Queensland: Nicholls’ Opportunity To Overhaul LNP And Win

IN WINNING leadership of Queensland’s LNP, Tim Nicholls has been given an opportunity to professionalise the conservatives’ parliamentary wing ahead of a state election expected within months; the opportunity comes with risks, and the new team must be on its game: in its messaging, its policies, in the rapid acquisition of real tactical and strategic firepower, and in much sharper responses to the activities of its Labor opponent.

At some point very soon, our focus will move away from Queensland and back onto federal politics, which for the next eight weeks is set, to coin a phrase, to be the only game in town; even so, we have always paid close attention to the political goings-on of the states when appropriate to do so, and in 2016 Queensland has certainly warranted the scrutiny it has attracted.

But first things first: heartiest, and sincerest, congratulations must be offered to new LNP leader Tim Nicholls and his deputy, Deb Frecklington; I have consistently supported Nicholls in this column since it commenced five years ago, and in the years prior to that privately among LNP figures I speak with, and I am delighted he has been given the opportunity to fulfil an unquestioned political talent and achieve his potential to be Premier of Queensland. He deserves the chance his colleagues have entrusted him with, and we wish him the very best of luck.

It is not without reason that in the past few days, Queensland Labor’s dirt unit — and the cabal of spivs and hacks that flood social media with its vapid, disingenuous propaganda — has gone into meltdown, pumping out messages attacking Nicholls bitterly over his time as Treasurer in the Newman government; Nicholls is by far the likeliest senior LNP figure to inflict an election defeat on the Palaszczuk government this year, and whilst it will never admit as much, the Labor Party knows it.

As I pointed out to a couple of them over the weekend on Twitter — and at the risk of being indelicate — they would be trying to kick shit into the eyes of whoever won Friday’s ballot, in any way possible. Yet the vitriol behind the immediate Labor response is real, and with Palaszczuk’s economic record a serious weakness for the ALP to defend, you have to wonder whether the attacks on Nicholls’ stewardship of state finances are a case of just a little too much protestation to be believed.

A particularly encouraging sign that Nicholls will not suffer fools — and is unlikely to easily be hoodwinked — was his declaration that the Katter’s Australian Party would be treated as a political opponent (which is what it is) rather than a “partner” to be coddled and indulged; the Katter crowd is predicated upon hiving off ex-National Party electorates with promises of archaic protectionist policies that are internationally discredited, and which would cause more damage than good if ever revisited: and its most recent act in Queensland was to sell out both the conservative side of politics and the state’s post-Fitzgerald era of clean government to permit Labor to rig the state’s electoral system, and could hardly be described as the act of a friendly and/or responsible entity.

More on that later.

But the reshuffle announced by Nicholls this morning has a lot to like, and whilst some critics have questioned whether the changes were simply a case of rewarding support at the leadership ballot, there is a strong case to be made that the new leader has forged the very best team possible from the personnel on hand.

Several long-term LNP stalwarts who either deliver nothing and/or are, judged objectively, past their use-by dates — Jann Stuckey, Mark McArdle, Fiona Simpson, Ray Stevens — have been dumped to the backbench or left there, and it is hoped these individuals, almost all holding very safe conservative electorates, might be prevailed upon to leave Parliament whenever the next state election is held to inject some fresh talent into LNP ranks after the Newman debacle wiped out so many promising faces almost 18 months ago.

The appointment of Indooroopilly MP Scott Emerson as shadow Treasurer is promising; since its resumption in office the ALP has achieved little in Queensland aside from restarting its debt and spending binge, with the attendant haemorrhaging of red ink from the state budget; a more forensic approach might be just what is required, and as a former journalist, it is to be hoped Emerson will add great potency to the LNP’s message in this critical portfolio.

Nicholls has taken a risk in restoring controversial former minister Ros Bates to the frontbench; on the basis that everyone deserves a second chance, Bates — certainly a talent — now has the opportunity to prove she can deliver without the whiff of scandal that followed her during the Newman era. If it pays off, Nicholls will have reaped a significant dividend. If it doesn’t, he will have no choice but to dump her: stonewalling and digging in won’t be an option.

It will be interesting to watch how Tracy Davis fares in Education against Labor’s Kate Jones; Jones is no world beater, and it perhaps says something that every item of collateral from the confected “local” campaign to “Keep Kate” in 2012 featured authorisations by the ALP’s secretariat in central Brisbane. Jones is a Labor insider, a spiv, an apparatchik — a hack — and not a serious ministerial quantity. Some, including within the LNP’s own ranks, have made similar criticisms of Davis in the past. But vanquished leadership aspirant Tim Mander made few inroads against Jones in the portfolio, and it will be fascinating to see if Davis now fares any better.

Moving former leader John-Paul Langbroek into Health to square off against Labor’s leader-in-waiting, Cameron Dick*, is an astute move; Langbroek is an effective performer with a pre-parliamentary career as a dentist, and should be on comfortable ground. This appointment elicited the first outburst of hubris from the government, with Dick declaring that the LNP’s previous Health spokesmen “hadn’t caused him any trouble” and that he “(didn’t) think Langbroek would either.”

Never mind the fact one of those spokesmen — beaten leader Lawrence Springborg — had to fix the mess Dick left behind as Health minister under Newman.

There are some new faces; the promotion of Moggill MP Christian Rowan, in particular, is encouraging; Rowan was rightly touted even prior to his entry to Parliament as a possible future leader, and it is to Nicholls’ credit that this first frontbench appointment will start to get the necessary experience into Rowan to determine whether such lofty predictions might come to pass. Relative newcomer Jon Krause, installed on the frontbench for the first time in the Tourism portfolio, is also worth watching in the longer run.

Harnessing the unpopular Jeff Seeney as the LNP’s leader of opposition business puts an attack dog into a role that requires one, and should add steel to the party’s performance in Parliament, whilst moving departed leader Springborg to the chairmanship of the parliamentary Crime and Corruption Committee is the perfect place for such an experienced and wholly decent MP to continue to render valuable service away from the strictures of the leadership prism.

Depending on preference, more coverage of the reshuffle can be accessed from the respective Fairfax and Murdoch portals for those so inclined.

This reshuffle positions the LNP well for a likely state election now expected in the aftermath of the imminent federal election, perhaps as soon as September; it makes a sound fist of the task of matching the right people to appropriate responsibilities, and it refreshes the opposition into an outfit with a distinctly hungry look: something it never really had during the 14 months in which Springborg most recently led it.

Significantly, the team bears Nicholls’ unmistakable stamp: a professional outfit ready to get on with the job, and not exactly wanting — like its new leader — for impatience; it will have to be on its game, for Labor in Queensland has feasted on conservative amateurism and incompetence for decades. If there is to be any chance of breaking that cycle now, before it evolves into another decade of defeat and misery for the LNP, the best opportunity to do so is the one likely to be forthcoming in just a few short months’ time.

And this brings me back to the undemocratic outrage of Labor’s restoration of compulsory preferential voting in a subterranean Machiavellian coup that completely blindsided the LNP and arguably triggered Springborg’s downfall.

It is paramount the LNP make it crystal clear that the first bill it puts through the Parliament, if it returns to government this year, will be the restoration of optional preferential voting: this measure was a recommendation from the post-Fitzgerald process of cleaning up decades of corruption and cronyism in Queensland after the Bjelke-Petersen years — not a Labor fix, despite the fact the measure suited ALP interests at the time — and as such, no party in Queensland should have the right to change it without either a referendum or unless the change has been laid out before voters ahead of an election.

What Labor did last month in reverting to compulsory preferences was a blatant and cynical exercise in rigging the electoral system to try to entrench itself in power of the worst possible kind; no consultation, no mandate, and no pretext other than bald self-interest and a cavalier “fuck you” to the system it had itself implemented 25 years ago in the name of transparency. Everyone in Queensland is entitled to be outraged and the LNP is entitled to milk political gain from the grubby exercise. For a party that has spent decades accusing its opponents of corruption and criminal misconduct without a shred of proof, the vote-rigging Labor has engaged in robs it of every scrap of the principle it has correspondingly sought to parade itself as the defender of.

What the LNP cannot afford to do is make itself a one-trick pony; this issue, properly handled, is an ideal instrument with which to channel dissatisfaction with the Palaszczuk government. But the real arguments for voting it from office must come from what it has done (or, as the case may be, not done) with its time in office: a moribund economy, a state budget in a mess, shortfalls across the spectrum of key portfolios, and the promises Labor made, not expecting to have to deliver on them, and subsequently broke.

If Springborg showed the party anything, it is that obsessive tangents can be as politically destructive as the autocratic, inarticulate model of governance practised so adroitly by Campbell Newman, but which completely alienated the electorate.

Making the arguments for a change of government will demand the LNP show it has finally learned to communicate — and do so — effectively with the voting public. No matter how well the seating arrangements have been determined, the issue of mass communication has bedevilled conservative parties across the country for a decade, and arguably poses the LNP’s greatest challenge. Time will tell whether Nicholls is able to resolve it.

 

*Whenever Cameron Dick’s name comes up, it involuntarily recalls a joke I share with some of my old Queensland LNP buddies; all of us are waiting for the day Labor makes him its leader, for all of us are looking forward to the headline in the Courier-Mail proclaiming that “Labor Gives Dick Head Job.” On account of Nicholls’ ascension to the LNP leadership, that day may have drawn a little closer in the past few days.

LNP Leadership: Tim Nicholls The Best Replacement For Springborg

AFTER 14 LACKLUSTRE MONTHS in which he should never have led it to begin with, Lawrence Springborg will face a challenge tomorrow for the leadership of the Queensland LNP; Everton MP Tim Mander has been the first to declare his intention to nominate, and others will follow, but the standout solution would be for the former Treasurer, Clayfield MP Tim Nicholls, to stand and be elected with rural MP Deb Frecklington as his deputy.

Here we are again — just two days after revisiting the Groundhog Day farce that has been the Queensland LNP — with the party’s leadership once more in the public spotlight; this time, a change seems certain, and this column wholeheartedly endorses Clayfield MP Tim Nicholls to stand for the LNP leadership and to be elected.

I maintain a continuing close interest in Queensland politics despite having not lived there for almost 20 years (although I’m there once a week for the moment), and one of the great political frustrations I have often contemplated is how — in a naturally conservative state — Queensland’s conservative parties have come to rival the South Australian, Victorian and (until recently) Tasmanian Liberals for the mantle of the worst-performing non-Labor outfit in the country.

Part of the answer comes in the form of the man who will tomorrow face a challenge to his leadership; Lawrence Springborg — a three-time election loser — has fumbled and bumbled his way through almost half a parliamentary term against a vapid minority Labor government that ought to be on track for an election belting.

Instead, a state election, even with the LNP slightly ahead of Labor, is likelier than not to produce a solid ALP majority, not least on account of the shameful rigging of the electoral system that occurred under Springborg’s nose last month with the reintroduction of compulsory preferential voting tacked onto a bill to enlarge the Parliament without consultation.

The news that former deputy Premier Jeff Seeney — perhaps the most unpopular politician in Queensland, and by some distance — has moved to pull on an LNP leadership confrontation this week is to be welcomed; whatever bitterness may motivate Seeney’s actions these days, the LNP simply can’t continue under a leadership circus that sees one step forward as a victory even as it is being pushed two steps backwards as a consequence.

Labor’s risible move to dump optional preferential voting for nothing more than naked political profit, using Springborg’s own bill as the vehicle with which to do so and without eliciting even an attempt from Springborg to stop it, is merely the latest in a list of own goals, abject surrenders and turgid machinations that now stretches back over a leadership career spanning almost 15 years.

Queensland’s conservatives, in various incarnations as the Coalition and lately the LNP, have now lost eight of the past ten state elections, with the two wins — a brief stint in minority government despite winning 53.6% of the two-party vote in 1995, and the biggest election win in Australian political history in 2012, squandered within a single term — overshadowed by thumping losses in 1989, 1992 and 2006, existential beltings in 2001 and 2004, a “regulation” loss in 2009, and periods in opposition in minority Parliaments after 1998 and last year, although the 1998 loss saw the Coalition reduced to 32 seats and the commandeering by One Nation of 11 seats that it would mostly have won in any other circumstances.

As a litany of failure, in a naturally conservative state, this record is an indictment: and for much of the period in question, Springborg has been central as either the party leader or as a senior, and influential, figurehead.

As thoroughly decent as Lawrence Springborg is, it is time for his tenure at the helm of this underperforming political unit to be summarily terminated: and any protestations that might be offered as a defence about the LNP’s comparatively robust performance at the federal level or on the Brisbane City Council during the same period merely serve to underline just how woeful the state entity has been in that time.

Whilst politics is an eternally fluid business, to date there has been just two challengers for Springborg’s job to come forward: first up is the shadow Education minister, Tim Mander, whose lieutenants spectacularly botched an attempt to install their man in the top job a couple of months ago.

Mander is a good man, whose bona fides for leadership were persuasively argued by senior University of Queensland academic John Harrison in the Brisbane Times in January, and whilst Mander is impressive, there are many factors that can and indeed should rule him out of contention at this time.

One, he is an inexperienced second-term MP who, in his present role as Education spokesman, has hardly set the world on fire; Labor’s minister, Kate Jones, is a poor performer on whom Mander has mostly failed to land a glove. The argument about non-politicians, outsiders and cleanskins is not one the LNP can afford at a time it has already been comprehensively outplayed by an ALP machine that has correctly recognised its opponent as easy meat.

Two, he is insecurely seated, holding his electorate of Everton by a margin of less than 2%; this seat, in Brisbane’s inner north (and adjacent to Ashgrove, temporarily held by former Premier Campbell Newman) has been a usually safe and mostly reliable seat for the ALP for decades and in fact, Mander’s two terms are the only time a conservative MP has held it in that time.

The last thing the LNP can afford is to spend the time between now and polling day answering hypotheticals about who might be Premier if the party wins and Mander loses — it has played that game in the past to sometimes disastrous effect — and it certainly can’t afford to form government, should it win, spending three years answering the same question in relation to an electorate that is almost as problematic for the party as Ashgrove has been since 1989.

With Labor’s reintroduction of compulsory preferential voting, it is doubtful Mander can win Everton at all, unless a massive swing to the LNP appears: something in no way in prospect at the current time, and until or unless it is the forced allocation of preferences (specifically, from the Greens to Labor) would seem likely to kill off Mander’s career whenever he next faces his constituents at the polls.

With an eye to the botched coup attempt presided over by his acolytes only recently, it is questionable in the extreme whether Mander either possesses the temperament or judgement to be party leader and/or Premier, or at the minimum is surrounded by those who are suitably equipped to provide guidance.

And on the almost certain assumption he will not have a seat beyond the next state election, making Mander leader now would be akin to committing political seppuku.

Word continues to emanate from the LNP that former leader (and present deputy) John-Paul Langbroek isn’t interested in the position; and whilst some continue to nominate rural MP Deb Frecklington as an option, the hard cold fact is that the LNP needs a leader from the urban south-east, where a majority of the state’s seats are located: and aside from being a neophyte herself, many of the same limitations faced by the Darling Downs-based Springborg would equally apply to Frecklington, who would nonetheless make a splendid deputy leader, and should be encouraged to stand for that post when leadership positions are voted upon tomorrow morning.

In my mind, the only suitable choice — and the best choice — is the member for Clayfield, former state Treasurer Tim Nicholls.

Nicholls has been unfairly pilloried for too long within the LNP on account of his friendship with Santo Santoro, and this column’s response to those who seek to disqualify Nicholls on this basis is unequivocal.

Grow up.

Certainly, as a minister responsible for many of the less attractive facets of the Newman government — cutting public service numbers, exploring asset sales options and other measures to help balance the books — Nicholls comes with some baggage, although he was only doing his job (very effectively) in straitened financial circumstances.

Yet the simple truth is that almost alone of the known contenders and in a party crying out for real leadership, Nicholls brings the gravitas and experience of a senior minister and the intellectual firepower to go further, and as an affable and personable face his party could do far worse.

Importantly, Nicholls’ seat of Clayfield remains on a margin close to 10%, even after last year’s state election embarrassment: there is no risk the LNP will have to worry about losing its leader in any mild swing against it in Clayfield if it selects him now.

Unlike Mander — four years into a political career, with no ministerial experience — Nicholls offers 16 years’ political experience including 10 in state Parliament, and covering a variety of senior roles in that time.

Teamed with Frecklington, a Nicholls leadership would provide the city-country experience the LNP needs to keep competing Liberal and National chauvinisms in check.

But above all, Nicholls is no fool, and gives every indication of actually wanting to be Premier, which would be refreshing after intermittent stints under Springborg (who never looked hungry) and after Newman, who has privately made it known for some time that he never wanted to be Premier at all.

And Nicholls has real targets to chase: after wearing the opprobrium for doing much of the Newman government’s heavy lifting and donkey work, Labor has trashed the improving position it inherited from him with public service numbers that are rocketing anew, a resumption of Queensland Labor’s debt and borrowing binge, and red ink on the state budget that again runs freely after Nicholls’ valiant efforts to fix it.

In short, Tim Nicholls knows what has to be done and how to do it: I have never met him but years ago knew his sister, and his reputation as a decent man, husband and father precedes him.

And if he has learned anything from Santoro along the way at all, it is likely to have been at least partly a heightened sharpness of judgement when it comes to dealing with people bent on tearing him down, and a refusal to tolerate fools or petty despots.

In difficult times in Queensland, all these things are what is required.

I don’t subscribe to the criticism sometimes made of Nicholls that he lacks vision; like any diligent employee he has a record of knuckling under to the task at hand, and if the dryness of economic affairs earns him mention for being a bit dour then on balance he should probably wear that badge with pride.

Tomorrow’s LNP leadership ballot is about what is right for the LNP and what is right for Queensland, and on both counts the answer is clear.

Springborg deserves credit and respect for his efforts over many years, but he is yesterday’s man, and if he is dispatched tomorrow the LNP must never turn to him for a fifth time if his replacement — whoever it is and for whatever reason — does not work out.

But to the LNP MPs concerned with their party’s future and that of their state, we urge a  vote for Tim Nicholls and Deb Frecklington on a combined ticket as leader and deputy, and look forward to Nicholls’ election as Premier of Queensland as soon as an election is held.

 

Queensland LNP: Just End The Circus, And Dump Loser Springborg

IT MATTERS NOWT that the LNP is four points up on Labor in polls, when this margin at an election — courtesy of guaranteed extra Greens preferences that will flow to the ALP after its reintroduction of compulsory preferential voting — would consign the LNP to defeat. In allowing Labor to steal such an important strategic victory without so much as a yelp, Lawrence Springborg has shown once and for all he is a loser. It is time for his colleagues to act.

It seems like Groundhog Day this morning, as I publish a quick article before disappearing back into the tasty pile of work that has kept me quiet in this column for most of the past fortnight; once again — for the umpteenth time since a state election less than 18 months ago — we are talking about the leadership of Queensland’s Liberal National Party, and once again (surely? finally!), we call on LNP MPs to undo a mistake that should never have been made in the first place.

For most of the past 15 years — personally presiding over three of the LNP’s four defeats in that time as leader (from a total of five state elections) — Lawrence Springborg has assiduously sought the role of Premier of Queensland.

Not merely confined to elections in 2004, 2006 and 2009, Springborg was also nominated by the backroom rabble that decides such things at the LNP as their preferred replacement for Campbell Newman had the latter won the state election in January 2015 but lost his seat of Ashgrove, and ever since that event — which tipped the LNP out of office in a hung Parliament — the party’s primary objective seems to have been to seize power by way of a change of government on the floor of Queensland’s unicameral Parliament, circumventing both the need to win an election and Springborg’s proven lack of appeal to Brisbane voters.

To say an entitlement mentality to the Premiership exists, at least on the part of Springborg’s backers, is an understatement.

Ten days ago — in an appalling display of political naiveté that bordered on rank stupidity — Springborg allowed a LNP bill to add four seats to be added to the 89-seat Queensland legislature to be shanghaied by the Palaszczuk government as a vehicle with which to restore compulsory preferential voting in Queensland.

Just 18 minutes’ notice of this undemocratic outrage was served up by the Labor Party, which has seen fit to rig elections in the Sunshine State in its favour with no consultation, no debate, and no arguable public support, given more than 60% of voters now take the “Just Vote 1” option initially popularised by former Premier Peter Beattie in 2001.

In a clear case of the disproportionate relationship between a cherished objective and the punitive opportunity costs of realising it, Springborg — on discovering the bill to add the four extra electorates so desperately sought by rural LNP MPs, which would appear in the south-east but have the ripple effect of making their own electorates slightly smaller, had been hijacked by Labor — failed to even try to withdraw or scuttle it.

Instead, the LNP’s “brains” trust had MP after MP line up to waffle and rant and filibuster in what was an open-and-shut fait accompli, with the ALP having done a secret deal with Katter party Independents to wave the change through.

In making no attempt to even get the bill withdrawn from the notice paper, Springborg is at best complicit in the restoration of a measure with little or no public support, and with no rationale other than the cynical fixing of elections in Labor’s favour, and at worst must be regarded as the agent of the LNP’s continued tenure in opposition for a very, very long time.

It is a classic example of the “one step forward, two steps back” mode of “leadership” that has marked Springborg ever since he first became Leader of the National Party in 2003.

Greens voters — whose votes will now be fully distributed — have increasingly chosen over the past decade to allocate fewer and fewer preferences to the ALP (or anyone else) in Queensland.

But compelled to number every square on the ballot paper, it is delusional to think any anger in the Greens’ quarter will translate into a slew of extra votes for the LNP: the Greens may indeed prefer optional preferential voting in their quest to win seats in Parliaments across Australia, principally at Labor’s expense. But forced to choose between Labor and the conservatives, the 80-20 split in the ALP’s favour that typically characterises Green voting patterns is a certain bet.

It’s only an estimate, but this probably means that not only does the LNP now need a primary vote of at least 45-46% to win state elections in Queensland, but the bulk of this vote must come from Brisbane and the urban corridors around it where Labor and the Greens have collectively been strongest over the past quarter of a century.

So much for the value of four extra seats in Parliament, secured at the price of virtually permanent electoral disadvantage.

It doesn’t matter that Springborg, outraged, has promised to abolish CPV if elected: the next conservative government in Queensland (whenever it comes) will do that, and will face no electoral repercussions for doing so.

The problem is that Springborg is a proven election loser with zero appeal and little support in Brisbane outside the little Liberal cabal in the western suburbs (whose judgement has been proven defective at best over a period of decades) and is incapable of inspiring sufficient voters in and around the capital to even vote LNP in the first place, let alone take enough seats off Labor to form government.

And it doesn’t matter that Springborg — decent beyond measure, to the point it shames a large cohort of his colleagues — genuinely wants to serve and to make Queensland a better place.

Decency — a virtue this column has long lamented in its near-total absence from politics these days — is not to be dismissed lightly. But other attributes like political judgement, strategic nous and raw political appeal are critical in the quest for electoral success, and on these measures, Springborg has repeatedly proven thoroughly deficient.

As I have written in the past, it is perhaps a cruel blow that this rural MP from the state’s granite belt is widely dismissed in Brisbane and surrounding districts as a cow cocky and a hick with little relevance to their own lives, and unfair that this appears an insurmountable barrier to electoral success the capital.

But in the post-Bjelke era — with no gerrymander to triple the weight of rural votes against those in Brisbane — it has grown virtually impossible for an unpopular rural MP to lead Queensland conservatives to power at an election, and this reality has been ignored and/or dismissed by ex-Nationals and their rump of adherents in Brisbane for decades, to the LNP’s enduring detriment.

At the last state election contested by Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Brisbane accounted for 26 of Queensland’s 89 seats; today, that figure has risen to 38. Part of this growth is the result of dismantling the gerrymander and part of it is the effect of population growth and drift to the city, but whatever the cause, it is clear the LNP cannot now win a state election without winning in Brisbane.

Liberals and Nationals collectively won 15 of 26 in Brisbane in 1986, but the National Party won office thanks to the slew of gerrymandered rural seats containing half the number of voters (or fewer) than were enrolled in each of the 26 seats in the capital.

At the last state election, the LNP’s return in Brisbane was nine seats; at the elections Springborg previously contested as leader it was one, two and five respectively. It isn’t difficult to see why the LNP is in opposition today, and why it stayed there for so long after losing office in 1998.

The bottom line — however much it must rankle some — is that the LNP will never win a state election with Lawrence Springborg leading it.

The LNP needs a leader from Brisbane or, at the minimum, from the corridor that comprises Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

Current deputy, former leader and Surfers Paradise MP John-Paul Langbroek — tossed aside in the deal that saw Campbell Newman installed as leader from outside Parliament — would have won the 2012 election had the backroom “brains” trust not lost its nerve after the 2011 Brisbane floods gave Labor a temporary spike in opinion polls, and Langbroek (who has received support from this column in the past) has enjoyed something of a political renaissance as Springborg’s deputy.

Ironically, Langbroek would probably still be Premier today had the Newman move never occurred.

Yet he risks the permanent destruction of his political prospects in clinging staunchly and trenchantly to Springborg now; loyalty is as admirable as decency, but I remind people that once it hit the iceberg the Titanic sank anyway. The LNP arguably hit its own iceberg last month with its hamfisted response to Labor’s CPV stunt. In any case, Langbroek is privately said to be uninterested in returning to the LNP leadership.

Much has been made of the leadership potential of Nanango MP Deb Frecklington; an unquestioned talent, Frecklington is — in political terms and in the broader sense — a spunk, to use the vernacular, with the brains, the looks and the temperament to be a senior political player.

But Frecklington is limited by the same irrelevance to voters in the Brisbane corridor that so hobbles Springborg. She is, however, an ideal candidate for the deputy leadership, offering city-country balance, which explains why the potential candidates to replace Springborg are both trying to line her up on a joint ticket.

And speaking of those contenders, the member for Everton, Tim Mander, shouldn’t even be in the mix: archly conservative as he may be, the failed move by his lieutenants to install him earlier this year was so amateurish, and so badly bungled, that Mander would be an easy target for Labor as LNP leader.

In any case, his seat — usually safe-ish for Labor, and held for the LNP now by less than 2%, or 1,000 votes in an electorate of nearly 30,000 — will almost certainly be lost in the absence of a large statewide swing to the LNP that right now is nowhere to be seen, the party’s latest 52-48 poll leads notwithstanding.

The LNP today faces a choice: being blown about by its petty and internecine squabbling, or to read both the electoral map and the political mood, and to act to decisively aright its fortunes in what will almost certainly be an election year: Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is unlikely to hold off much longer if LNP bickering continues to provide the backdrop to an opportunity to secure a likely second term in government.

It is time to desist with the cannibalisation of its own from purely factional and personality-driven motives; the fact some in the party continue to speak to, and are friendly with, disgraced powerbroker Santo Santoro should not be the automatic political death sentence western suburbs Liberals have spent decades trying to turn it into.

Some in the LNP need to wake up to the hard, cold reality that Labor and the Greens — and not itself — is its true political enemy.

And the longer the present circus under Springborg’s leadership is permitted to endure, the more Queenslanders (and the rest of us in what Bjelke-Petersen once characterised as the Degenerate South) will laugh at the LNP and simply refuse to take it seriously.

Clayfield MP and former Treasurer Tim Nicholls, with Frecklington as a running mate, offers the LNP a way out of its malaise that would make a serious contest of any early state election, with the real prospect of returning to office, as opposed to the fairy dust of honourable defeat being peddled yet again by Springborg and his adherents.

The way forward for the LNP is obvious; the question is whether the party has the bottle to pursue it and more importantly, the single-minded hunger for office required to stick to it.

Queensland’s conservatives have now racked up eight defeats in the space of ten state elections. Unless they comes to their senses now, a ninth will soon follow.

Bjelke-Echo: Qld Labor’s One-Fingered Salute To Democracy

IN THE CONTEXT of post-Fitzgerald Queensland politics — emphasising clean and transparent government — Queensland Labor has committed a brazen act of electoral self-interest that would make Russ Hinze and Joh Bjelke-Petersen blush; the abolition of optional preferential voting at 15 minutes’ notice is a shameful act that merits retribution from voters, but the poorly led LNP has made itself implicit in an outrageously indecent event.

When I first heard on Thursday (appropriately enough, whilst wandering around in Brisbane) that Queensland had abolished optional preferential voting (OPV), I thought there must have been some kind of belated April Fools’ prank played on news services, but regrettably, the news was no joke.

OPV — introduced by Labor in 1991 by the Goss Labor government as part of sweeping Fitzgerald reforms to clean up the rotten state of governance in Queensland after the Bjelke-Petersen era — has long since become a headache for the ALP, as the effects of its left flank being hived off by the Communist Party Greens was compounded by the merger of the Liberal and National Parties north of the Tweed in 2008 as a response to the impact of OPV on traditional three-cornered contests in seats featuring both Liberal and National candidates.

Even so, Labor has prospered in Queensland over the quarter of a century since OPV was introduced; so much so that it has held office for all but five years since 1989, and so much so that Queensland’s only rival for the mantle of Labor’s best mainland state* is Victoria: and in Victoria, the Liberal Party has governed over the same period for more than twice as long as its northern counterparts.

At every turn, Queensland Labor has paraded itself as an unimpeachable beacon of post-Fitzgerald integrity and virtue, so much so that it has had little reticence or compunction in falsely labelling its opponents as corrupt on the most spurious grounds ever since, with an endless stream of referrals of conservative identities to the state’s anti-corruption watchdog that have invariably been found baseless, and even to the point of smearing former Premier Campbell Newman as “little Bjelke.”

Bjelke-Petersen — and the stench of corruption that forever stains his legacy — indeed lives on, it seems, through an act of wanton electoral fixing that would make even Bjelke-henchmen Russ Hinze and Don “Shady” Lane blush, with the wildcat abolition of OPV on Thursday afternoon in an unforgiveable attempt to entrench the ALP in office in the Sunshine State.

First things first: readers can peruse some additional coverage from the Courier-Mail here and here; that paper’s characterisation of this distasteful episode as a “dark chapter” in Queensland politics is absolutely correct, and anyone remotely interested in standards in public life is entitled to be outraged.

The indecently subterranean manner in which this disgrace has been foisted on unsuspecting Queenslanders and on an unsuspecting Parliament is one of the more insidious aspects of the sordid affair; confronted by the knowledge that the LNP-sponsored bill to enlarge the Legislative Assembly from 89 to 93 seats had secured crossbench support, the Palaszczuk government did a secret deal of its own with the crossbench to pass an amendment to restore compulsory preferential voting (CPV).

(For those in the southern states who don’t know, the LNP wanted the parliament enlarged slightly: not to rig it — by the party’s own admission, it knew the extra seats would appear in and around Brisbane — but in the hope the “ripple effect” on boundaries pushed outwards would result in slightly smaller rural electorates, geographically, for its MPs to need to travel across to cover. “One vote, one-value” was never at risk in this scenario).

There was no warning, no debate, and no public discussion whatsoever; there has been no groundswell of support in Queensland for the restoration of CPV either. Quite the contrary, for the “exhaust” rate at Queensland elections now averages 50%, which is solid evidence that Queensland voters increasingly do not wish to allocate a preference to candidates other than the one they opt to vote for.

This, in turn, destroys the argument used by Labor hacks that CPV is the “most democratic” option: yet forcing people to express preferences for candidates they have no interest in voting for is not at all democratic. Clearly, those who wish to do so under OPV can, but the rest aptly exercise their democratic right by choosing not to. In my own case, I vote Liberal. The rest of the candidates on the ballot paper can go to hell. There are millions of voters in this country who take a similar approach to the voting process. Forcing them is simply not on in my view.

But the introduction of OPV was the direct result of the reform process overseen by Tony Fitzgerald QC at the end of the 1980s, and OPV was an explicit recommendation of the Electoral and Administrative Review Committee (EARC) charged with the abolition of the zonal electoral system (the gerrymander) and its replacement with an open, transparent system that was most democratic and which sought to most accurately produce results that reflected the “one vote, one value” principle.

The Queensland ALP has now thoroughly trashed that principle. CPV, had it applied at last year’s state election, would have netted Labor nine extra seats and a solid majority. It’s not difficult to ascertain the motivation for this change.

Even so, any measure of public policy that becomes known just 15 minutes before it’s dropped like a bombshell in Parliament — and the bill presented as a fait accompli — is inherently malodorous, to say the least.

But Labor doesn’t seem to care, and indeed is jubilant about the rort it has just implemented; Transport minister Stirling Hinchcliffe — the so-called architect of the plot — dismissed the Fitzgerald reforms as “something that happened 25 years ago,” to which I can only respond, as someone who grew up in Brisbane in the 1970s and 1980s and witnessed the worst excesses of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s junta first hand during my formative years, is that those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

In deference to the late Lane, perhaps Hinchcliffe should, in future, simply be referred to as “Shady.” After all, if the shoe fits…

It is not the place of the electoral system to do the bidding of any particular party (although an earthy view compels me to note that the evolution of Australia’s voting systems has mostly been driven solely by self-interest); Labor — with the three-cornered contests once fought out by the Liberals and Nationals a thing of the past, now finds itself bleeding on account of the quarter of its vote that has been annexed by the Greens over the past 20 years and the increasingly unreliable flows of preferences that have derived from them under OPV.

The Liberals and Nationals found a solution that involved adaptation on their own part rather than rorting the system: amalgamation, whether you’re a fan of it or not.

Labor’s solution? Rig the electoral system.

It comes as no surprise that critics and sometime allies alike have condemned the Palaszczuk government over the past 48 hours; even Fitzgerald — who over the years has done nothing to actively dispel public perceptions of passive support for the ALP — has indicated he is disgusted, stating that he “has found refuge in a zone of indifference.”

But probity and decency have never meant much to the ALP in Queensland; the party that rigged the electoral boundaries in 1947 in the first place only became indignant about it once it discovered someone else — Bjelke-Petersen and his Country Party — was even better at “fixing” things than Labor was. The fact Labor was the beneficiary of the fallout at the 1989 election had more to do with being in the right place at the right time than with any particular standards of principle or decency.

It is to be hoped Queensland voters respond with a violent lurch against the ALP when next it goes to the polls; to say Labor is now thoroughly unfit to govern Queensland is an understatement, but unless it is hit by a massive backlash — and quickly — it will be entrenched in office for the foreseeable future, stitched up with a rock-solid flow of Greens preferences in marginal seats, and shutting the door on the LNP for another generation.

This is, of course, precisely the desired outcome.

In closing, I ask readers (and especially those floating around the LNP, telling themselves how brilliant and politically astute they are) to spare a thought for embattled LNP leader Lawrence Springborg.

Once it became obvious what Labor’s game was, neither Springborg nor his minions made any attempt to withdraw their bill; hurried “negotiations” on the sidelines with the pivotal Katter MPs, yes, but no attempt to kill the whole thing off.

As a consequence, Springborg got his four extra seats in the state Parliament: but his bill, violated and exploited to permanently advantage the ALP, was allowed to sail through passage unmolested. Yes, any attempt to withdraw it might well have failed, but Springborg didn’t even try to stop it.

It speaks to the truly shocking lack of political judgement that characterises his leadership of the LNP, and underscores in graphic detail the reasons this column has called for him to be replaced (or preferably, to never have been restored to his post at all after the defeat of the Newman government).

Labor has engineered a ruthless and ethically bankrupt coup in an area that should have been off-limits in a state with such a protracted history of institutionalised corruption, and should have been beneath it to even contemplate had its hot air and bullshit about standards been based on conviction rather than expediency.

Springborg, for his part, has the four extra seats he wanted added to the chamber as part of the upcoming state redistribution: but he is also the sponsor, and now the proud owner, of a tarnished set of electoral laws that will put future elections beyond his party’s reach.

That’s a hell of a price to pay for enlarging the size of Parliament.

My final thought is that with such a fatally flawed and chronically defective leader, the LNP simply doesn’t have the mettle to fight the fight over this issue at a state election: the only way to reverse the travesty sprung on Queensland by Labor is to so turn public opinion against the government that it loses — and loses so badly the ALP will never attempt this sort of stunt again.

Springborg can’t convince voters in Brisbane to vote against Labor at the best of times, as has been shown at all three elections he has previously contested as leader. If he couldn’t prevail at any of those — two of which should have been unloseable — there is no reason to believe he could make a decent fist of trying to capitalise on a political gift like this either.

 

*I’m not counting South Australia, with its rigged boundaries and the supposedly “fair” process that contrives to entrench the ALP in office: little better than an actual gerrymander, nobody can seriously claim South Australian politics — despite the ineptitude of that state’s Liberal Party — operates on anything less than an institutionalised stitch-up.

 

 

Brisbane: Big LNP Win Carries Messages For Springborg, Palaszczuk

A THUMPING WIN has seen Lord Mayor Graham Quirk easily re-elected in Australia’s largest municipal authority; whilst a swing of around 10% was expected after Quirk polled 68.5% four years ago, the LNP’s grip on council may yet tighten. The result carries messages for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and LNP leader Lawrence Springborg, and almost certainly finishes ALP mayoral hope Rod Harding as a political force at his first tilt at elected office.

I have followed local government elections in Brisbane (and elsewhere in Queensland) reasonably closely, although today I am going to restrict my remarks mostly to Brisbane in the interests of concision.

Despite a rogue poll during the week claiming Lord Mayor Graham Quirk (or “Floored Mayor,” as the Courier Mail‘s histrionic rubbish characterised him) was on the ropes and facing defeat, I don’t think the result in Brisbane was ever in any doubt: and from the time we looked at Labor wannabe Rod Harding’s ridiculous scheme to tear up the contract for a road project in January that had already commenced — even as the debacle of the East-West Link fiasco in Victoria should have forced him to think again — the damage to the ALP’s prospects was probably already terminal, if not perhaps completely obvious.

First things first: I would like to minute hearty congratulations to Graham Quirk and his team on what is a well deserved and thoroughly appropriate victory, but especially to Graham himself; of all the senior Liberal Party people in Queensland I have had dealings with over the years he is one of the best: an unbelievably decent individual whose integrity is matched only by his capacity for workload, Quirk has been one of the finest foot soldiers for Queensland’s conservatives over many years, and I am delighted that he has been given a further four years to serve the people of Brisbane and work to continue to improve what is — on any measure — a booming, thriving place to live and work (even if the weather is mostly unbearable).

Readers know that I have been spending a little more time than usual back in my former northern seat; my current weekly FIFO day trips have allowed me to watch the city’s continued evolution from regional centre into a serious city on the march more closely, and whilst it isn’t perfect (nothing is), Quirk’s administration must rightly be credited with a share of the kudos for what is happening in modern Brisbane today.

What started under Campbell Newman as the “Can Do” approach — a slogan consigned to the dustbin in the wake of Newman’s ultimately disastrous foray into state politics — has nonetheless proven surprisingly durable in its subsequent incarnation as “Team Quirk,” with the central themes of sustainable development, infrastructure construction and civic growth of the 12-year-old Liberal/LNP administration clearly given a resounding thumbs-up by voters yesterday for a fourth consecutive time.

Whilst final results are far from being declared — the Electoral Commission of Queensland has had local government elections across the state, the big event in Brisbane (with both a mayoral election and separate contests in 26 wards), and a referendum on fixed four-year terms for state elections (that looks, surprisingly, like passing narrowly) all on the one weekend — it appears Quirk has recorded 53% of the primary vote in Brisbane, stretching at close of counting to 58.7% after preferences; this equates to a swing of just less than 10% to Labor, and as I said in my introduction, a correction of roughly that magnitude was completely foreseeable after the record 68.5% Quirk reeled in back in 2012.

Interestingly, the longer the count progressed before the Commission called it quits for the night, the higher Quirk’s share of both the primary and two-party votes drifted, and the lower the swing against him became; with almost 40% of the mayoral vote still to be processed, it is not inconceivable that the swing could fall as low as 8% as outstanding ordinary votes and early pre-poll votes (which the LNP traditionally does very well with) are added to the tally: and a swing in the order of 8%, against a 12-year-old administration and off such a massive win four years ago, would be an electoral achievement of remarkable quality indeed.

It is also perhaps a tantalising indication of what the Newman government might have scored across Brisbane had its strategic and tactical apparatus not misfired so spectacularly.

Across the 26 wards, the stunning Quirk win appears to be even better.

At the close of counting, the LNP leads the ALP in 20 on primary votes and in 20 after preferences; remarkably, it appears highly plausible Team Quirk will retain all 18 wards it was notionally defending after a boundary redivision, and could well pick up the vacant ward of Northgate — a traditional ALP stronghold — where it currently leads by some 600 votes after preferences with roughly 60% of the vote tallied.

Independent councillor Nicole Johnston is certain to retain her ward of Tennyson, aided in no small part by a sexting scandal that forced the disendorsement of LNP contender Ashley Higgins during the week.

But the election has been a comprehensive humiliation for the ALP; not only has its mayoral candidate finished with less than a third of the primary vote for the third election in a row, but Labor appears set to lose one of its seven existing seats to the LNP in Northgate, and another — The Gabba — to the Communist Party Greens on preferences.

Should that occur, Labor’s miserable return of just five of 26 wards probably places it two terms away from reclaiming City Hall at the very minimum after one of its worst performances in Brisbane (if not the worst since Council was established in 1925) and finishes (or at least should finish) the political prospects of Harding at his first electoral outing for good.

Readers can access ECQ results here for the mayoral count and here for the wards. I expect these will update during today and again early in the new week.

Much as Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk might feel emboldened by leadership unrest at the state LNP, the reasonably solid polling numbers for her do-nothing minority government, and the apparent success of her referendum on fixed four-year terms, yesterday’s council results in Brisbane should bring any plot to call a snap state election to a screeching halt.

For one thing, the LNP vote in Brisbane yesterday outperformed state election numbers for comparable electorates last January by more than 10% — a clue that just as insecurely seated as some of the LNP’s remaining Brisbane state MPs might be, there is both scope and voter inclination to support conservative candidates, which means a clutch of extra seats in the capital might just propel the party back into power on George Street if Palaszczuk tempts electoral fate too quickly.

For another, yesterday’s results should temper some of the more fatuous ideas ALP hardheads might have about making gains in and around Brisbane at the imminent federal election, too; with just six out of 30 federal Queensland electorates, some believe the only way for Labor to go this year is up. But it is defending two marginal seats (Lilley and Moreton) on margins of 1.3% and 1.6% respectively, and had yesterday’s votes been applied to the corresponding boundaries of those two federal seats, the ALP would have lost both.

And the hard, cold fact that will occupy Labor strategists is that had these results materialised at the state election held 14 months ago, then Campbell Newman would still be Premier today or, at the very minimum, the LNP would remain in office under a new leader thanks to perhaps an extra half a dozen state seats it would have held onto if the voting patterns yesterday applied at state election time.

But just as there is food for thought for Labor in all of this, so too there is for the LNP and in particular, what its state MPs do about the liability leading them toward a likely fourth election loss as leader.

I don’t need to spell it out again, or post links to previous articles; the archly rural Lawrence Springborg is a good and decent fellow with exactly zero electoral appeal in Brisbane — rightly or wrongly — and the abjectly pathetic results in Brisbane, recorded at all three of the state elections he has previously contested as leader, prove it.

There are some in and around the LNP who continue to work to a strategy of seizing government by way of a change on the floor of state Parliament; such a transition may or may not occur — such is the fluid state of febrile numbers in that hung chamber — and were Springborg to become Premier in such a manner, he might or might not be able to translate incumbency into an election win 12 or 18 months down the track.

But I wouldn’t count on it, and in any case, if this is the best plan for reclaiming government in Queensland the LNP can come up with (or for simply achieving Lawrence a tenure in the Premier’s office, which some of them seriously believe he “deserves”) then it’s patently obvious that LNP state election strategy is a complete oxymoron.

Just as it has been, with few exceptions, for 30 years.

Yesterday’s council results in Brisbane — in addition to the usually dominant Coalition position federally in Queensland since 1996 — underscores the willingness of voters in the Sunshine State to embrace conservative governments; just a year after ejecting the LNP from George Street, they yesterday handed it a stunning win in Brisbane that will take Labor years to recover from.

But the variables and permutations — the LNP leadership, the precarious state of Palaszczuk’s regime, state election timing, the prospect of the next election being for a four-year term, and the proliferation of vulnerable electorates on both sides of the pendulum — means there are no guarantees around what outcome a state election might produce, and certainly no guarantee of an LNP victory even after a day to savour yesterday in Brisbane, most of the south-east corner, and elsewhere across the state.

As I said, it’s food for thought. But my feeling is that if the LNP sorts its baggage out quickly and moves Springborg on, its position at a state election — likelier sooner rather than later — could quickly be made unassailable.

 

AND ANOTHER THING: For the benefit of those who might be wondering, I will be making no comment whatsoever in this column in relation to the Liberal Party preselection for the federal seat of Goldstein, in Melbourne’s southern suburbs (and in which I live), that took place yesterday afternoon.

 

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.