All successful leaders need lots of luck, and heading into his fourth election as Labor leader, Peter Beattie’s seems to be holding. For weeks the Brisbane political dogs have been barking about an early September election for Queensland, but when he officially announced it this morning, Peter Beattie was able to make it look like it was forced upon him.
At his press conference announcing the 9 September poll, Beattie said the resignation due to ill-health of backbencher Nita Cunningham meant that the Government either had to hold a by-election or a general election. Voters resent being forced to the ballot box early, so it was Beattie’s good fortune to have his line that “this was the worst possible time” for an election, one forced upon him “in the interests of Queensland”, emerge unscathed from media questioning.
What made that all the more remarkable, strong rumours aside, was the emergence this morning of this letter posted to voters announcing a September election. Beattie said he’d only made a definite decision about the election in the past 24 hours. Campaign material like that does not get drafted, approved, produced and sent out within 24 hours.
Beattie’s second stroke of luck is one with which incumbents around the world seem blessed of late – mediocre, at best, Opposition. A Liberal resurgence is vital if the Coalition is to have any chance of a win, and they have a new leader, Bruce Flegg, just days into the job.
And the Coalition as an electoral brand has not recovered from the debacle of the “New Liberals” merger proposal of recent memory. Conventional wisdom has it that State government has been reduced to one of management – make the trains run on time, and you get re-elected. On that score, Beattie should be tossed out, after lurching from one crisis to another in health, electricity and now water.
But he is unlikely to lose. The Labor Government has too big a margin (7.3%), too little opposition and one of the best political campaigners ever in Beattie up against Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg, who still looks like a boy trying too hard to do a man’s job.
Some voters may also want to stick with Labor as insurance against the Federal Liberal Government and John Howard’s industrial relations reforms – a turn around from the last shock conservative win in Queensland when Wayne Goss carried the baggage of the unpopular Keating Government into the 1995 election.
The real question is whether the Coalition can get close enough to have a real chance next time, and even that is not guaranteed.