While the one leadership stoush that’s
occupied the attention of Queensland politics watchers over the last week has
been the coup against state Leader Bob Quinn, the Sunshine State Federal
Liberals (much more successful than their state counterparts), have been among
those throwing bombs at the Prime Minister over petrol and at Petro Georgiou
and the moderates over the mainland excision bill. John Howard may or may not
be enjoying the fruits of his Walletgate victory, as the realities of Coalition
disunity and the unfavourable political position of the Government have surely
hit home this week since Parliament resumed.

But just
because Peter Costello has slunk back into his chicken coop, it would be unwise to assume that the reasons
why he enjoyed some backbench support have gone away. On 11 July, The Australian reported the names of those MPs and senators the paper
believed belonged to “Team Costello”. Included among them were six
Queenslanders, including four out of the five Queensland Liberal Senators.

When the basis of Costello’s backbench
support has been discussed in the past, the emphasis has been on the alignment
of “moderates” who have principled reasons to oppose Howard by favouring his one-time
challenger and possible successor. The situation is different in Victoria,
where Costello enjoys power in the machine, and has placed allies and former
staffers in Parliament. But just as important, and particularly in Queensland,
is the wannabe ministerial crowd.

The one Howard supporter among the Bananaland
Queensland Senate Libs is also the one Minister, factional powerbroker
Santoro. Ministry gigs in the Senate are not prolifically offered, and
geographical distribution means that Santoro can expect to be the only
Queensland Senator to get a guernsey. While Ian Macdonald is a
ministerial has-been rather than a wannabe, Senators Brandis, Mason and
Trood are all much more
impressive in their different ways than the average backbencher in the
chamber. They have everything to gain from a leadership handover, and
to lose given that all three have terms expiring in 2011.

Brandis has probably sunk his chances under
Howard after the infamous “lying rodent” incident prior to the 2004 poll. He’s
also a factional opponent of Santoro. Mason and Trood, both former academics,
have made intelligent and genuine contributions to the work of the Senate, and
have been whispered in dispatches as possible floor crossers. While Costello
might be chicken feed at least in the immediate future, the reasons why the
Queensland Liberal Senators were disinclined to give three cheers for a
Menzies-esque reign for Howard remain valid. Barnaby Joyce might not be the only
Government Senator from Queensland worth watching carefully over the rest of
this parliamentary term.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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