Cornered: Embattled ex-LNP MP Quits Queensland Parliament

THE RESIGNATION of former state LNP MP Scott Driscoll from his seat of Redcliffe is a welcome development in a saga that has dragged on for too long; faced with expulsion from Parliament and a substantial fine for contempt of Parliament, Driscoll has bowed to the inevitable.

A by-election will now be held in the outer northern Brisbane seat of Redcliffe, based around Bramble Bay and Deception Bay, and it is to be hoped that event is expedited as swiftly as possible by the Newman government in the New Year.

I knew a little of Driscoll many years ago when I lived in Brisbane, and found it surprising that he’d been endorsed by the LNP to contest such a key marginal seat ahead of the 2012 state election, but there you go; having had nothing to do, formally, with Queensland’s conservatives for over 15 years now it’s no longer my party — literally.

Driscoll left the LNP in April amid allegations he had failed to declare private interests and income as required of an MP, and was running various business interests from his electorate office; this came to a head yesterday, when Driscoll was found guilty by the parliamentary Ethics Committee of 49 charges of contempt of Parliament.

The committee’s recommendation was a fine totalling $88,000, having found Driscoll guilty of 48 counts of contempt of Parliament, and his expulsion from Parliament: rather than delay the inevitable, Driscoll jumped.

He says he has quit on account of his “failing health” — a reference to a previously undisclosed bipolar condition that became public in recent days.

Yet the health issues to which he alludes are not overnight developments, as Driscoll himself implicitly concedes; and the attempted honourable resignation probably had more to do with the imminent vote on his expulsion, which was certain to succeed.

I’m not going to comment on the rights or wrongs of anything Driscoll may or may not have done to bring about this ignominious end to his political career beyond a reiteration of my remark that I was very surprised to learn he’d been endorsed to contest such a key marginal Labor electorate prior to the last state election.

But I do think it right that the running sore that has been the Driscoll saga is finally staunched as a political consideration, at least.

It does however appear that further investigations by ¬†Queensland’s Crime and Misconduct Commission may lead to criminal charges in due course, which is another reason for circumspection to be exercised.

Yet the good burghers of Redcliffe have been deprived of effective representation in state Parliament for too long, and a by-election will belatedly resolve that problem: it is, however, a contest fraught with political risk for the LNP state government.

A traditionally conservative-leaning electorate, Redcliffe was a seat lost to Labor in the 1989 Goss landslide; the Liberals went close to winning it in 1995 before Labor ran away with the seat again: a Liberal held it briefly in 2005 and 2006 after a by-election, with the ALP reclaiming the seat at the 2006 election and holding it until last year’s avalanche win.

Ahead of the starter’s gun firing on the Redcliffe by-election, a reading of the numbers on paper suggest it nominally safe, held as it is by a 60-40 margin.

It must be remembered that that result was achieved at the historic high water mark of conservative support that Campbell Newman rode into office early last year; counterbalanced against that is the consideration that Redcliffe is a seat the LNP must hold if, in the usual order of things, it is to form majority government in Queensland.

With no date announced as yet and no candidates on either side declared, it is premature to spend too much time analysing the by-election, although we will certainly keep track of it once things progress: and it would come as no surprise if it were to be held the same day next year as the contest in Kevin Rudd’s federal seat of Griffith, tipped for early February.

Redcliffe is, however, a heartland conservative seat that was long lost, and entrusted to Driscoll to win back and keep; win it he may have done, but any backlash against the LNP will probably be attributable to Driscoll as well should it now fall to Labor.

The whole Driscoll saga will muddy the water in terms of the by-election providing a mid-term pointer to the overall political health of the Newman government, although those closer to the action might disagree. Certainly the ALP will do so if it wins.

But an early call would be that if the LNP prevails in Redcliffe — irrespective of the size of its margin — only a fool would bet against Newman’s re-election in 2015, and with most of his sizeable parliamentary majority intact.