Newman’s threats could backfire, but ALP’s mountain looks too high
IN the one-house 89-seat Queensland Parliament, Premier Campbell Newman’s Liberal-National Party holds 73 seats and the ALP a mere nine. This was after Labor won two by-elections to add to the abysmal seven seats it gained at the last state election in 2012.
Hence, despite considerable voter dissatisfaction with the conservative state government and with the federal Coalition, don’t be surprised if the LNP wins today’s Queensland election with more than a few seats to spare.
But even though he may have clawed back some ground, it is possible the autocratic Newman may not retain his leafy inner-Brisbane seat Ashgrove, which he holds by a margin of 5.7 per cent. This is in part because Ashgrove is riddled with disgruntled former state public servants, as well as ex-academics and teachers who are also strong environmentalists.
This would mean a return to parliament of the hardworking Kate Jones, who was a minister in the fundamentally disastrous Labor government of Anna Bligh.
The fact is, on the hustings and in the media, Labor leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has not proved to be a strong performer. This negative has been compounded by the fact that, four days into the election, Palaszczuk’s deputy, the long-serving MP for Mackay, Tim Mulherin — a former minister for agriculture, fisheries and primary industries — announced he would quit politics “for personal reasons.
As well as the LNP, the ALP and the Queensland Greens, also running in today’s election are a number of independents, plus candidates from One Nation, Katter’s Australian Party and the Palmer United Party.
It is the performance of the independents and especially of the minor parties in Queensland that may be of considerable interest.
This is in part because the new state Palmer United Party leader and candidate for Callide — currently held by deputy premier Jeff Seeney — is John Bjelke-Petersen, son of the long-serving and deeply divisive Country/National Party premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen.
Intriguingly, in a rare example of unanimity with the Greens, one of PUP’s main pledges is to re-establish an upper house in Queensland — which in 1922 had been abolished by reformist Labor premier and later federal treasurer E.G. (“Red Ted) Theodore.
Even though the federal PUP MP for Fairfax, Clive Palmer, may have spent considerable money supporting his 50 state candidates, it seems unlikely PUP will today end up winning any seats.
This is because electoral support for Palmer and his party seems to be slipping away, even in his home base of Queensland.
It also is likely that the chances of serial election campaigner Pauline Hanson winning the seat of Lockyer are zip.
Yet even though in terms of federal media coverage Palmer has been eclipsing Bob Katter — who holds the vast federal north Queensland seat of Kennedy — it is possible that Katter’s Australian Party may finish up with one or two state seats. KAP holds three state seats in Queensland — Dalrymple (held by Shane Knuth since 2009); Mt Isa (held by Bob Katter’s son Rob Katter since 2012) and Condamine, held by the state leader of KAP, Ray Hopper — who, like Knuth, is a defector from the LNP.
To make matters more complicated, in today’s election Ray Hopper is contesting the nearby seat of Nanango for the KAP, while his son Ben Hopper is trying to retain Condamine for the KAP.
It also seems possible that, as an independent, former mayor of Mackay Julie Boyd may pick up Tim Mulherin’s vacated seat of Mackay — which he only held with a margin of 0.5 per cent. Moreover, the popular independent MP for the Sunshine Coast-based state seat of Nicklin, Peter Wellington, looks like being a shoo-in to be returned.
Following the 1998 state election, Wellington briefly held the balance of power in Queensland — along with fellow independent MP for the state seat of Gladstone, Liz Cunningham. As Cunningham is not standing in today’s election, her seat could be a Labor gain.
Memorably, it was Wellington’s decision in 1998 to support the state ALP that led to Peter Beattie becoming a longstanding and extremely popular Labor premier of Queensland.
A la the unsubtle old days of Sir Joh and his gargantuan sidekick Russell Hinze, Premier Newman has warned that those electorates that do not vote in an LNP candidate could miss out on promised funding for local projects.
Wellington and Bob Katter have referred Newman’s threat to the Queensland Electoral Commission. Perhaps more seriously for Newman is the potential that, rather than shore up marginal seats, like his own, this echo of the Bjelke-Petersen regime may backfire and encourage voters for independents and minor parties to use their optional preferential vote to include the ALP.
If Newman is defeated in Ashgrove, but the LNP retains government, it will be fascinating to see who takes over as party leader and, hence, who becomes Premier of Queensland.
The two main contenders are Brisbane-based, Queensland Treasurer Tim Nicholls (who is a protege of conservative Queensland powerbroker and ex-Liberal senator Santo Santoro) and the well-performing LNP Health Minister, Lawrence Springborg.
In recent months, two extremely capable former journalists and broadcasters from Ten News Brisbane — Cathy Border and Cathie Schnitzerling — have joined Springborg’s office as senior media advisers.
Although as conservative leader Springborg lost three Queensland elections in a row (2004, 2006 and 2009), if the LNP retains power, and if he decides to stand against Nicholls, he may at last become state premier.
This is because Springborg — who at age 21 was the youngest MP ever elected in Queensland — is an able yet low-key media and parliamentary performer.
Importantly, he is perceived as being a safe pair of hands and a highly competent leader who will not frighten the horses.
Emeritus Professor of History and Politics at Griffith University, Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 36 books, including his memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’.
The Weekend Australian, January 31-February 1. 2015, Inquirer, p. 16.