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Sunshine state mergers has ALP on the run

20 October 2008 1,158 views No Comment

IT is rare for a political party to achieve a 10 per cent turnaround in the opinion polls in just six months. But this is what has happened in Queensland, where that state’s newly merged Liberal-National Party, the LNP, has injected new life into conservative politics.

This is why, on one hand, the 10-year-old state Labor Government is becoming nervous, while on the other Malcolm Turnbull – aware of the role Queensland must play if he is to become prime minister – is effusive in his praise for the LNP. Indeed, for the Opposition Leader, the arguments for a federal merger are “very powerful” and “very compelling”.

Turnbull’s unambiguous support for the LNP follows a month of twists and turns in Queensland’s political landscape. Premier Anna Bligh and the ALP are reeling from the defection of backbencher Ronan Lee, who narrowly holds an inner-city Brisbane seat. Lee has turned his back on Labor to become Queensland’s first MP for the Greens.

Only six months ago, Bligh was the picture of confidence when Newspoll, published by this newspaper, showed a seemingly undefeatable Labor Party enjoying a dizzy 60 per cent of two-party support. Queensland Labor was high-fiving at the seemingly successful leadership transition from Peter Beattie to Bligh. But Bligh’s buoyancy and authority have come to a thumping stop.

The September Newspoll showed Queensland Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg and his LNP neck and neck with a Labor Party whose support since then appears to be in free fall.
It must be extremely worrying for Bligh to realise that, in the Sunshine State, Labor’s primary vote stands at 38 per cent, the lowest Newspoll result for Labor in polling history.

In comparison, the LNP leads Labor at 42per cent. It’s a nauseating scenario for Labor strategists who have consistently championed the Just Vote 1 strategy in Queensland’s optional preferential voting system. If Labor continues to trail the LNP on the primary vote, the party will be forced to undo a decade of work it has put in to successfully convincing numbers of Queensland voters not to pass on a preference.

It will also mean that Labor in Queensland will have to look to the Greens for preferences: the Greens, who are demanding a stop to the construction of the controversial Traveston dam and who are demanding the state government promote the solar energy industry.

Ironically, Springborg has already adopted the above policy positions as his own, making it even harder for Bligh and Labor to do a U-turn without looking panicked, unstable and playing into Springborg’s hands. With the LNP surging in confidence and gaining in the polls, its little wonder that, after months of dillydallying,

The federal Liberal apparatchiks and powerbrokers suddenly moved at lightning speed and ratified the LNP as the official Queensland division of the Liberal Party, with federal parliamentary leader Turnbull one of its strongest advocates. The cells of discontent over themerger, mainly disgruntled factional chiefs fearful of disempowerment, are noticeably quiet.

Any suggestion that Springborg, as a former Nationals leader, was not the best person to lead the LNP has also evaporated.
Thus a recent Newspoll demonstrated that, even in the heart of Brisbane’s leafy suburbs, the previously anti-merger Liberal Mal Brough trailed Springborg as preferred leader by a significant margin.

The turnaround in Springborg’s fortunes has not been by luck or coincidence. Earlier this year Springborg agreed to be re-recruited as Opposition Leader on a guarantee that he would get rock-solid support from both the Nationals and Liberals to merge into one united party offering one set of policies with one candidate in each seat.

It’s a decision, a commitment and an achievement that hasn’t only turned the political tide, but has caused Queensland Labor to try to change its strategy.

To considerable fanfare, Bligh has tried to re-create her Government with a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign, courtesy of the taxpayer, to promote a new vision dubbed Q2.
Labor’s party faithful suddenly materialised at stands in shopping centres clad in Q2 T-shirts, proudly handing out flyers, part of a strategy that was supposed to re-launch Labor in Queensland.
But Q2 fell flat after it was revealed the plan looked similar to a document trumped by doomed former NSW Labor premier Morris Iemma.

Bligh, who now finds herself on the back foot, is sounding more like an Opposition leader than a Premier. She recently attacked Springborg as spineless and lazy, charges that have proved hard to stick. And she referred Springborg to the Speaker of Queensland’s one-house parliament for using a parliamentary crest on a newsletter.

All this smacks of desperation. Voters in Queensland are unlikely to put up with personal politics and trivial pursuits when the state is experiencing a crisis in health care and infrastructure.
If Labor is to be re-elected in Queensland, Bligh will need to produce a much stronger arsenal than dobbing in and name-calling.

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