Peter Beattie’s government has never looked shakier, but today’s Courier-Mail
reports that the Queensland opposition also has its problems. A major
plank of last year’s Coalition agreement, the Liberal-National “joint
preselections” that were supposed to avoid three-cornered contests, has
broken down, and four of the six seats concerned – Mudgeeraba,
Broadwater, Hervey Bay and Redlands – will be contested by both the
non-Labor parties at next year’s election.

The first “joint preselection” held, in Springwood, went to the
Liberals, and in return they have conceded Gaven to the Nationals. The
six seats are all winnable, Springwood being the safest for Labor at
9.7%. Of the four to be fought jointly, all but Mudgeeraba were
contested by the Nationals at the last election.

Liberal state director Geoff Greene was putting on a brave face: “Don’t
mistake internal competition for disunity … we are absolutely
united in our directions and look forward to the election campaign.”
But Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg conceded that “three-cornered
contests were not his ‘preferred option’.”

The reason both parties are fighting so hard for this small number of
seats is that they are close to the tipping point where the Liberals
could replace the Nationals as the senior non-Labor party. As I
reported in Crikey last September, if the Liberals had won all the
“joint preselections,” then the uniform swing needed to unseat Labor
would have made them the larger party, 21 seats to 18. Giving up Gaven
makes that task a bit harder, but it is still not out of reach.

Apart from a brief caretaker period in the 1960s, the Liberals have
never headed a government in Queensland: the National Party, usually
with fewer votes, has tenaciously held on to more seats. Could that now
be slipping away?

There are only two Liberal-National coalitions remaining at state
level: there’s open warfare in Victoria and Western Australia, and the
South Australian National Party sits in a Labor government. New South
Wales, as always, is the healthiest, but Queensland is a real
minefield.
With an election year coming up, things could get very interesting.

Peter Fray

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