Shades Of Cain: Inexperienced Queensland Cabinet Spells Trouble

THE HARD REALITY of Queensland’s new Labor government was starkly highlighted yesterday, as no fewer than five first-time MPs were handed senior ministries in Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s first Cabinet; the sheer inexperience the ALP brings to running Australia’s third-largest state is troublesome, and is evocative of an unpalatable precedent set 30 years ago in what another Queensland Premier dismissed as the “degenerate south.”

Today’s article is really a case of “wait and watch” — something we will do with the keenest of attention over the next three years — but for those who expect sound governance and constructive outcomes from the new Labor regime in Queensland, the early indications are not encouraging.

We spoke at some length on Friday about the pathetically narrow mandate secured by Queensland Labor in the course of scoring the political upset of the century thus far at the recent state election there, and the lack of a concrete comprehensive agenda covered at that time is only the start of the problem.

One point I declined to make last week is that the Labor caucus in Queensland is now dominated by the party’s Left — not an artifice known for its responsibility and prudence where the sound management of affairs of state are concerned — and is underlined by the little-reported fact that hundreds (or perhaps thousands, for nobody can really tell) of CFMEU operatives made the trek from Sydney and Melbourne to campaign in Queensland ahead of the state election: and Palaszczuk, rather tellingly, is already attracting attention for her inability to adequately respond to suggestions her government is subject to disproportionate levels of union influence and control.

(A bit like the not-so-shiny new Labor regime in Victoria, although that’s another story).

Compounding the rather obvious handicaps Queensland Labor faces itself encumbered with — thanks to its lack of mandated policies and the unions having it by the throat — is the announcement yesterday of the Palaszczuk Cabinet, which boasts five first-time MPs as ministers in addition to others (including Deputy Premier Jackie Trad) already in Parliament prior to the election but also completely lacking in any ministerial experience whatsoever.

In some respects, given the near-extermination Labor suffered at the polls three years ago, the fact its unexpectedly early return to the ministerial suite should be accompanied by a distinct lack of experience comes as no surprise.

But lacking in experience it is, and it presents the same problem faced, ironically, by the Labor governments that followed conservatives into office after decades in the wilderness: Gough Whitlam’s federally, Wayne Goss’ in Queensland and of course, John Cain Jr’s in Victoria.

Of course, these governments performed very differently in practice, with Whitlam’s and the Labor administration of John Bannon in South Australia that was elected in 1982 after a single term in opposition ending in train smashes, where Goss was brought undone by unseeing arrogance more than any sin of governance.

But Cain was the worst of them all.

The Palaszczuk ministry is unimpressive, to say the least.

Its five ministers with prior experience might be fair enough, but offer some glaring drawbacks at a glance.

Palaszczuk herself, as Premier and minister for the Arts, is fair enough.

With so much at stake, why is Cameron Dick — a prospective leader — marooned in the sensitive Health portfolio? It would seem that with a slender hold on office and the unmistakable reality that Labor governs purely on the back of distaste for the administration of Campbell Newman and his and its methods, any petty rivalries are a luxury it cannot afford.

Stirling Hinchcliffe might have been no world beater in the last Labor government, but relegating him to an assistant ministry at a time his party sorely needs experienced hands appears a curious call, to say the least.

And for all the hype that has surrounded Kate Jones in recent years (which has had nothing to do with her competence or otherwise, but everything to do with her capacity to defeat one individual in one electorate) it remains to be seen whether she is up to the job of tackling a super portfolio comprising Education, Tourism, Major Events, Small Business and the Commonwealth Games.

Baubles as rewards for electoral triumph rather than genuine merit are not confined to expressions of gratitude to Jones for slaying Newman; a day care teacher yet to spend a day in Parliament has been made a minister ostensibly as a pat on the back for defeating rising LNP identity David Crisafulli in his seat of Mundingburra.

And the unmistakable taint of union dominance sits over the whole Cabinet, with many returning and inexperienced MPs having served as union officials: “experience” which, so many times and in so many places, has proven thoroughly inappropriate as a grounding for competent and efficient effective government.

To me, the parallels between the Cain government in Victoria in 1982 and Palaszczuk’s in Queensland now are almost frightening.

Both took office after the defeat of competent Liberal regimes: Cain after a 27-year-old administration died of old age, Palaszczuk’s after her predecessors were defeated after offending far too many voters far too quickly.

Like Cain in 1982, Palaszczuk arrives in office with a party full of first-time MPs and desperately lacking in experience, and both governments are characterised by the kind of early exuberance that could, if misapplied, lead straight into trouble.

Like Cain after 1982 — taking office at the epicentre of the union movement in Australia as he did after a decades-long drought — the unions seem set to wield enormous influence and power over Queensland Labor now: partly as a result of the bolstered union presence now embedded in the ALP’s parliamentary ranks, and partly as a result of the need for good old-fashioned payback for “services rendered” in helping Labor win the election in the first place.

Palaszczuk’s narrow mandate, weighed against the reality her party will need to do something for three years to justify itself at the next election, makes its inexperienced hands ripe candidates for blunders into misadventure: and whilst Queensland has no State Bank and no apparent Tricontinental or Pyramid disaster awaiting detonation, it should be noted that in its last period in office Labor nonetheless saw its way clear to rack up $85 billion in state debt and a ten-figure annual budget deficit to boot.

And the propensity for Labor to throw Queensland back to the dark ages is very real; just two days ago, the Courier-Mail detailed the agenda for government that was somehow omitted from Palaszczuk’s election campaign, which formed the basis of its pitch for the support of Labor-leaning “Independent” Peter Wellington.

Clearly, the ingredients for a disaster are all there in George Street, just waiting to be half-baked.

As an old Brisbane boy I certainly wouldn’t wish to see it and I hope that this Labor government serves Queensland better than its last — so incompetent as to have overseen an unnecessary flood in Brisbane and the waste of tens of billions of dollars for nothing — but with the damage from its last stint in power barely contained by three years of Liberal rule it won’t take very much for an unmitigated debacle to unfold.

The argument the public service might act as a brake on the excesses of its masters is based on a false premise: it didn’t under Peter Beattie and Anna Bligh and in any case, it remains disproportionately stacked with Labor appointees from last time, with a large number of LNP appointees set to be given their marching orders in coming weeks.

We will watch and wait and see as we always do in this column but I just think the comparisons between this government and the Cain government in Victoria cannot be easily dismissed.

Queenslanders will find out soon enough what their state election has saddled them with. All I will say is that I wouldn’t want such a ragtag bunch of misfits running my own state.

Then again, here in Victoria we have our own union-controlled band of Labor’s hooligans. The eastern states might be swinging back to Labor, but it remains to be seen at what cost.

Keeping Kate: Newman, LNP Set To Lose Ashgrove

CAMPBELL NEWMAN’S WORST NIGHTMARE emerged from a meeting of ALP members in Ashgrove yesterday, with the announcement that former member and Bligh government minister, Kate Jones, will recontest the seat for Labor at the looming Queensland state election. With Jones’ preselection virtually guaranteed and Newman adamant he will not seek a safer seat to contest, the Premier’s brief parliamentary career looks to be over.

Shortly after the watershed state election in Queensland in March 2012 that swept the LNP under Campbell Newman to power, virtually eliminating Queensland Labor in the process, I wrote in this column that if Newman ran a capable government and provided effective representation as a strong local member in a marginal electorate, he would stand a very good chance of doubling the margin of the victory he recorded over the ALP’s popular Kate Jones, an effective MP whose “Keep Kate” campaign in Ashgrove drastically limited the swing to the conservatives in that seat.

KEEPING KATE: Kate Jones appears set to return to Parliament in Queensland. (Picture: Courier Mail)

Yet as readers know, I’ve had a niggling — and unpleasant — feeling that the unmistakable whiff of a one-term regime has emanated from the Newman administration since about six months after it was first elected, and whilst it ought to be a theoretical absurdity that a first-term government elected with nearly two-thirds of the two-party vote should be contemplating its electoral mortality less than three years later, this is the position in which the merged LNP in Queensland finds itself.

As any watcher of politics, polls and electoral behaviour knows, nothing is ever certain until the final votes are tallied; yet just as the LNP may or may not continue in office after the imminent election, it now seems all but certain that it will be under a new leader unless it does something — and quickly — that it has thus far avoided like the plague.

The news yesterday that former Ashgrove MP Kate Jones will recontest the electorate she lost to Newman all but seals a Labor win in a key seat, in a contest as symbolic as it is a simple race for one of the 45 seats required to form a government in Queensland; I have long thought it likely that Labor would recover this electorate, and have said as much in this column that were Jones to nominate, an ALP gain in Ashgrove would become a formality.

I have never been able to warm to Jones, for the rather cruel and superficial reason that she looks virtually identical to an individual from my past whom I will simply describe as “the wrong girl.”

But I know quite a number of people who live in that particular electorate — some of whom are conservative voters of decades’ standing — and aside from the most abjectly partisan LNP adherents, nobody has anything bad to say about her. In fact, she is seen as “their Kate:” the nice girl making her way who, regrettably, had to be sacrificed on the altar of electoral expediency in the interests of ensuring Queensland got rid of its despised Labor government once and for all in 2012.

In some respects it doesn’t matter how effective or otherwise Newman has been as the member for Ashgrove.

This electorate was always going to be the number one target for Queensland Labor; despite there being 15 more winnable LNP seats on the electoral pendulum below Ashgrove, eliminating Newman from this district was always going to be the ALP’s top priority. And Kate Jones, if she stood, was always going to be an unbackable favourite to beat him.

Despite winning Ashgrove with a 12.8% swing in 2012, Newman’s margin after preferences was just 5.7%; this was at the absolute zenith of LNP support, and a buffer of 5.7%, in the absence of the goodwill required to consolidate it, is unlikely to be adequate to withstand any statewide correction that placed the electoral contest on a more even footing.

There is an argument to suggest that Ashgrove — with its pockets of high affluence and middle-class core — should be the kind of natural conservative state seat that should never have been lost to the Queensland Coalition in the first place, and I too have made that argument in this column in years past.

But the seat also contains a disproportionate number of public servants, teachers, nurses and emergency service workers — the very constituencies the ALP, and its cronies in the union movement, have spent three years whipping into an unbridled frenzy: sometimes with good reason, but mostly just because they can.

Newman has led a government that has become deeply unpopular and, despite his own personal approval numbers collapsing in virtually every published opinion poll, remains competitive overall more by an accident of circumstance than by good management; the existence of the Palmer United Party drains primary vote support from the LNP tally, and notional preference allocations for the purposes of generating opinion poll findings return more than half of these to the LNP on the two-party measure.

Labor, too, has recovered some of the support it lost in 2012, which partly underpins the movement against the LNP as well.

But as I have often reminded readers, 53.6% after preferences was insufficient to secure the Coalition a majority at the state election of 1995; today, the LNP is recording about 52%. It might win an election on that level of support, or it might not.

Whether it does or doesn’t, it still amounts to a swing against the government of 13%: more than double the margin Newman currently enjoys in Ashgrove. And whilst published individual seat polling is relatively sparse, the most recent to be conducted in Ashgrove — by ReachTEL — sees Newman trail Jones, 36-51, on primary vote support (having not seen its two-party findings, I’d guesstimate that particular picture would look something like a 59-41 ALP win if a Communist Greens candidate is also included). Such an outcome is consistent with the bulk of other polling conducted in Ashgrove over the past year or so.

Campbell Newman has been insistent that he will not countenance the transfer to a more winnable seat.

Perhaps this is posturing; perhaps he — and those in the LNP’s inner sanctum — feels that by simply standing firm, Jones and Labor can be worn down, the voters grudgingly won back, and the seat held, if even by a whisker.

Perhaps Newman is resigned to his fate, and content to leave Parliament ignominiously after a single term as Premier, although I highly doubt it: anyone who knows anything about the man would know this is not how he operates.

Yet for whatever reason, Newman appears to be boxed in, and whilst I appreciate that some of those in control of the LNP will not be amused for me putting this so bluntly, the strategy of battening down the hatches and trying to ride out the imminent tornado that is Jones in Ashgrove is a recipe only for defeat.

I have made the case a few times in relation to where I see Newman’s personal election prospects sitting and the scenarios they conjure; this piece in June ostensibly tackled the unforgivable rise in support for Clive Palmer in Queensland, but what I had to say on Newman, Ashgrove, the LNP leadership and Bruce-bloody-Flegg in Moggill is even more pertinent now than it was then.

Any claim that Newman will beat Jones in Ashgrove is ridiculous. It is not going to happen. This is not political denialism or some hare-brained pronouncement.

If the LNP proceeds on the basis Newman will hold his seat and be re-elected to office in Queensland, then election night will be an unpleasant event indeed for that party.

It’s time for a few hard calls.

Is Newman leaving Parliament anyway at this election? If the answer is yes, the LNP has to work out — now, not a month from polling day — who it is presenting as its new candidate for the Premiership, and close ranks around that individual. To me, the only credible replacement candidate is Treasurer Tim Nicholls. If this is the intended course of events, the LNP has to get its story straight, and stick to it.

If the answer is no, it must find a way to get rid of Flegg once and for all in Moggill, and run Newman as its candidate in his place; Flegg passed his political use-by date on the first day of the 2006 state election campaign, was a disaster as a Newman government minister, and it is an indictment on Queensland’s conservatives that he is still the endorsed candidate for their safest and most secure seat in Brisbane.

Any other position announced by the LNP I’m afraid simply doesn’t cut any ice. But very quickly, if a “third option” is to find someone else to push out of their seat instead of Flegg, here’s a very sobering thought for the LNP hierarchy to consider.

There is a huge swing against Newman’s government on its way; nobody knows whether the government will survive, what the distribution of the swing will look like geographically, or how much of the new territory won three years ago will be lost.

But just six years ago, the only seats the party held in Brisbane — apart from Flegg’s seat of Moggill and Nicholls’ seat of Clayfield — were Aspley and Indooroopilly, both of which are natural conservative electorates, but which had both just been reclaimed after multiple terms in the hands of ALP MPs.

There is no guarantee that any other seat Newman transferred to in Brisbane is a certain LNP win in the prevailing climate; and moving him to, say, Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast opens a whole other can of worms (Newman. Brisbane. Imposter.) for the ALP to raise merry hell around.

Either Flegg gets the flick at the hands of his own party, or Newman gets the flick at the hands of Ashgrove’s voters.

Some choice? This is the consequence of Kate Jones’ announcement that she will return to Parliament at the coming election.

And “return” she will. It would be foolish for anyone in the LNP to think otherwise.

 

2012 Queensland Election: Live Updates

From 6.30pm (AEST) on Saturday 24 March, this page will regularly update progress in the state election count with comment on trends, totals and the outcome generally. Readers outside Queensland can follow at 7.30pm local time.

To keep up to date with the night’s events, simply click back onto the headline for this article to automatically update content in your browser as it is posted to this site.

Polling day has been interesting, with many booths today reporting the presence of few (and in some cases no) ALP campaign workers; meanwhile in the mainstream press, it has been widely reported that Labor figures are increasingly speaking as though the loss is official, and LNP types reiterating their pending humility and accountability if tonight’s figures confirm what we all seemingly already know.

See you here from 6.30pm!

6.32pm — Early figures already showing a swing in the vicinity of 12-13%, early indication of a 15% swing in Whitsunday.

6.43pm — With less than three percent of the vote counted, the ABC’s Antony Green has already scored 42 seats to the LNP with 49 likely, 11 for the ALP and 29 in doubt — portents of a massacre.

7.02pm — There are growing indications that the ALP may struggle to get its seat count into double figures; conservatives appear to have won the seat of Cairns for the first time in the 110 year history of the seat, and the seat of Lytton — one of the eleven seats that held for Labor in the 1974 slaughter — also appears lost to the ALP.

7.17pm — With the count progressing, the two party swing against the ALP is stabilising at 15%; a projection just released has the ALP on 10 seats, the LNP 73 seats, none for the Greens, and three each for Katter and Independents respectively.

7.25pm — Early figures suggest Anna Bligh is struggling to hold her seat of South Brisbane, a seat lost to Labor in 1974. The Logan electorate, once held by former Labor Premier Wayne Goss, has also been won by the LNP.

7.53pm — Anna Bligh now appears to have won South Brisbane, but with Laborstill struggling to get near 10 seats. In other developments, LNP defector Aidon McLindon in Beaudesert has been overwhelmingly defeated by the LNP.

8.01pm — With 50% of the vote now counted, it looks increasingly likely the ALP may not make it into double figures. Ashgrove has been definitely won by Campbell Newman; Ipswich has the LNP ahead (this is the seat held by more than 16% that I thought would fall); and even Mackay — never held by conservatives — is looking vulnerable now for the Labor Party.

8.08pm — The retired ALP member for Logan, John Mickel, has just appeared in an interview on ABC TV and savaged Anna Bligh, holding her personally responsible for the electoral carnage being witnessed tonight. There have already been indications today that the Labor Party would turn on itself in recrimination, and this tends to underline that trend.

8.24pm — Anna Bligh has appeared at ALP HQ to concede defeat…she spent 15 seconds wishing Campbell Newman well in a speech that has lasted nearly 20 minutes so far. Not a dignifying speech.

8.46pm — Campbell Newman has arrived at the LNP function at the Brisbane Hilton to claim victory, and will shortly speak. Interestingly, he walked past Santo Santoro without acknowledging him, but embraced new Lord Mayor Graham Quirk on his way to thepodium.

8.55pm — Newman has now spoken; it was a speech that reminded me very much of Wayne Goss’ victory speech in 1989, and it is to be hoped that — ultimately — Newman delivers more on his promise than Goss did. Newman was lavish in his tribute to Anna Bligh, which is decent; it was the best speech I have heard Newman deliver, just as Goss’ speech was brilliant. I reiterate that despite my conservative bent, I truly hope there is more substance behind the words of Newman than there was behind those of Goss. Nonetheless, it is unequivocal that Campbell Newman has been elected Premier of Queensland.

9.32pm — Bob Katter, despite securing two and perhaps three seats at the most, is claiming to have established a “formidable third force” in Queensland politics — and claiming he should have won seven to twelve seats. Sorry Bob — as much as I like you as a bloke, you’re delusional!

9.43pm — The LNP has won more seats that stood up for Labor in 1974; chiefly Nudgee, which has fallen in a shock result. Confirmed seats are Labor 6, LNP 75, Katter 2, Independents 2, undecideds 4.

10.16pm — My last post for the night; with 70% of the vote counted — final figures for the night — it is clear the LNP has won an emphatic victory in Queensland; Labor still looks likely to win less than 10 seats in the 89-seat Parliament, whilst the LNP have won in nearly 90% of the state’s electorates.

The overall swing against Labor appears to be some 14.5%.

I will be back with a post-mortem late tomorrow, as I am flying back to Melbourne tomorrow afternoon, and will spend some time with my wife and daughter before revisiting this column.

Please feel free to comment, but keep them relevant and on-subject.

Queensland Election: It’s The Lie That Gets You

In August 1974 — confronted with the choice between resignation from office or certain impeachment and conviction over the Watergate scandal — US President Richard Nixon drily remarked to an aide that it’s not the cover-up, but the lie; it’s the lie that gets you.

And so it is in Queensland, in the final days of Labor administration, with Anna Bligh’s government now thrashing around in its death throes.

Readers of this column will recall, in an article last week, on the pending state election in Queensland, that I said this of the modus operandi of the modern ALP:

“(Standard) ALP campaign tactics in the 21st century… are simple: get the story straight, then repeat it as often and as widely as possible; talk about nothing else; engineer a situation where the guilt of the smeared is the default position; and don’t let go until you’ve destroyed someone — and the less factual the basis on which they are destroyed, the better.”

After many months of throwing mud at LNP leader Campbell Newman — scurrilous accusations, twice investigated by the CMC, and twice with the result that Newman had no case to answer — Anna Bligh let the cat out of the bag on Tuesday with her admission that all she “had” were “questions” for Campbell Newman, and no “answers.”

That’s it. No proof, no evidence, nothing whatsoever. Just the same pile of dirty accusations that has been endlessly recycled since last year in a desperate attempt to smear Newman, an attempt which — if recent polling in the seat of Ashgrove is any indication — had hurt Newman’s prospects, even if the landslide victory by the LNP were still on track to occur.

Bligh’s admission that the Labor campaign is essentially built on a false premise surely puts the final nail into Queensland Labor’s coffin and represents the final, devastating blow to her credibility.

And yet today, wait! There’s more! Bligh says she has new documents showing another link between Campbell Newman and a developer who is one of his biggest political donors, and claiming it is “evidence” of “dodgy deals.”

Here’s the rub: in either the greatest act of political desperation seen in this country in decades, or in an appalling display of ignorance of the way business operates, Bligh’s “evidence” is essentially that a business is one of some 300 registered at an accountancy firm.

Hell, my own accountant has 230 companies registered at his office; one is mine, but I have no idea as to who the other 229 are, and if I have any “link” to any of them, it is pure coincidence.

It’s probable that the same is true in this case.

It has also come to light in the past couple of days that the CMC are once again looking into the matters alleged by the ALP, and that in itself does not constitute automatic guilt or wrongdoing on the part of Campbell Newman.

Indeed, whilst I would never attempt to pre-empt such an inquiry, I would make the point that these matters have been subject to CMC scrutiny twice now, and Newman cleared on both occasions. And the CMC may well find the same way for the third time.

Yet in any case, that succinct description I gave of Labor strategy is still being played out: they won’t let go, and the object is to completely destroy Newman, no matter how baseless the pretext or how frivolous or vexatious the allegation.

All of this raises a deeper and more sinister question: at what point can the kind of tactics deployed by the Queensland ALP against Campbell Newman be legitimately regarded as an attempt to rig an election?

After all — and especially if Newman is cleared by the CMC for a third time — it’s clear that the Labor politics used in the current campaign have been of the basest type: scandalously defamatory, devoid of a scrap of truth, and entirely innocent of any reasonable standard of ethical conduct.

Newman himself has said that he could probably sue the ALP but that he’s not “a sook;” indeed, as I have opined previously, even if Newman were justified in instituting legal proceedings against Labor, the ricochet effect of that at this point in the electoral cycle would likely rebound on him as well.

This is a tired government that has run its course; after 14 years in office, and 20 of the past 22, it is politically and ethically bankrupt, has a chequered record indeed, and leaves behind colossal levels of state debt, and billions of dollars in infrastructure spending that has simply been kicked down the road despite record state revenues and GST receipts — the so-called GFC notwithstanding.

It’s clear that there is very little by way of a constructive case Labor could have credibly placed before the electorate as it seeks re-election; on the other hand, the campaign Labor has run has been despicable.

Is it possible to rig an election based on a lie? Perhaps the eventual result in the seat of Ashgrove will provide an answer. Certainly, the LNP remains on track to belt Labor on a statewide basis, but — as I have said more than once — the sole real objective of this campaign appears to simply be to keep Newman out of Parliament.

And that would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed.

I have said to a few people that there was always a way the ALP could deal itself into this election campaign with a real chance of victory; readers will be unsurprised that I omit most of the details, given my political inclinations, but to abandon Kate Jones in Ashgrove…(bit in the middle omitted 🙂     )…with a view to marooning Newman as Leader of the Opposition would have been a far smarter strategy than embarking on a dirt avalanche and peddling defamatory allegations entirely unfounded. It could have even led to the unlikeliest of election wins.

Even though it is now too late, I have no intention of spelling out the finer details. The ALP will have many wounds to lick after the shellacking it now confronts. The revelation that the Labor campaign is baseless will drive wavering and undecided voters into the LNP column — and it’s more likely than not that many of those will be in Ashgrove; the very people for whose “benefit” this entire charade was staged in the first place.

Returning to my opening paragraph, the analogy of a cover-up might or might not be appropriate on this occasion. But the words of Nixon certainly apply to the Queensland Labor Party of 2012: it’s the lie that gets you.

And next weekend, that is precisely what will happen.

What do you think?

Queensland State Election: Half-Time Home Truths

Halfway through the (official) state election campaign in Queensland, I want to make a few comments on how things are progressing, and I make the observation that for the LNP it’s time to take off the gloves, and to slay that mangy Labor dog once and for all.

With 18 days to go until it’s all over, the LNP remains on track to overwhelmingly defeat the 14-year-old Labor government of Anna Bligh; we haven’t seen a statewide opinion poll for a little while now (there must be one due imminently) but everything still points to a shattering defeat for the ALP, with that party set to lose some 30 or so of its current 51 seats in the 89-member Queensland Parliament.

The ALP is throwing everything at Campbell Newman; I have opined previously that the approach seems to be that if enough shit is thrown, some of it will stick.

For the LNP, the problem is that this approach appears to be working; for the ALP, the problem is that they’re likely to lose in a landslide anyway.

In and around the hot pink “Keep Kate” placards in Ashgrove (does anyone seriously think they’re not an ALP-funded exercise?), and the various sitting ALP MPs operating as if they were Independents, the Labor Party is kidding itself if it thinks it stands any chance of winning this election by virtue of its current campaign techniques and strategies.

Indeed, I have said before in this column that Labor’s sole purpose appears to be the defeat of Newman in Ashgrove, despite its catastrophic position overall on a statewide basis.

Based on what I know, I see no reason to believe Newman is guilty of any impropriety; in fact, the continual gutter-raking of matters that a) have not been referred to Police or to the CMC, b) are not the subject of any known criminal or Parliamentary investigations; and c) continue to be canvassed without a shred of clear evidence to back them, are all indicative of standard ALP campaign tactics in the 21st century.

And those tactics, when it comes to smearing opponents, are simple: get the story straight, then repeat it as often and as widely as possible; talk about nothing else; engineer a situation where the guilt of the smeared is the default position; and don’t let go until you’ve destroyed someone — and the less factual the basis on which they are destroyed, the better.

Labor knows that at this delicate point in the political cycle, Newman can’t afford to defend himself by way of writ: a defamation action, at this time, would rebound on Newman far harder than it would on the ALP and its operatives.

In any case, it likely wouldn’t reach court before Christmas — long after the horse had already bolted.

And so, on and on it goes; the papers continue to be filled with salacious and scurrilous, yet baseless, accusations of impropriety against Newman, and with Newman’s consistent — and, understandably, increasingly terse — refutations of same.

Having said that, storming out of a news conference after just a few minutes during the week probably wasn’t the best way to deal with them; rightly or wrongly, all it achieved was to generate the sort of imagery ALP hacks are craving.

And if you venture onto Twitter (as we in the blogosphere are virtually obliged to do daily), there are literally hundreds of accounts incessantly retweeting each other’s anti-LNP, anti-Newman rantings.

I put it to one of them a few days ago that he was terrified of Campbell Newman; back came the response, mere minutes later, that it wasn’t terror: it was disgust.

Many of these accounts purport to be LNP identities, or high-ranking internal LNP people, which is obviously rubbish; many of their utterances centre on accusations of corruption, brown paper bags, a return to “the good old days,” or the sheer defamation of people inside and outside the parliamentary and organisational wings of the LNP.

And whilst I won’t dignify any of them by identifying them here, it won’t take interested readers more than five minutes to find such accounts on Twitter.

The simple fact is that these smears, slanderings and innuendo — made as they are without foundation — are hurting Newman.

I’m not convinced that the emergence of a new automated telephone poll of the Ashgrove electorate by ReachTel, with its 3.5% error margin — showing Kate Jones now on track to retain her seat — is either accurate or realistic.

(And given Jones is a dead ringer for my ex-girlfriend, I’d really like to be able to look at the Courier-Mail every day without having to look at her, thank you!)

Even so, it must be taken seriously, given the LNP campaign launch at the weekend appears not to have provided the circuit-breaker Newman must have been looking for in terms of all this mudslinging about his personal financial conduct.

One of the more regrettable aspects of this Labor dirt-throwing campaign is that it stems from the successful business ventures of Newman’s wife, Lisa, and the Monsour family, to which she belongs.

People seem too ready to forget that women in business are more than capable of success in their own right; even — in this case — the ALP, whose approach to women is to introduce tokenistic quotas for their representation in Parliament, and to spout truckloads of insincere and patronising crap about their general value in society.

In this case, people seem too ready also to forget that not only did Campbell Newman serve the City of Brisbane as a fine Lord Mayor, but that he comes from a tradition of distinguished state service; his mother, Jocelyn, was a Senator and minister under John Howard; his father, Kevin, an MHR and minister under Malcolm Fraser.

And in any case, Newman’s background as an Army officer, and his professional background as an engineer, are unquestioned and unsullied, and more qualification for office than most of those ranged against him possess.

For once, one will say something nice about former Premier Peter Beattie, who appeared in today’s press to offer Newman “some good advice…not party-political advice.”

The broad upshot of this advice was that he, Pete, and his wife had sold every shareholding they owned when he became Premier, and that as a result he was never accused of financial impropriety.

I would make the point that the accusations of, and the demands on, Newman are coming thick and fast before he becomes Premier; perhaps in the circumstances, the point is moot.

Maybe the simplest way to deal with this — as irritating, infuriating and unwarranted as it may be — would be to put all of the Newman/Monsour business holdings into a blind trust; managed at arm’s length, and knocking this silly smear campaign on the head immediately.

There is no conceivable reason to believe Queenslanders would inflict a further three years’ Labor on themselves; not now, and not in light of the long litany of lies, broken promises, betrayals and failures the Goss/Beattie/Bligh years have produced.

I do not believe that Newman will be beaten in Ashgrove, or that the LNP will lose this election. I do not believe Newman has put so much as a toenail anywhere near a red line of impropriety based on the information I possess. But I do think this particular charade has gone on long enough.

Campbell Newman, it’s time to do something about it; shut it down, put the whole lot into a blind trust or similar, and let’s move on.

Queensland desperately needs the change of government headed its way on 24 March, and Campbell Newman is overwhelmingly the best candidate to take Queensland forward as Premier.

It’s time to shut the ALP’s malicious little game down — and to then stop it dead in its tracks at the ballot box.

And once the object of the Labor shit-throwing obsession has been neutralised, the ALP will have nowhere — nowhere — to run or hide, and in this case, that is precisely as it should be.

It will have to stand on its record, which — in the immortal words of Malcolm Fraser, in reference to another Labor government — it will stand on only to hide.

LNP Pulls Further Ahead In Queensland: Newspoll

The Weekend Australian today carries Newspoll’s findings on voting intentions leading up to the state election to be held on 24 March; its headline finding is the LNP two points up since December to lead 58-42 after preferences. As a whole, this survey makes interesting reading.

First, the obvious stuff: a LNP result of 58-42 over Labor equates to a swing since the  2009 election of 8.9%; if repeated at an election and uniform, this would translate into the ALP being reduced to just 18 seats in the 89-seat state Parliament in a landslide rout by the conservatives.

Newspoll finds the ALP primary vote down a point to a (stubbornly rigid) 30%; the LNP up three, to 47%; and the Greens and “Others” both down slightly. The figure of 14%  recorded by “Others” also includes support for Bob Katter’s crowd.

Where this gets interesting is in the approval ratings of the Premier and the Opposition Leader in light of recent goings-on in the Sunshine State leading up to this point.

As we have discussed previously, the ALP in Queensland has employed a strategy of incessantly throwing as much mud and dirt and shit at Campbell Newman and his family as possible in the hope that without a scrap of solid evidence to back their allegations, enough will stick to deny the LNP leader victory in his chosen electorate of Ashgrove.

So far, it would appear to be working; Newman’s approval rating is static at 45%, with his disapproval rising four points to 37%. This is a far cry from the 51-27 result he recorded as recently as September, and I note the rise in his disapproval rating has been primarily fuelled by people moving out of the “undecided” column.

It would seem to be anomalous: the LNP vote rocketing whilst its leader languishes. However, as I will explain, these numbers (and the Labor dirt campaign against Newman) are unlikely to stop him winning in Ashgrove, nor the LNP from claiming government in Queensland.

To finish the numbers first: Anna Bligh’s preferred Premier rating is holding up surprisingly well, at 40% to Newman’s 44%, and I would ascribe that to the same ALP dirt campaign against Newman.

And her own approval ratings — 41% in favour, 50% disapproving — are actually reasonable for the leader of a 14-year-old government, five of them under her own stewardship, and when confronting electoral Armageddon to boot.

The sting in the tail for Labor in this poll lies in the additional questions it asked to ascertain how strongly respondents were welded to voting for the parties they nominated as likely to receive their first-preference vote.

Fully 51% of respondents who said they would vote Labor at the looming election said there was either some chance, or just as much chance, that they would vote for someone other than the ALP.

Just remember, only 30% nominated a first-preference Labor vote. Yet this suggests the Labor voting figures are being inflated to some degree by people just as likely to be undecided, and just as likely to vote for the LNP or someone else.

And under Queensland’s optional preferential voting system (OPV), even if they voted for, say, the Greens, it would still augment the LNP result owing to the high number of votes that exhaust in Queensland on account of voters not allocating preferences.

The Wayne “I’m Too Clever By Half” Goss reform to introduce OPV in 1992, and Peter Beattie’s supposed masterstroke slogan of “Just Vote 1” in 2001 — both designed to deny the then Liberals and Nationals election wins on a permanent basis — are both about to round on the ALP and help make what was always going to be a bad result into a humiliation.

And this brings me to the half-baked attempt to somehow portray Kate Jones in Ashgrove as some sort of local heroine rather than a sitting Labor MP and former Environment minister in Cabinet at the time of last year’s floods.

Jones is no less tarred with the brush of Labor’s record than any of its other MPs.

If the mood for a change of government is as strong in Ashgrove as it unquestionably is across the state, Jones will be incapable of withstanding the electoral tide.

It is why this poll records nothing to indicate the current ALP focus on who would lead the LNP if it won the election, but Newman failed to get across the line in Ashgrove, has served any constructive purpose: Queenslanders either aren’t concerned at the prospect of Tim Nicholls or Jeff Seeney as Premier, or they don’t believe the situation will eventuate, or (most likely), both.

And Newman is “having a go”: he’s not parachuting into a safe Liberal seat, but trying to win a difficult Labor electorate that is traditionally Liberal, but has been in enemy hands for many years.

It’s very nice that the local election material being trundled out in Ashgrove is completely innocent of any Labor Party branding whatsoever, and published in girly feel-good pink rather than the traditional Labor red.

Indeed, the “Keep Kate” slogan — reminiscent of the “Save Ferris” campaign from a legendary 1980s teen comedy movie — is just as adolescent and is evidence of just how misguided the ALP campaign in Queensland actually is.

Now that the election campaign proper is about to commence — it officially begins tomorrow — voters in Queensland will begin to focus in on who they want to form government for the next three years and who they want to be their Premier.

This applies equally in Ashgrove; an electorate faced with serious issues in its own right, and not least in the areas of health, transport, and infrastructure — all areas in which Labor is supposedly the better-qualified party to with.

I have no doubt Kate Jones is a nice enough girl, and it’s not an unattractive story to see how she has been able to stay in her own local area all of her life, to grow and to achieve in her life as a member of the Ashgrove community.

The problem is that on this occasion, it’s not going to count for very much. The Queensland government, of which Jones is a member, has badly let its constituency down, and there is no reason consistent with anything other complete naivety to suggest that 30,000 voters in Ashgrove will do anything other than act on the desire for a change of government, and to elect Campbell Newman as their MP.

In closing — and returning to Newspoll — there is one more directly relevant factor that its findings probably don’t reflect, as its fieldwork was likely already finished, and it’s this.

Anna Bligh’s wild declaration that Campbell Newman would “end up in jail” and that he was “just like Gordon Nuttall” are signs she’s rattled at best, and losing the plot at worst.

It’s reminiscent of Malcolm Fraser’s wild assertion that people should hide their money “under the bed” if Bob Hawke won the 1983 federal election, as it would be safer there than in a bank.

Bligh’s statement was made under Parliamentary privilege and her refusal to repeat it outside Parliament, where she would be subject to the laws of the land, is proof enough that she was just trying to throw more mud at the LNP leader without a shred of proof or justification.

In other words, whilst the ALP’s muck-bucket campaign against Newman might be registering some interest now, we’re at the point at which it’s bordering on the hysterical.

This is why, ultimately, it won’t damage Newman at all. And it is why, in the end, he is likely to be elected both as the Member for Ashgrove and as Premier of Queensland in six weeks’ time.

Queensland Politics: Things That Make You Go “Hmmm”…

Queensland has a new deputy Premier today; the 35-year-old Treasurer and member for Mount Coot-tha, Andrew Fraser, has filled the vacancy created by the retirement of the outgoing Paul Lucas.

Lucas — a 15-year veteran of state politics in the Sunshine State, is calling it quits after a spate of health scares in recent years and, he says, to spend more time with his family.

Don’t they all.

Excuse my cynicism over what ordinarily would be a simple alteration of executive arrangements. There’s more to this, and it’s not buried too far below the surface.

By his own admission, Lucas is the seventh of the 51-member ALP caucus to announce his retirement ahead of the looming election, and he denies it has anything to do with the pending slaughter Labor appears certain to suffer.

“There are 51 members in the parliamentary Labor party and there’s seven of us who are retiring,’’ Lucas said. “That’s hardly a massive number when one looks at the stats of it.”

Well, quite. Certainly it’s not the 21 retirements NSW Labor posted prior to their own electoral belting earlier this year. But then again, in addition to 51 members in the NSW lower house, NSW Labor also had 19 upper house members, which tends to square up the proportionality of the comparison somewhat.

And there is still six months before the Qld government’s three-year term expires, so there’s plenty of time for others to jump ship too.

On a margin of 12%, Lucas’ seat of Lytton will be interesting to watch if the swings indicated in Queensland opinion polling this year materialise: the most recent Newspoll showed a statewide swing of 14.2%.

Lytton, then held by Tom Burns, is one of the eleven seats that held for Labor — just — at the 1974 bloodbath; on the other hand, Lucas’ retirement probably robs the ALP of 2-3% of the vote by way of a personal following before the polling stations even open.

I think Lucas’ reasons are genuine; of happy coincidence is the fact he will probably dodge a bullet by going now.

And Lucas hasn’t exactly been clear of the scandals that have characterised Labor’s tenure in government in Queensland; a speeding fine in 2007 that was handballed to his driver, and the fiasco last year over the bungled rollout of a new payroll system in the state’s health sector, are two incidents that spring to mind.

Good luck to him; but whichever way you cut it, it’s still a senior, long-standing government minister who has walked out with his suitcase of baggage before a likely election massacre.

More deserving of raised eyebrows is his replacement as deputy Premier — and the way in which the appointment of the member for Mount Coot-tha is being presented by the Premier, Anna Bligh.

At just 35, Andrew Fraser also carries his share of Queensland Labor’s baggage; as Treasurer for four years, he has presided over a budget that has fallen deeply into deficit, in a state that has racked up colossal levels of debt, and was a key figure in the Bligh government’s privatisation misadventures — exercises solemnly ruled out before the last state election.

Never mind the flood disaster in January; these specific issues have been in evidence for several years prior to this year’s flood event.

On paper, Fraser is impressively credentialled: academic scholarship student, double-degree holder, university medal winner.

It’s clear the right opportunities have come his way and that he has made the most of them.

It’s also clear that in electing him unopposed to its deputy leadership, the ALP in Queensland have anointed Fraser as its leader-in-waiting.

And that moment of tactical brilliance may well prove a colossal strategic mistake.

Certainly, there are question marks over Fraser’s performance as a minister, and not least as a result of the Treasury portfolio he holds and the concurrent mess the state’s finances are in.

LNP leader Campbell Newman probably got it about right in describing Fraser as “a lousy Treasurer.”

And he’s certainly not a patch on the best of the previous four Treasurers — David Hamill — the current ALP regime produced.

Even leaving that aside, Fraser is insecurely seated in Parliament, and history is against him.

Fraser’s seat of Mount Coot-tha was initially won for Labor by his predecessor, Wendy Edmond, in the Wayne Goss landslide at the 1989 election.

Prior to that, it had been a safe Liberal electorate for decades.

Admittedly the old seat of Mount Coot-tha was a sprawling electorate, reaching much further west to Moggill and the Brisbane River. The electoral redistribution of 1985 created the very safe Liberal seat of Moggill (which the then-member for Mount-Coot-tha, Bill Lickiss, transferred to) and the safe-ish Liberal seat of Mount Coot-tha, which was held by the Liberal Party from 1986 until Goss’ triumph took Wendy Edmond — and the seat — into the Labor column.

In the last 75 years, Queenslanders have had a habit of producing occasional electoral results that radically redraw the political map. In 1935, first-term Premier William Forgan-Smith was thumpingly re-elected with two-thirds of the seats in the state; in 1957, a large transfer of seats to the Coalition put Frank Nicklin into the Premier’s office after five consecutive defeats; 1974 saw Joh Bjelke-Petersen record the largest victory in Queensland history, winning 69 of 82 seats and reducing Labor to a cricket team; 1989 saw Wayne Goss sweep most conservative electorates away in Brisbane, a situation yet to be redressed; and 2001 saw Peter Beattie inflict a defeat on the conservatives that rivalled 1974 in scale.

The sole Coalition win, after the 1995 election — despite the huge swing it recorded, and significant majority of the two-party vote it won — did not translate into a sweep of seats in the order that might have been expected of a party winning nearly 54% of the two-party vote. Indeed, it failed to win a majority.

I’m sorry for the history lesson, but it’s relevant.

At virtually all of the “big swing” elections I mention, “traditional” seats of one side have been snatched by the other — especially in 1935, 1974, 1989 and 2001.

2012 will be another.

One of the traditional Liberal seats Labor holds is Mount Coot-tha.

Yes, it’s a very different seat to the one Bill Lickiss once held. But it includes a lot of areas traditionally the purvey of moderate Brisbane Liberals — Bardon, Toowong, and Auchenflower for instance — which are ripe receptors for the message of a leader along the lines of Campbell Newman — a moderate Brisbane Liberal.

It was one of the additional seats the Liberal Party probably should have won in 1995; the Liberal candidate at the time ran Edmond close, but Edmond survived.

The LNP stands to make massive gains in Brisbane at next year’s election; finally righting, in the process, the colossal political imbalance in the capital that is the enduring legacy of Goss’ win in 1989.

And one of those seats the LNP will win is Mount Coot-tha.

It’s not the first time in Queensland that a governing party has made a marginal seat holder its deputy in an attempt to shore it up — in 1989, following the replacement of Mike Ahern by Russell Cooper as Premier, the National Party made Paul Clauson (member for Redlands on a 3.9% margin) its deputy Premier.

Clauson was swept away along with most of the other metropolitan conservatives.

No joy for Labor there.

Yet the tackiest aspect of Fraser’s ascension was executed by his leader, who tried to paint the move as a poor reflection on the LNP.

“What we now have is a solid, clear leadership team on the Labor side of politics going into the 2012 state election,” Bligh said.

“Of course on the other side of politics we do not know who the deputy leader will be if there is a change of government. The conservatives have yet to determine who their leadership team will be.”

Well…if that’s the best Anna Bligh can do (no pun intended) then it’s fairly obvious why she didn’t run off to an election the day Campbell Newman was confirmed as LNP leader from outside the Parliament, with Jeff Seeney managing opposition business in the chamber.

She knows she’s history; a dead woman walking.

It’s also why the election in Queensland is likely, but by no means certain, to be on schedule in March next year.

Bligh’s presentation in this matter is little short of pathetic. It smacks of desperation and belies a leader — like Kristina Keneally in NSW earlier this year — with little to say of any quality or substance.

If Fraser really is the chosen successor — and the talent pool in the Queensland ALP is already shallow, before its anticipated draining at next year’s election — then Labor has a problem.

A big problem.

Fraser’s electorate currently sits on a margin of 5.3%; hardly secure against the tidal wave seemingly about to hit the ALP in Queensland.

Barring some last-minute debacle that strips votes away from the LNP in droves, Fraser too is a dead man walking.

Of course, Labor could have nudged some seat warmer aside, say on Brisbane’s outer southern or western fringes (no names mentioned here at The Red And The Blue 🙂  , and made his re-election a near-certainty.

Or it could have really shown some balls, taken a deep breath and rolled the dice, called the LNP’s bluff, and declared GAME ON and made Kate Jones in Ashgrove its deputy leader.

Interesting idea, isn’t it?

A deputy Premier versus an aspiring Premier?

Ashgrove — like Mount Coot-tha — is one of those traditional Liberal electorates lost in 1989 that the LNP desperately wants back.

I think that today’s movements by the ALP stink of desperation and amount to little more than a rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic.

What do you think?

Please keep comments on-subject…