, there have only been a few articles I have been able to post.

Even so, little has changed in the course of a snap election campaign. Campbell Newman’s federal colleagues would be well advised to heed the signs if they crystallise into a debacle on Saturday in Queensland.

Dealing with the electorate of Ashgrove first, long-term readers know I have been certain the Premier faces the loss of his own seat for at least the past year; the subject has arisen many times in our contemplation of the seat of Moggill and what the LNP ought to do with the incumbent there, who was finally (and belatedly) disendorsed once and for all late in 2014.

I have always thought — even after the kerfuffle Flegg kicked up three years ago, claiming he was offered “inducements” to vacate this bluest of blue-ribbon electorates in Brisbane’s west — that some way had to be found to get Newman transplanted into Moggill for the simple reason there was no way he was going to hold onto Ashgrove.

But that opportunity (hard earned as it was) has been and gone, and whilst the new candidate in Moggill is excellently credentialled, it left the problem that the insecurely seated Newman was always going to be pushing “it” uphill to stay in Parliament even in the event his government won re-election.

In addition to talking to LNP insiders, talking to a number of diverse contacts I maintain in the electorate, and sifting through the seat polling for Ashgrove — such as it is — it does rather seem that barring a miracle, the 7-8% swing to Labor that looked likely in Ashgrove to begin with has barely altered, and it appears certain now that Campbell Newman will not be returning to Parliament after Saturday. The vote shares for individual candidates might vary a bit, but I think the 54-46 finding in Jones’ favour published by ReachTel on Wednesday is probably on the money.

There has been some talk — should the LNP win the state election, but Newman lose in Ashgrove — of a by-election being engineered in a “safe” LNP electorate to parachute the Premier back into Parliament; I say such a scenario will not eventuate, and should the LNP attempt it under those circumstances, it could result in the loss of another seat to the ALP.

The reason, very simply, is that as fat as the margins of LNP electorates might appear on paper the day before an election, after tomorrow these are going to look like someone has embarked on a slashing spree with a machete; many of the “safe” LNP electorates today will be marginal Labor seats tomorrow night, and those that remain in the LNP column will not appear anywhere near as impregnable as they might seem now.

It will be untenable to try to put Newman into a seat outside the south-east corner of the state; the Premier’s underlying claim to legitimacy as Premier, brutally distilled, is his record as Lord Mayor of Brisbane. For the same reason, a seat on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts is probably out of the question as well.

Which leaves, of course, Brisbane itself; and in considering pushing someone over the cliff to create a by-election vacancy for Newman to contest, it bears remembering that with the exception of Moggill, every seat in Brisbane has been held by the ALP at some point in the past 10 years.

Even Indooroopilly. Even Clayfield. Even if only for a little while, as was the case in Aspley and Clayfield, and even if Labor should never have won them in the first place let alone held them for several terms (Mount Ommaney, Mansfield). Nowhere in Brisbane is really safe from a savage lurch to Labor if the underlying conditions are conducive to it.

And right now, those conditions seem very propitious indeed. If Newman loses Ashgrove — as expected — we won’t see him in George Street again. Moggill aside, there isn’t one seat in Brisbane from which a freshly re-elected member could be pushed out of Parliament to make way for him with any confidence that the ensuing by-election would not be won by Labor.

It brings me to the question of the wider election result; losing Newman is one thing, but the permutations for the statewide outcome could still be anything.

I think the likeliest result is that the LNP will just fall across the line, with somewhere between 46 and 49 of the 89 seats in state Parliament; it could be 50 or so, or the LNP could end up in the nether zone of being a couple of seats short of a majority.

If the LNP goes into minority with less than 43 seats (the two Katter MPs, if re-elected, the only Independents likely to support it), then Labor will form government one way or the other.

Some weeks ago we looked at what a 10% swing against the LNP might look like, and I think a 10% swing — leaving the LNP with a shade under 53% of the vote after preferences — is about right; the average of available opinion polling during the campaign puts the LNP at 52%, although a late survey yesterday from Essential put the ALP in front, 51-49.

I don’t think the campaign as a whole has done all that much to alter the eventual result, and to the extent it has, it has probably helped the ALP. We will have to wait on Newspoll (and any other final polls) to see whether Essential is an outlier or whether these final few days have indeed seen an acceleration of the movement away from Newman’s government.

If those late polls do show the LNP bleeding more support than most believe, the making of election promises conditional on individual MPs being re-elected to mostly marginal or at-risk seats is the likeliest culprit: this is as good as blackmail, and the LNP was and is wrong to have explicitly targeted its commitments this way. People do not like to feel bullied, and by making such a silly campaign error it merely reinforces the stereotype Labor has tried to create of a Premier who is a bully and a thug.

But if we split the middle and call it 51-49 to the LNP, people need to keep in mind that a disproportionate number of those conservative votes are going to be locked away in a swag of country seats (and a tiny handful on the coasts) that are almost always won with huge margins by conservative parties irrespective of whether they hold government, and excepting historic Labor landslides like 2001 that dislodge some of them.

And if I guesstimate this factor to apply to, say, 20 LNP electorates — mostly in the bush, plus places like Moggill, Surfers Paradise and Kawana — it means the other three-quarters of the seats in the state would record a result that favoured Labor by (I’m guessing) about 51.5-48.5%, give or take a few tenths of a point.

It’s this factor that enabled Labor to win a one-seat majority (later overturned in the Court of Disputed Returns) in 1995 with just 46.4% of the statewide two-party vote, and whilst it all comes down to where the votes fall in individual seats (after all, voting patterns in no two electorates are the same), you’d expect Labor to get closer than the 37 seats a 49% statewide result would produce on a uniform swing.

Whilst the campaign itself mightn’t have changed much, there have been plenty of factors influencing the likely behaviour of Queensland voters for some time.

The obvious one is the Abbott government and its goings-on, and whilst I’m not heading down that track again today, the effect — whilst unquantifiable — is undeniable, and this particular campaign period has been bookended by the humiliating contortions over Medicare at one end, and the embarrassment of “Prince Sir Philip” at the other.

The LNP’s problems with preselections, endorsements and walkouts, which see it enter this campaign with five fewer seats than it carried away in 2012, and with two disendorsed candidates in Bruce Flegg and Peter Dowling (Redlands) who have both caused the party enormous embarrassment and bad press, albeit for vastly divergent reasons.

The wildly irresponsible and dishonest rhetoric of the ALP — a phenomenon apparently now a permanent feature at Australian elections — replete with denials of any real debt crisis in Queensland at all, despite $80 billion in red ink added to the books on its watch prior to 2012.

The snarling, obsessive hatred of Campbell Newman personally that has been propagated by the wider Left and which, for the gullible, the unthinking and the stupid, has enabled common-or-garden simpletons to take a firm stand on political matters that just happens to advance the ALP cause with neither the understanding nor the conviction of what it is they’ve allowed themselves to get so wound up about.

The wild, noisy, abusive campaign of opposition to the Newman government’s legislative program that has more than amply set the backdrop for a massive movement against the LNP, and the government’s failure (and this too seems to have become a familiar story at election time) to adequately communicate and sell its achievements to reap the electoral dividend it deserves.

Supposedly impartial figures like Tony Fitzgerald QC wading into the election campaign to directly accuse the government of inadequate standards of probity.

The asset leaseback issue, which seems to have been a mild positive for Labor: people seem to have grown immune to big gestures to repay government debt — even if it keeps taxes down by doing so — and the ALP is to blame for that. But perception is half the battle, and Labor’s “plan” to rip dividends out of government-owned enterprises as an alternative to the $25 billion lump sum debt retirement earmarked by the LNP from privatisation proceeds seems to have neutralised whatever advantage the government proposal might have given it at the ballot box.

The flinging of defamation actions like confetti: Alan Jones is being sued by multiple LNP MPs, his legal bills to be funded by federal MP and political wrecker Clive Palmer, who is not only sworn to destroy the Queensland Premier personally and his government at all costs — and who has defamation proceedings of his own on foot against Newman — but who has also announced he’ll sue Lawrence Springborg after the election too, although over exactly what remains unknown.

People don’t like the look of politicians suing each other and fighting and bickering in court; not coincidentally — with Palmer in the middle of all of it — this is only occurring on the conservative side of the ledger. One way or the other, Palmer is determined to bring the LNP to its knees and to that end, all I would say of the abundance of libel actions emanating from George Street is that every bit helps.

The collapse of voter support for Palmer’s Party and the Katter crowd, at face value, would seem to favour the LNP.

A big recovery in the ALP primary vote and a much tighter arrangement on preferences with the Communist Party Greens, however, would seem to favour Labor.

The issue of who might replace Campbell Newman if the LNP wins and he loses Ashgrove: and this one, perhaps more than anything else, will hurt the LNP badly tomorrow; it now looks like it will indeed need a new leader, and should the party retain enough seats, that leader will be Premier. But Lawrence Springborg is a three-time loser, Scott Emerson and Ian Walker are not ready, and the prospect of “Premier” Jeff Seeney is probably worth an extra couple of percentage points for Labor in its own right.

Logic, electoral geography and political reality dictate Treasurer Tim Nicholls is the only suitable replacement. But the LNP has flatly refused to expend so much as a syllable in contemplation of the subject. The direct result of this is that some Queenslanders, expecting Newman to lose Ashgrove but the LNP to win overall, will probably vote Labor when some kind of so-called “plan B” might have persuaded them to keep their allegiance with the conservatives.

Of course, there are so many things we haven’t talked about: how Far North Queensland votes; how heavily Brisbane swings to Labor; how strongly the coasts hold up for the LNP; whether Labor can steal a couple of unlikely regional gains in Toowoomba, on the Gold Coast…

Even if this Saturday’s result is confined to the realm of a 10% pro-Labor swing, the loss of some 30-odd seats from 2012 and its Premier with them will fulfil my predictions of “a belting” for the LNP, although the scope for it to lose altogether is certainly there.

It has existed since just a few months after the 2012 election, when the first signs of real trouble broke out around then-minister Bruce Flegg and his dismissal of a long-serving LNP adviser.

Queensland will certainly have a new Premier next week; it may or may not have a new government. Either way, it’s going to be a damned close-run thing.

As recently as Wednesday, I was receiving suggestions from within the LNP that it was telling anyone in the organisation who cared to listen that the government was on track to win as many as 65 seats — its huge majority barely suffering a dent — and with Newman beating off Jones in Ashgrove.

If that’s what LNP hardheads are saying, then tell ’em they’re dreaming…

I will be back again this evening — perhaps on the Queensland election again — but if not tonight, then I will be posting on the subject again tomorrow.

Unlike 2012 I am not heading to Brisbane this time; a little “pizza party” with Antony Green on ABC24 Online, along with a fully charged (and probably well-used) mobile phone, will keep me in the midst of developments as they happen this time from my home office in Melbourne.

Unlike 2012, this election will not be resolved by 6.45pm Queensland time.

And unlike 2012, the winner — in more ways than one — is far from being a certainty.