February 14th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Australia-US free trade agreement: free trade or fair trade?

EDITORIAL: Bush and Iraq: the essential issues

ELECTION: How Labor outgunned the Coalition in Queensland

AGRICULTURE: Political will needed to solve dairy industry crisis

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Latham catches government on wrong foot

OPINION: Regionalism the solution to excessive centralism

STRAWS IN THE WIND : Deschooling or reschooling? / Oxbridge / Pluralism

Death ethics (letter)

Front and centre (letter)

CANADA: Exposing the myths behind 'free market' agriculture policy

ISLAM: Musharraf's ambitious quest to lead the Islamic world

Bird flu cover-up shows that change in China comes slowly

COMMENT: Is President Bush really "dumb"?

BOOKS: Divorce Law and the Future of Marriage, by Barry Maley


MUSIC: Reflections for Peace, Joy and Serenity

Books promotion page

How Labor outgunned the Coalition in Queensland

by Victor Sirl

News Weekly, February 14, 2004
This report had to be written before the Queensland state election was held, nevertheless, the outcome of the poll was certain, with Labor Premier, Peter Beattie, poised to win a third term. Victor Sirl reports.

Despite a lacklustre campaign, a determination to press ahead with deregulation of the sugar industry, and alleged ministerial travel rorts, Queensland Premier Peter Beattie is set to retain office this weekend, largely because of the ineffectiveness of the Opposition.

For Queensland National Party leader, Lawrence Springborg, "positive politics" has been the mantra, as taught by the political gurus who advise him.

He took it so seriously that he refused to attack the early gaffes by the ALP in the campaign, or solidly criticise it over the child protection scandal that the Premier claimed was the trigger for the election but is now a dead issue.

Late in the campaign, too late, he started to finally go on the offensive.


The youthful image of a leader with a "modern" outlook on issues such as family and homosexuality which Lawrence's advisers tried to create, was not what voters want from a National Party leader.

His attempt to outdo Peter Beattie in the media stakes backfired and probably mortally wounded him as a political leader. He was caste in the voters' minds as a nice bloke but lacking substance.

This was best demonstrated when Springborg produced the top gimmick of the Queensland election, a picture of the Opposition Leader wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and ironing a shirt, illustrating the tough life of a politician on the road.

A Gold Coast Bulletin front page headline called it "The Sex Effect". A poll published later showed support for the Coalition had gone backwards on the Gold Coast, particularly among women voters.

While starting off soft on the Government, his team of strategists were much tougher on conservative independents by not allowing National Party candidates to exchange preferences with them.

Unfortunately, sitting members and candidates hampered by this will note some contradictions. Their State President, Terry Bolger, a backer of this tactic, has a sister running for the seat of Thuringowa but a preference deal with an independent exists.

Candidates who have been told they cannot preference to independents who are former One Nation candidates observe with ire that the National Party candidate for Tablelands is a former One Nation staffer!

After considering all the unpleasant facts, the Nationals' best chances of winning seats would seem to be, Charters Towers (ALP), Burnett (ALP) and Lockyer, held by the One Nation parliamentary leader, Bill Flynn.

Tough contests exist for Mark Rowell and Ray Hopper who was originally elected as an Independent. More blunders by the party strategists could see them lose Keppel, despite first-time candidate Neil Fisher campaigning well.

If the polling so far is correct, the Nationals may only get a net gain of two or three seats and the Liberals might gain nothing.

Although thirty seats to win government was never achievable, the Coalition looks set to be humiliated once more. In the wake of this fiasco the National Party leadership will certainly become an issue.

Two likely contenders when Springborg goes would appear to be Stuart Copeland, Shadow Education Minister, and Fiona Simpson, Shadow Health Minister.

Copeland has backers within the party elite, but he has failed to shine as Shadow Education Minister and has served only one term in Parliament.

Yet behind-the-scenes lobbying for him has already begun.

Fiona Simpson has been a Member of Parliament since 1992, is socially conservative, has performed very well in the Health portfolio, and works the hustings well. Simpson has also been a former award-winning journalist.

An intelligent, conservative, female leader of the National Party and the prospect of Queensland's first ever female Premier is just the change the Nationals actually need. But what do her parliamentary colleagues want, and whose advice will they take?

Judging by the efforts so far, the strategists for the National Party sup with the Mad Hatter, so don't expect logic to prevail.

The leadership to bring about a conservative government in Queensland may still be a long time coming.

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