Anna Bligh jumping the gun to avoid mutiny
THE speculation about a March state election has reached fever pitch in Queensland. It seems likely Premier Anna Bligh is preparing the groundwork to send Queenslanders to the polls in March, six months early.
There will be many excuses given by the Government for the early election but none will stack up. The ALP Government has a large majority in the one-house Parliament and there are no Queensland-specific reasons for a poll. Indeed, the latest Newspoll suggests that the Government would be easily re-elected.
So there is a strong argument that, at a time of world economic and fiscal crisis, the Bligh Government should be getting on with the business of governing, fighting to save jobs in industries such as mining, rebuilding a flood-damaged North Queensland and generally looking after health, education and transport instead of worrying about its political hide.
Many Queenslanders may well conclude that Bligh and her Government may be going to an early poll to try to prevent a mutiny from Queensland electors and are hiding behind Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s latest rescue package to salvage lost support. Clearly the PM will be used extensively in the state election campaign.
The Government’s re-election theme will no doubt be that it isn’t smart to change government in such difficult times; better the devil you know. If that is the Government’s argument then it should go full term and clearly demonstrate over the next six months that it is the best party to govern Queensland at a time of economic crisis.
Indeed, that the Government may be planning to go to an election six months early at such a fraught time suggests it has little faith in itself to deal with downturns in the Queensland economy or the long-term impact of the floods and climate change.
When former premier Peter Beattie retired and handed the premiership to his deputy Bligh, he said publicly that this would give his successor two years to establish herself and her new Government before a September 2009 election. Seventeen months later, Queenslanders could be forgiven for thinking that Beattie and Bligh pulled a swifty just to keep the ALP in office.
The smooth leadership change from Beattie to Bligh overcame the Howard factor of a leader being in office too long but the succession has failed to produce the renewal of government it promised. With the conspicuous exception of Bligh herself, the Queensland cabinet is largely the same old tired team and there have been few new policy initiatives of any value.
Ironically, it seems crystal clear that Bligh does not want Beattie back in Queensland prior to the state election, especially as he may be critical of her Government’s performance. Inside sources suggest the Bligh line is that the populist ex-premier should not be invited to any party events, particularly the campaign opening.
State parliament will sit today and the election could be called as early as next Tuesday, meaning there is only one sitting week before the election. With the ALP’s postal vote cards being printed and the key departmental officers putting together the ALP’s policies, all that remains is for Bligh to announce the date.
There is even speculation that Transport, Trade, Employment and Industrial Relations Minister John Mickel may take over the premiership within 12 months of the election if Bligh loses more than 10 seats. So Queenslanders may get a change of premier even if Labor wins.