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Campbell Newman in the soup with Queensland election

11 January 2015 No Comment

When Premier Campbell Newman announced a January 31 election only Queenslanders were surprised.

Few probably knew Newman had up until June to call the election but they certainly did know he had a lot of gall interrupting the cricket and the rest of summer with his campaign.

It was another reason for him to be disliked. Newman won a landslide victory in 2012 but his popularity and that of his Liberal National Party government is badly spoiled.

Labor and some of the commentariat are hyping Queensland election as a one-term government and a litmus test for Tony Abbott.

But the reality is that the abrasive Newman is his own worst enemy. While polls put the major parties neck and neck, there is little doubt that the LNP will win. Most interest is centred around Newman doing a John Howard and losing his seat.

Newman put a positive spin on calling an early election.

He has taken flak for tough anti-bikie legislation, for his controversial appointment of poorly credentialled Chief Justice Tim Carmody and for sacking 14,000 public servants. Meanwhile, Queensland’s resources boom vanished, unemployment became the nation’s equal highest and Newman’s “Can do” style has turned him into a “Can’t” for many voters.

“Queenslanders don’t want and don’t need months of endless politicking and uncertainty as people jostle up to an election date,” Newman said on Tuesday.

“We can’t afford to lose one day because that’s bad for the economy and bad for jobs. We simply can’t have the sort of political chaos that we have seen in other states. This is going to be a tight election. Labor, through the support of wasted votes going to independents and minor parties, could fall across the line. Annastacia Palaszczuk could be the next premier of Queensland if people buy some of the nonsense that the Labor party are spouting.”

Opposition leader Annastacia Palaszczuk and her team of eight MPs quickly recalibrated and got back to business as usual.

Australians care little about elections outside home states but Queensland’s rendition of politics continues to attract a kind of amused interest.

Perhaps it’s the bare-faced cheek. That was supposed to end when Queensland’s politics joined the mundanity down south at the end of the Bjelke-Petersen era. But it’s hard to keep a good man or woman down.

A Bjelke-Petersen has again entered the fray. John, son of Joh, is the leader of the Palmer United Party and is standing against Queensland’s deputy premier.

And Pauline Hanson has announced she will contest a seat near her old Ipswich stomping ground.

Both are counting on disenchantment with major parties and are campaigning against coal seam gas but they must hope Queenslanders have short memories.

John Bjelke-Petersen has long been a beneficiary of government largesse: In the early 1980s Joh Bjelke-Petersen bought a $1.45 million family cattle property, “Ten Mile” behind Rockhampton to set John up for life. Not content with partly paying for it with corruptly obtained funds, Joh then had Queensland taxpayers shell out $4 million for a bitumen road to the front gate. Another few million dammed the local river for John’s herd.

Hanson, a serial political failure who treats the Australian electoral system as her own personal piggy bank, wants to laugh all the way once more. Over the years she has pocketed some $200,000 a time from the public purse to cover the costs of several failed Senate campaigns. Her vote has declined in NSW and Queensland elections and she faces a Liberal National Party incumbent with a 15 per cent margin.

The LNP won 78 seats in 2012 after Anna Bligh and her state asset sales left Labor a smoking ruin, reduced to a desultory seven seats. By-elections have since returned two seats.

Clearly influenced by Bill Shorten’s “zingers”, the plodding but credible Palaszczuk, daughter of a former Labor MP, said Newman had taken Queenslanders for granted and torn the state apart.

“This is going to be a very tough election … this is going to be a David and Goliath battle,” she said.

Meanwhile Newman is in the unenviable position of fighting for his own political life.

He was forced to stand for Ashgrove, a former Labor stronghold in Brisbane’s west until he took it from sitting member Kate Jones with a 5.7 per cent margin. Jones is running again.

“The trouble for Campbell,” says academic and historian Ross Fitzgerald, “is that Ashgrove is one of those leafy electorates full of civil servants, academics and Greenies , all the people he sacked or alienated.”

Nobody in the LNP will discuss what strategy is in place to replace Newman if he loses his seat. But power brokers are said to be considering making making another MP fall on a sword.

Fitzgerald, the author of a seminal Queensland history, said it one rumour had Liberal power broker and former senator Santo Santoro thowing his weight behind Lawrence Springborg.

“Lawrence led the conservatives to three defeats but he is safe, strong and respected,” Fitzgerald said.

“The old Nationals rump gave way to Campbell. If he fails, they have every right to demand their man gets the leadership.”

Damien Murphy, Sydney Morning Herald, January 10, 2015

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