The LNP is a uniquely Queensland phenomenon. The National Party has been a major force in Queensland politics for a long time, more than any other state; everyone remembers Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. Depending on which side of the fence, barbed wire or not, Sir Joh was admired for his ability to build and progress Queensland, or derided for his social conservatism and lack of personal freedoms.
But he did rule Queensland for 20 years, much of that as a total dictator with an electoral gerrymander used to his advantage, and made decisions without cabinet approval or vetting. His government was found to be institutionally corrupt during the Fitzgerald inquiry in the late 1980s.
With the LNP in the opposition wilderness for 11 years, we now see a government in George Street that is still finding its feet. We have a leader in Campbell Newman who is new to the Parliament, to a lot of his colleagues, and to a large portion of the LNP. While the Coalition was in power in Queensland for all those years, it was primarily the National Party with the most seats. Today in the Newman government we see Newman and his 13 cabinet colleagues from the Liberal side of the fence — and only five from the Nationals.
“This power imbalance has led many … to question the contribution of the Nationals’ ideology and wonder why things aren’t as they were during the Joh years.”
This power imbalance has led many like Clive Palmer and Ray Hopper to question the contribution of the Nationals’ ideology and wonder why things aren’t as they were during the Joh years — corruption notwithstanding.
We can relate the Newman government to the early years (actually all the years) of the Rudd government. Both arrived after long stints in opposition with little experience to speak of; both had new, charismatic leaders who surrounded themselves with people who were loyal to the party. In Rudd’s case the implosion happened rather dramatically with him losing the top job.
I don’t think Newman is headed that way, however there are many backbenchers who are getting frustrated and impatient. Newman comes at least with a legacy of proven leadership. For eight years he was lord mayor of Brisbane, and although there were many critics of his dictatorial style, no one can suggest he didn’t oversee a growth in Brisbane that resulted in it becoming a new World City.
As with any government new to power, there are many players who will find themselves a little lost. In the Newman government we see this with many members who now have become first-time members or ministers and are trying to understand their role, the Parliament and their portfolios. There are also a number of very junior party members, some part time, who have been given impressive titles and salaries, way above their capabilities, advising various ministers.
There are also a number of members who rode in on the coat-tails of Newman and find themselves in positions they never thought possible, and are scrambling to understand what they need to do. Many will take the opportunity to cement their place, many others unfortunately will be out at the next election due to their inability to get things done, or their own incompetence.
With 77 seats out of 89 going to the LNP in Parliament, there will always be the issue of access for backbenchers to ministers. Many ministers are still finding their feet, whilst others are trying to sort through the issues of their departments. It’s meant any local issues members may have in their electorates are not being attended to because 58 members need to get their voices heard.
In the case of Carl Judge, we see an intelligent, educated backbencher who won his seat of Yeerongpilly by 700 odd votes — a seat that can be lost easily come the next election. Judge must be getting frustrated at the inability to get things done. The previous Labor members for Yeerongpilly have been ministers in government and the area has been well looked after. Not sure what Judge had in mind, but if he thought becoming an independent was going to get him results for his electorate, not only will he never see a minister but it also gets quite lonely on the crossbenches. Time will tell, now he’s out of the party.
The Newman government will have many hurdles to overcome before the next election two-and-a-half years away. What they need to do is keep delivering their legislative agenda, and keep a tight rein on their media spin (and can someone give elocution lessons to Newman please?).
While the party room may be a tad crowded, they need to manage their backbenchers well, break them into teams, give them mentors, bring in some ex-ministers to help, do something to appease them. You shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds you, and some are dumb enough to do it.