In yesterday’s Crikey, Charles Richardson
discussed speculation that Beattie may be heading to an early election. A
number of signs of this are around – Beattie’s attempt to postpone the water
issue until local government elections in 2008 and the announced retirement of
several ministers and former ministers. But events yesterday – a leadership
coup in the Queensland Liberal Party – shifted the odds.

Former leader Bob Quinn, the only one of
the seven state Liberal MPs (out of a House of 89) with ministerial experience,
had been a likely goner for some time. Quinn actually stood up to the Santo
Santoro faction and the state Liberal machine – on issues such as branch
stacking and party finances. Ever since former party President Michael
Catalbiano entered Parliament in a by-election last year, Quinn’s days were
numbered. The coup de grace fell, among other reasons, as retaliation for
Quinn’s advocacy of the failed amalgamation with the State Nats earlier this
year, and his tactics in that debacle. His deputy and now leader, Bruce Flegg,
was a conspicuous voice in dissent.

Flegg is a medical doctor and a first term
MP, and one of only two Brisbane MPs the Liberals have. He’s developed some
media profile by virtue of being Shadow Health Minister, though he’s been very
short on solutions rather than criticism, generally following a line
unsurprisingly shaped by the AMA. He presents better on television than the
rather cadaverous Quinn.

So will Beattie seize the opportunity of
Liberal ructions and make a dash for the polls? It’s a possibility, and in
earlier elections Beattie has proved himself adept at conjuring up a “crisis”
for which he then has a plan and a desire for a fresh mandate. But it’s
probably more likely that Beattie will wait until later in the year or early next
year when Parliament is closer to its full term. With the Opposition still
largely a policy free zone, and internally divided, Beattie may well, like Paul
Keating, be enjoying the chance to “do them slowly”.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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