QUEENSLAND: News Weekly
State election a no-show for Coalition
, September 30, 2006
Forget industrial relations. What cost the Queensland Coalition any sign of significant forward momentum in the state election was much closer to home. Despite the Beattie Labor Government's failures in the health system and the state's water supply, the Queensland Coalition also looked like a failure. The electorate, not knowing whether to deliver a protest vote against the Government or the Opposition, left things the way they are.
The fact is that the Queensland Coalition was lacking in leadership, message and focus.Gaffe-prone
Political pundits have near unanimously denounced the Liberals' decision to replace the tried and tested Bob Quinn for gaffe-prone GP Bruce Flegg as leader of the party.
There is no doubt that Flegg's inability to effectively handle charges from the media scrum took the Beattie Government's health and infrastructure failures out of the headlines and put the Coalition's leadership failures and perceived lack of cooperation in.
This was despite the fact that Flegg was not the alternative premier and the fact that the Nationals and Liberals had the tightest Coalition agreement that Queensland (and perhaps even Australia) has ever seen.
The statewide poll result may have been very different had Flegg responded to journalists' questions over leadership with the simple, truthful answer: "In the unlikely event that the Liberals win more seats than the Nationals, I would be Premier. But the reality is that's not going to happen."
The Coalition's election message was banal: "Getting the priorities right" or "We can do it". Whatever the case, it lacked a clear sense of revolution that most winning campaigns have. (Take, for instance, the Coalition's 1995 campaign message "Put Labor under pressure". Those four words nearly cost the Goss Labor Government the election and eventually did cost them the treasury benches).
The lack of message meant that no advertisement, no flyer nor any direct mail would be able to shake voters into a state of revolt against the Beattie Government.
Interestingly, it was the Liberal Party organisation that ran the campaign, making the Liberals directly responsible for two out of the three causes of the Coalition's state election train wreck.
The negative result of this lack of message was two-fold. Not only did voters not know why to vote for the Coalition but Coalition supporters felt no urgency to assist during the election. Many booths and campaigns struggled to get workers.
In comparison, Labor was firing all cylinders with its supporters. While the new industrial relations laws did not play a major role with voters, the IR laws gave formerly disillusioned Labor members a cause to fight for. Labor supporters turned out in large numbers to campaign and man the polling booths.
But the final cause lies directly at the feet of the Nationals. In the last Queensland parliamentary term, National Party leader Lawrence Springborg and his colleagues spent far too long navel-gazing. The issue of amalgamation was raised again and again and then buried only to be re-raised during the leaders' debate on the eve of the election.
Liberal Senator George Brandis hit the nail on the head, saying that there had been far too much time spent on the Coalition's internal issues and not enough time focusing on the Beattie Government's failings.
Unfortunately, the enormity of the Coalition's election failure means that the Queensland public will be subjected to another bout of internal party and Coalition bickering and navel-gazing for some time to come.
Who's to blame?
Already Federal Liberal MPs and media commentators have somehow tried to blame the loss on the Nationals for running in south-east Queensland. This is despite the fact that the Coalition agreement gave the majority of marginal seats to the Liberals and that (at the time of writing) it seems they made a net gain of one seat, to bring their parliamentary numbers from seven to a whopping eight.
The Nationals look like making a net gain of one seat as well, with the loss of only Gaven to Labor (which is not surprising as the Liberals' by-election gains of Chatsworth and Redcliffe went the same way), Gympie won from an independent and the formerly safe Labor seat of Bundaberg look like falling to the Nationals (at the time of writing).
The petty blame-shifting between Coalition partners cannot continue. What needs to happen now is constructive change.
Mr Springborg has resigned as Nationals' leader. A leader who does not believe in the worth of his party without amalgamation should not continue.
Likewise, Flegg is now damaged goods and needs to be replaced by someone who is able to settle into the role, learn and, most importantly, let the Coalition leader be the Coalition leader and not try and upset the apple cart.
Some culling needs to happen amongst those directly responsible for the Coalition campaign. The two men responsible appear to be the Liberal State Director, Graham Green and Springborg staffer Jake Smith. Green's style of which included constant repetition of photos of Beattie with fingers in his ears through Coalition advertising, illustrates that campaigning should not be funny unless it makes a clear point. Elections are a serious business.
The Coalition and Nationals would be wise to put some faith in young and upcoming Nationals State Director Brad Henderson who was, unfortunately, pretty much relegated to the sidelines in this election. Before being hired by the Nationals, Henderson was spearheading the grass roots campaigning done by Property Rights Australia, a pro-farmer lobby group, who have amassed statewide support amongst farmers and launched several high-profile rallies in Brisbane.
The group is now on its way to launch a high court challenge against the Beattie Government's draconian and anti-farmer tree clearing laws.Seeney's liberalism
Jeff Seeney, the new National's leader, is viewed by many as good for going in for the kill against Labor front-benchers. However, Seeney's atheism and support of many liberal social policies won't stand well with Christian and pro-family groups like the Australian Family Association and the Australian Christian Lobby. Potentially it could cost the Nationals much-needed Family First preferences. Seeney, a farmer from central Queensland, would also be victim to the mentality that the people of Brisbane would not vote in a farmer as Premier.
Perhaps the Nationals should have been looking to their only south-east Queensland-based MP, Fiona Simpson. With Beattie's loyal deputy, Anna Bligh being groomed to take the top job once Beattie calls it quits, it seems only logical for the Coalition to promote a women to as alternative Premier first.