Attacks on the judiciary cause extreme damage
RESPECT for the independence of the judiciary has always been a central Liberal Party policy. Sadly, this no longer applies in Queensland.
The Newman government’s savage attacks on the judiciary have damaged Queensland’s national and international reputation. This matters mightily in today’s global economy, as it directly affects the state’s ability to attract investment, research money and economic growth.
It is not in Queensland’s business interests to look like an autocratic banana republic. In particular, the Newman government’s slanging match with nationally respected crime fighter Tony Fitzgerald is extremely damaging among most voters who respect the separation of powers.
Newman’s crackdown on criminal motorcycle gangs had widespread support. But that could have been achieved without denigrating the judiciary. The ongoing bitter dispute between the state government and Queensland judges will almost certainly have a detrimental effect on the Liberal National Party’s vote in the Griffith by-election next year brought on by the resignation of Kevin Rudd.
Few serious commentators expect the Abbott government to win the federal by-election, but Newman may be putting it beyond doubt. To put it mildly, Tony Abbott doesn’t need friends like Campbell Newman.
The Queensland Premier hates criticism, which he takes very personally. Since becoming Premier, Newman has been ruthless in his attacks on anyone who disagrees with him. He constantly denigrates any perceived parliamentary, community, union and civil liberties opponents in the Sunshine State. This has been partly fuelled by his personal anger at Labor’s cruel attacks on him and his family during last year’s state election campaign.
In that campaign Labor ignored its record in office and went for Newman’s jugular. The strategy was an abject failure, and left the ALP with only seven seats in Queensland’s one-house parliament. But, despite his landslide victory, Newman has neither forgotten nor forgiven.
This means that a nastiness has returned to Queensland politics not seen since the days of the authoritarian Bjelke-Petersen governments. Then, Joh Bjelke-Petersen went so far as to order his MPs not to sit in the parliamentary dining room with Labor MPs. Former Labor Premier Peter Beattie arguably heralded in a new era of political decency by approving a state funeral for his old rival. But Newman has destroyed that goodwill in less than two years.
The Premier urgently needs to restore some decency and integrity to state politics if Queensland is to reach its full potential and avoid again becoming the redneck state of Australia. Provided that Newman delivers the leadership, Queensland has the potential to be not just a leading research centre but Australia’s strongest state economy. However, this will not eventuate if the LNP government makes Queensland look like a bunch of hillbillies.
The Beattie government paved the way with investments in innovation under the Smart State strategy, which put Queensland on the international map for excellence in biotechnology, aviation, information technology, mining services and innovation. Unfortunately, that reputation is fading.
Yet there are still positives. In particular the Queensland economy is recovering from the global financial crisis that hit royalties from the mining sector hard, as did the loss of stamp duty from the slowing of the property market.
Newman’s initiative for a 30-year plan for Queensland’s future is a worthwhile strategy that involved 78,000 Queenslanders contributing their ideas. The 10 key recommendations are sound and sensible.
To be fair, these policies in different forms have been on the agenda of numerous governments of both sides of politics. Indeed, Nationals premier Mike Ahern commissioned a futuristic report for Queensland in 1988 and the Goss, Borbidge, Beattie and Bligh governments all encouraged trade, education, infrastructure investment and innovation.
But Newman has a problem. To achieve six of the 10 objects in his 30-year plan, the state’s global reputation needs to remain strong if Queensland is to continue to be an internationally attractive place in terms of study and investment. The ugly reality for Newman is that Queensland will not attract the best innovative brains if it again becomes the redneck capital of Australia. Reputation matters.
Next year the Newman government will face its first electoral test in the Redcliffe by-election following the forced resignation of errant LNP member Scott Driscoll.
The Newman government would need to suffer a swing of 10 per cent to lose the seat and, despite the unpopularity of the government’s sackings, that seems unlikely. The real issue will be the magnitude of the anti-Newman swing, as that will affect the government’s momentum as it builds for an election late next year or early in 2015.
Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 36 books.
‘The Australian’, December 4, 2013, p 12.