Queensland’s election campaign looks like being short but intense. The state has a lot of ground to cover in three weeks, and, according to the Courier-Mail, new Liberal leader Bruce Flegg is already feeling the pressure: “Dr Flegg is unimpressed with the long hours of bus travel on the Coalition caravan and spent much of yesterday being ferried around in a hire car.”
Officially Peter Beattie is concentrating on health and water, but for 20 years the strongest card in the Queensland ALP’s deck has been disunity among their opponents, and this year is no exception.
The opposition is not expected to win the 17 or more seats needed to win government. But if they do, Liberals and Nationals are going to be pretty much neck and neck. Malcolm Mackerras, writing in Wednesday’s Australian, predicted that an opposition gain of 12 seats would leave the Nationals with 21 and the Liberals 17. The next four most vulnerable Labor seats on the pendulum – Cairns, Townsville, Pumicestone and Mundingburra, all under 7% – are Liberal-contested. The Liberals would then only need to pull in one more – say Cleveland (8.7%) – to outnumber the Nationals.
So far, the Coalition parties have been unable to get their line straight on what would happen next. Today’s Australianquotes Flegg saying “Lawrence [Springborg] and I are a team and if we win we will govern Queensland as a team and Lawrence will be premier”. But yesterday, after prompting from his shadow treasurer, Flegg admitted that “The coalition agreement says that the party in Coalition that has the most seats provides the leader.”
Meanwhile, Nationals leader Springborg says he has no doubts: “It’s never happened and it’s not going to at this election”. Dr Flegg was a bit less categorical, describing it as “a fanciful hypothetical”. And Liberal state director Geoff Greene – who under the Coalition agreement is running the joint campaign – said only that it was “unlikely” the balance between the two parties would change.
It is indeed unlikely, but only because a Coalition win is unlikely. If that unlikely event should happen, then the Liberals are probably about an even money chance to match or surpass the Nationals. So it’s hard to argue that an opposition set on winning should be allowed to pretend it’s impossible.