Queensland: LNP Runs Out Of Time For Springborg Pantomime

THE DECISION by Cairns MP Rob Pyne to dump on Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and quit the ALP might hearten conservatives with a cursory glance at Queensland’s hung Parliament, but they would be unwise to get carried away; with the Premier openly fingering the election trigger, if the LNP is forced into a campaign with Lawrence Springborg at the helm it faces three more years in opposition. The time to act — once and for all — is now.

Up in Queensland (where I am today for the day, coincidentally), the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Over the past six months, the subject of the leadership of Queensland’s LNP has occupied this column’s attention repeatedly (and you can access the past few articles chronologically here, here and here); unable to select a suitable replacement for Campbell Newman in the wake of the state election debacle a little over a year ago, the LNP has arguably squandered opportunity after opportunity to take Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government apart, and now — it seems — it might just be too late.

During a troubled year in office that has seen it plagued by scandals as MP after MP generated unwanted headlines — Billy Gordon, Rick Williams, Jo-Ann Miller, Rob Pyne et al — and which has seen the ALP notch few achievements other than the methodical erasure of key Newman government measures, the minority Labor outfit has managed to average about 52% across reputable polls that have been conducted during this time, and even the involuntary departure of Gordon over a domestic violence scandal and the savage tantrum thrown by Pyne have been unable to seriously damage it.

Swirling rumours about Labor leadership coups in favour first of Health minister Cameron Dick and later deputy Premier Jackie Trad have come to nowt, and the departures of Gordon and Pyne have — to date — failed to bring the government down, despite the ALP now being reduced to just 42 MPs in the 89 seat Queensland Parliament: the same number as the LNP.

Readers know (and if you don’t, the links I’ve provided to past publishing today will quickly fill you in) that whilst I like Lawrence Springborg enormously, I am convinced he will never lead the LNP to government via a general election; he has already had three cracks at it in 2004, 2006 and 2009 and failed, and if another state election is pulled on any time soon, he will fail again.

Some in the LNP seriously think a change of government might occur on the floor of Parliament, as it did in 1996, but there are key differences that make such an event unlikely — if not impossible.

For one thing, the Speaker — Independent MP Peter Wellington — is likely to have no truck with helping to install a conservative government; he has shown this in the past, including in 1998 when his vote was instrumental in enabling Peter Beattie to form a minority regime, and his utterances in the aftermath of last year’s election suggest he is no more inclined to do so now.

For another, two of the remaining four crossbenchers are ex-ALP MPs who common sense would dictate are not going to engage in sweeping the LNP back into office; the tenure of both on the public purse is likely limited to the balance of the current parliamentary term, and what slender prospects for re-election either might have as Independents are probably not going to be helped by siding with the enemy, as it were.

And whilst the two Katter MPs might appear friendly to the LNP, both sit in electorates that would otherwise be held by the National arm of the LNP, and depend for their legitimacy to an extent on differentiation with the conservative party that would not be helped by installing it within shouting distance of a possible fresh election.

Even so, there are clear signs Queenslanders may be returning to the polls soon anyway; Palaszczuk is making no secret of the fact a snap election is a live option, and with the fraught state of the numbers in Parliament and the clear scope for more unwanted surprises to leap out of the Labor closet, going to the people and going soon is probably the best strategic choice open to Palaszczuk.

There is some talk in the Brisbane press that Governor Paul de Jersey might refuse an election request, coming less than 18 months after the last; I say this is highly unlikely, for the timing of elections is the preserve of the Premier. If Palaszczuk drove out to Government House this afternoon and advised one, there would be no point in de Jersey inviting Springborg to form a government. He couldn’t.

And in any case, even if he could, the resulting administration would be so unstable, and so likely to collapse at a moment’s notice, that Palaszczuk would be armed with a convincing argument that an election would be in the best interests of stable governance to incorporate into her advice to the Governor.

If de Jersey were to refuse an election request, there would be merry hell made of it by republicans, Labor-aligned constitutional law specialists, and the ALP itself, even if a referendum to fix terms at four years is in the offing. Ironically, the present situation is a textbook illustration of why fixed four-year terms are to be avoided in Queensland (and everywhere else) like the pox, but I digress.

With Palaszczuk’s position in the polls easily indicative of at least a solid chance of re-election with at least a few seats’ majority — and the dominance over Springborg on the “preferred Premier” measure — it doesn’t take a psephological genius to conclude that whilst elections can always throw up surprises, the likeliest outcome of any state election now is that Labor would be returned with at least an extra half a dozen seats.

And this need not be the case.

I have included the links to the three past articles for readers today, in part, because the arguments against Springborg being permitted to contest another election as LNP leader are substantially made in those pieces, and I urge anyone who hasn’t read them before to revisit them.

Of course, a ham-fisted and botched attempt was made just last month to install the wrong MP, insecurely seated and at risk of losing his seat at an election, in Springborg’s place: the LNP can be thankful it dodged that particular bullet, as I argued here a fortnight ago.

But just because the attempt to replace Springborg failed does not mean the enterprise should be abandoned altogether.

The LNP has a powerful case to put to the people of Queensland; provided the rough edges are knocked off the legacy of its three-year stint in office, the party achieved much under Campbell Newman, and the LNP’s challenge is to own those achievements whilst demonstrating it has learned the lessons that saw it ejected unceremoniously from government after a single term.

Since that event, the ALP has resumed the high spending, high waste, high debt habits of the Beattie-Bligh years, with nothing to show for the money; the traditional conservative advantage on economic management is very much the LNP’s to own, manipulate, and press home.

But as we have discussed many, many times, the Queensland of 2016 is very different to the one that 30 years ago re-elected a National Party Premier from the bush on heavily gerrymandered boundaries; rather than simply making up the numbers as some kind of set of steak knives that comes on top of 30-35 regional seats already in the bag the day an election is called, the south-east now has a majority of the seats in the Queensland Parliament, and the LNP is unlikely to win an election — under Springborg or anybody else — without a leader from the burgeoning urban south-eastern corner.

Time — and opportunity — have been squandered on Springborg, and more often than just now; after all, the LNP on his watch proved incapable of mustering any more than eight seats in Brisbane (or less than a quarter of the total) on any of the three occasions he stood for the Premiership. There is no compelling reason to believe an election now would be any different. In fact, there are at least three Brisbane seats the party holds (Everton, Mansfield and Mount Ommaney) that would be unlikely to survive any election that generated a swing to Labor and a second term for Palaszczuk.

Whether his replacement is Tim Nicholls or John-Paul Langbroek, or perhaps the pair of them in a one-two combination as leader and deputy — or either of these gentlemen, teamed perhaps with regional MP Deb Frecklington as deputy — the one thing I’m almost certain of is that unless the LNP gets its shit together and deals with its leadership question once and for all, a new election that provides Labor with a second term in office is at most just a few months away.

There are clear reasons for Palaszczuk to go soon: any interference she can run with a likely July federal election can only help Labor’s federal prospects; Campbell Newman’s name is in the media as a potential replacement for the retiring Theresa Gambaro in the seat of Brisbane; and of course, if you have the numbers, you use them — and Palaszczuk’s solid position in most polls may have endured the past 12 months, but only a fool would gamble on it enduring for the remainder of the scheduled three-year term.

It is time for the LNP leadership pantomime to be terminated. Too much time and energy has been expended on the directionless indulgence of the fantasy that the “father” of the LNP will be its saviour. No clear ascendancy has been generated by the party’s most experienced MP. The LNP faces the very real threat of a rout if it does not install a new leader, and soon.

The time to act is now.

 

Queensland: LNP Dodges A Bullet, But Leadership Must Change

THE failed move by over-enthusiastic MPs to oust Queensland opposition leader Lawrence Springborg has allowed the LNP to dodge a bullet, for success would have exposed it to potential disaster; even so, that Springborg must be removed is impossible to deny. The LNP must coalesce around ready-made options if it is to reinvigorate itself and be ready for an impromptu state election that could occur with inadequate notice to act once announced.

For reasons we have discussed many times since its not-so-surprising defeat at a state election a little more than a year ago — most recently on Christmas Eve last year — the leadership arrangements of Queensland’s LNP can hardly be taken seriously by a majority of voters in the state’s burgeoning south-east (let alone elsewhere) and the insipid, almost moribund performance of a three-time election loser who has never found his way into the Premier’s office is most unlikely to lead him to that destination now.

It is true that since I published that article eight weeks ago the LNP’s polling fortunes have reversed, now leading the ALP 52-48 on the two-party measure instead of trailing by the same margin, but with this movement barely outside margin of error territory and hardly decisive in a state whose boundaries have consistently favoured the ALP since 1992, Queensland conservatives sit in a world of trouble against a dysfunctional, do-nothing Labor government and perennially now faced with the threat of a state election with no notice should the state’s knife-edge minority Parliament implode.

And with two of its MPs apparently readying to desert state Parliament in search of greener pastures in Canberra, life for the LNP could quite plausibly grow an awful lot worse very quickly.

I have been watching media reports over the past half-week about a spectacularly botched — and spectacularly inept — move to dump Springborg as leader and replace him with Everton MP Tim Mander; to say this is the wrong call on so many levels is to understate the matter, but it is difficult to recall a less professional and/or more amateurish attempt to despatch a party leader in recent years.

Unless, that is, the record of Queensland’s conservatives over the past 15 years is more closely inspected.

Readers can pick up sequential articles from the Courier Mail here and here.

But first things first. You’d think the LNP would have learned one lesson at least from the past four years, but apparently not, it seems.

I have opined many times in this column that Mander — sitting as he is on a margin of just 1.8% (or 1,020 votes from an enrolment of 32,600 voters) in a seat that has for 40 years been usually reliable and often safe for the ALP — is too insecurely seated to risk installing him as leader, even if all other considerations mark him out as a suitable candidate (which they don’t): all it would take is for a few thousand ALP voters to be transferred into Everton at the coming redistribution from any or all of the crescent of Labor-held seats that surround his own to make it notionally Labor, and Mander could be bounced out of Parliament even with a swing to him on new boundaries. Even with a statewide swing to the LNP.

It’s as if the debacle of Campbell Newman in the neighbouring seat of Ashgrove and the embarrassment of a party leader and Premier losing his seat at an election never happened.

Yet be that as it may, the hamfisted move by Steve Minnikin and Steve Dickson to tout for leadership votes on Mander’s behalf — irrespective of whether fulsome denials by the latter of any knowledge of the plot are honest or not — is a distasteful and almost obscene development.

News the pair (or others close to them) have been threatening shadow ministers with removal to the backbench (on the stubborn assertion Mander had the numbers when he didn’t) became less belligerent than laughable when it was also revealed overnight that a series of proposed shadow ministry lists were circulated (presumably, and unbelievably amateurishly, in electronic format) and that those “targeted” for retribution if they didn’t toe the line quickly ascertained that multiple lists comprising different names were being hawked around.

Far from engendering any credibility, these and other activities of equivalent stupidity destroyed what chance the plotters might have had to achieve their objectives.

God alone knows — and I say that not in jest, given his past incarnation as a Scripture Union chaplain — how Mander might have fared as LNP leader notwithstanding his precarious hold on his electorate, but if the events of the past few days are anything to go by (and not least on account of those it seems he would have surrounded himself with in key positions had the attempted coup succeeded) then it is safe to say the LNP finds itself having dodged a bullet today.

I would add — being from the mainstream conservative Right, with little time for the lunar fringe further along the spectrum — that it does seem that one of the sales strategies was to portray a Mander leadership as a sop to the wackos on the far Right and especially those bush MPs where…well, where their agendas play better than they do in and around Brisbane. If that is indeed the case, then the escape the LNP has achieved is doubly a cause for relief.

In a highly decentralised state where the urban south-east now commands a majority of the population relative to the rural areas upon which gerrymandered Coalition support was once predicated, the failure of the Mander putsch is a win for reasonable LNP moderates and conservatives alike: again, God only knows what sort of damage a Mander leadership, buttressed by support from those responsible for such appalling tactics and questionable policy objectives, might have inflicted on the party.

That said, the events of the past few days do not alter the fact that Springborg cannot be permitted to lead the LNP to another election unless the party wants to lose it.

“Nice guy, but the voters won’t wear him,” is how one LNP operative put it to me some time ago — and that’s the point.

Since last year’s state election, the minority Labor government’s hold on Parliament has grown increasingly tenuous, with Cook MP Billy Gordon* expelled from the ALP in disgrace, Cairns MP Rob Pyne at war with the world and at best openly disgruntled with deputy Premier Jackie Trad in particular, former Police minister Jo-Ann Miller and Pumicestone MP Rick Williams doing little to curry favour with either the Queensland public or the Katter independents sitting with Gordon on the crossbench, and very little to show for a year in office aside from the resumption of inexplicable spending, the accompanying resumption of a budget haemorrhaging red ink, and a spiteful wont to try to erase the fingerprints of Newman’s government from the state altogether.

With the announcement that former deputy Premier Jeff Seeney — arguably the most reviled political figure in Queensland, and certainly so in the state’s south-east — and Toowoomba MP John McVeigh will seek endorsement in vacant federal seats in Wide Bay and Groom respectively, the prospect of even more instability in state Parliament (and a possible election this year) grows more likely, not less.

In Seeney’s case, his electorate of Callide sits squarely in a region that has exhibited a penchant for electing Independent and/or wacko right-wing MPs in recent years, and even without the dead weight of Seeney standing, any by-election could see the seat lost — and with it, the LNP’s ability to reliably side with crossbenchers to vote down government initiatives would be diminished.

Yet whilst this might appear at first blush to work in Labor’s favour, there is no guarantee that Pyne will pull his head in, and the possibility he will eventually depart the ALP cannot be discounted; I am also reliably told there is at least another Labor MP whose presence in the Queensland caucus is tantamount to a time bomb, and in view of the debilitating effect Labor’s woes have already had on the Palaszczuk government in the past year, another scandal could be just enough to effect its collapse.

In other words, the imperative for the LNP to sort its leadership arrangements out — and to replace Springborg as soon as possible — is stronger than it has ever been.

What the LNP needs is a) a leader from the densely populated south-east, who is b) to the Right of the insidious cabal of western Brisbane moderates whose machinations have caused so much political grief over the past 30 years, but to the Left of the lunatic fringe on the party’s far Right, and who c) is able to project a sober conservative message that delivers constructive outcomes for the cities whilst catering to the bush without capitulating to some of the extreme elements who represent it.

Many times, Clayfield MP Tim Nicholls has been nominated in this column as the perfect choice; former leader John-Paul Langbroek, as a second choice, would be a solid if unspectacular option whose likely time in the sun was ripped away by the ultimately stupid installation of Newman prior to the 2012 election.

Neither of these gentlemen is particularly palatable to the Brisbane moderates, and each comes with drawbacks.

But neither of them carry the drawbacks and baggage that Springborg does, and to say Springborg has yet again failed to set the world on fire is an understatement.

Yes, the LNP requires a new leader and yes, it has to happen sooner rather than later. Yes, the Mander madness of the past few days has been an unfortunate sideshow and yes, it will probably rebound on the LNP when next voter sentiment is measured. But that is not an adequate reason to leave Springborg where he is.

At some stage, the Brisbane moderates are going to have to not just bite their tongues and accept a leader they despise (and believe me, the raw hatred of anything to the right of reactive me too-ism in those circles knows no bounds) but to give him the clear air and support to lead them back into office.

Mander is now fatally damaged and Springborg is finished. In a party with so few options, Nicholls and Langbroek come ready-made and offer a path out of the mire.

A Labor win at a snap election would almost certainly consign the LNP under Springborg to consecutive terms in opposition and restart the clock on a truly woeful record of electoral misfortune for Queensland’s conservatives at the state level.

Already, Labor has governed for 21 of the past 26 years. That dubious reality could easily become 25 of 30** in a heartbeat if the LNP doesn’t get its shit together, and do so quickly.

The more things change in Queensland, the more they stay the same.

 

*This column is aware Gordon suffered a mild heart attack on Friday. We minute our good wishes for a full recovery.

**Remembering the Goss government was elected in December 1989, and any state election in Queensland this year would inevitably close out a portion of the time between now and December, when the anniversary of that event falls due.

 

 

Queensland LNP: It’s Time To Pack It In, Lawrence

ALMOST A YEAR after its loss to the ALP, Queensland’s LNP — under the thrice-recycled stewardship of Lawrence Springborg — is on a one-way ticket to nowhere; a lovely bloke, Springborg is nonetheless a proven loser with no appeal in the urban south-east and who, if allowed to lead the LNP to a fourth election, will lead it to a fourth defeat. Springborg will never be elected Premier. He must make way for those who may offer better prospects.

When your strongest claim to high political office rests on the assertion that you’d constitute a safe pair of hands in the event of a mid-term change of government on the floor of a hung Parliament, you really are on a hiding to nothing; so it is with Queensland opposition leader Lawrence Springborg, who — despite being one of the nicer and more decent MPs I’ve had something to do with over the years — is boringly familiar (and unattractive) to the Queensland public, and whose papers should be stamped in the aftermath of the Newspoll on state voting intention that appears in The Australian today.

This Newspoll isn’t the Christmas present Springborg would have liked, to be sure, but his colleagues would be well advised to heed the message even if he won’t.

Trumpeting that the LNP has “clawed back support” — as The Australian‘s web portal screams today — simply doesn’t cut it; trailing 52-48 after gaining one percentage point of the two-party vote — well within the margin of error of the poll — still amounts to a small swing to Labor based on its election-clinching share of 51.1% in January, and would see three LNP seats fall if uniformly replicated at an election: enough for 47 seats in total, and a clear majority in the 89-member unicameral Queensland Parliament.

The fact two of those three seats — Mount Ommaney and Mansfield — are not only in Brisbane, but natural Liberal Party territory on paper — speaks volumes, and is evidence (were any more required) that when it comes to winning state elections in Queensland, Springborg simply doesn’t have the pulling power to carry enough seats in the burgeoning south-eastern corner of the state.

In any case, the gain of a solitary point on the two-party vote is the only piece of good news for Springborg in an otherwise gloomy and I believe deadly accurate snapshot of voter sentiment north of the Tweed.

Springborg’s net approval rating has deteriorated from -9% to -15%, with 34% (-2% since August) approving of his performance as opposition leader, and 47% (+4%) disapproving.

His deficit on the “preferred Premier” measure — already a bit of an embarrassment for someone who’s been on the scene for more than quarter of a century — is beginning to blow out now, as he trails Annastacia Palaszczuk (50%, +1%) with support from just 27% (-1%).

And whilst Palaszczuk’s personal approval takes a bit of a knock in this poll — falling three points to 50%, with 35% (+2%) expressing disapproval — the fact remains that for a lacklustre government with more scandals to its credit than achievements, for a mediocrity like Palaszczuk to be travelling this well after a torrid first year in office is a failure of the LNP leadership and an indictment on Springborg’s purported ability to hold Labor, and its swollen band of resident miscreants, to meaningful account.

Billy Gordon. Rick Williams. Jo-Ann Miller. The first of these three names alone should have been enough to bring the government down, had the issue been properly handled; instead of moving a Parliamentary expulsion motion against Gordon, Springborg’s strategy was to try to “work with” Gordon after he was expelled from the ALP. By the time Williams and Miller exploded as issues in their own right, Labor knew it had nothing to fear from Springborg.

So did watching voters.

The point is that the Palaszczuk government has been a poor one; it has resumed the insidious process of pissing money up against a post and restoring the haemorrhage of the state budget — both of which had been stopped when Campbell Newman was in office — but for all the extra money being thrown around like confetti, Palaszczuk has nothing to point to as an accomplishment after twelve months in office. This, combined with the disgraceful antics of some of her MPs, merely underlines the utter failure Springborg can already be declared to be in his fourth, and final, outing as LNP/Coalition leader.

As for Springborg’s appeal in Brisbane, three state election losses are more than enough to show that the single-digit tallies recorded on all three occasions (from 38 Brisbane seats) are an accurate reflection of how enthusiastic people in Brisbane are about the idea of a Springborg government.

Without the gerrymander, the LNP needs to win at least a respectable number of Brisbane seats. The eight Springborg carried, on his best showing in 2009, does not satisfy this criteria — and the loss of the aforesaid seats of Mansfield and Mount Ommaney is all that is required to once again reduce the LNP presence in Brisbane to eight seats.

In fact, a swing to Labor in Brisbane of 5% would cut that tally to just five seats. The risk of a return to virtual conservative wipeout in the capital — making statewide victory all but impossible — simply doesn’t justify persisting with a serial loser.

But really, after 26 years in Parliament and election losses as leader in 2004, 2006 and 2009, does anyone seriously believe Springborg will ever win an election?

As The Australian recounts, an emergent coup against Springborg some months ago was nipped in the bud; at the time, spirited and at times heated discussions I had privately with LNP figures revealed not only the inability to coalesce around an alternative candidate, but that some of them — in advocating Nanango MP Deb Frecklington as a potential leader — still simply hadn’t grasped the basic lesson from 30 years of barely interrupted electoral embarrassment.

And that, very simply, is that a bush MP will not be accepted by metropolitan voters as Premier; even the urbane Gold Coast National Rob Borbidge made only limited inroads into Brisbane when he led the Coalition to minority government in 1995.

More ominously, a large contingent of LNP members seems to think Everton MP Tim Mander would make an ideal replacement for Springborg, but whilst he is based in Brisbane, his seat is usually held by the ALP. Based on the result in January, a net switch of just 510 voters to Labor would be all it would take to unseat him. After the disaster of Campbell Newman in Ashgrove, you’d have thought the LNP might have grown a bit gun-shy about selecting leaders who hold ultra-marginal seats. They certainly should have.

I think Frecklington would make an ideal deputy: which brings up the question of who should take Springborg’s place.

Clayfield MP Tim Nicholls, savaged internally for years on account of his friendship with fallen Liberal powerbroker Santo Santoro, would stand the best chance of leading the LNP to an election win; Surfers Paradise MP John-Paul Langbroek — torn down as leader in the brutal but ultimately misguided coup that installed Newman in his place — would probably make the better Premier.

Either way, based on the available personnel, one of these men should — within the month — displace Springborg, who has given Queensland conservatives fine service over many years, but is invariably found wanting on the big stage, and is unlikely to ever become Premier by a public vote.

A state election could occur at any time next year, and the LNP has a duty to millions of Queenslanders to field a viable alternative to Labor at any election that occurs in 2016 or on schedule at the end of 2017; this also means offering a viable candidate as Premier, and — whilst it gives me no joy to say so — Lawrence Springborg is no such candidate.

Perhaps over his Christmas turkey, a decision to surrender the LNP leadership — and perhaps even his seat in Parliament — is one Springborg’s family and friends might impress upon him is in his (and their) best interests, for the alternative is up to two more years of dismal polling followed by an election loss nobody except the ALP wants.

I also believe, given the chronic debt and budgetary red ink Queensland is awash with, the Palaszczuk government must be defeated at almost any cost.

It’s time to pack it in, Lawrence, but it’s up to you whether we do it the easy way or the nasty way.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: A certain Labor lawyer has taken it upon himself in the past couple of days to try to crucify me on Twitter, making a complete dick of himself in the process; I mention it on account of direct relevance (he tried to assert I couldn’t argue a cogent case, and then with unbelievable idiocy pointed to my correct advance predictions that the LNP would lose both the January state election and the seat of Ashgrove as “evidence”).

Apparently the impetus for this onslaught was my suggestion funding for the National Disability Insurance Scheme should be re-examined to find savings from its gargantuan annual cost of $24bn without compromising service delivery: I don’t believe the veracity of anything Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard say where the prudent expenditure of money is concerned, and nor do most of my readers. It bothers me that the unfunded Gillard/Swan NDIS is the only spending program that’s completely off-limits for review.

But apparently, I called for no such thing; according to the bird brain in question, it was a call for the outright abolition of the NDIS. When finally dragged to an admission of error, he instead resorted to abuse based on suggestions of intellectual vacuity, nastiness and illiteracy: effrontery coming from a fellow who took multiple attempts to reread the article before being forced to admit he was wrong.

Let me reassure readers that whilst articles published on this site are framed in the present tense — that is, the issues we discuss can evolve with the flow of political events, and things can change — there aren’t any hidden meanings here. I call things as I see them: no bullshit. If I wanted to see the NDIS abolished, I would say so. I don’t.

Now, if we could just do something about the glut of cretinous imbeciles masquerading as Labor lawyers… 🙂 …that would be something indeed!