Observers of Queensland politics could be
forgiven for having a touch of deja vu. In a number of recent campaigns, the
conservative forces have blown themselves out of the water in the first week.
In 1989, Liberal leader Angus Innes asked the question about what he would do
in the event of a hung parliament, while insisting the question wouldn’t arise because
he would be Premier, despite leading the smallest party in the House. In 1998,
Premier Borbidge had his own credibility as a leader undermined when the
National machine insisted preferences would flow to One Nation against his
wishes. Borbidge was visibly shaken, and appeared to give up hope of a win.

History is repeating itself, but with a
vengeance. On the first night of the campaign, Opposition leader Lawrence
Springborg unconvincingly insisted that the small matter of the next premier
was an “internal party matter”, while Liberal leader of one week Bruce Flegg
displayed his inexperience by almost losing his temper. Given that south-east Queensland
is where most of the Labor seats need to fall, it’s very hard to construct a
scenario which sees the Coalition win and the Nats have more seats. This was
quickly seized upon by Liberal MPs, who insisted that the party room would
determine the issue.

It got worse. Party hard man Michael
Caltabiano claimed that “The Liberal Party will provide leadership for
Queensland” alongside the Nats. That’s being read as code that Catalbiano wants
to mount his own coup against Flegg. Flegg’s now backflipped, saying that the
coalition agreement would allow him to become Premier if the Libs have more
numbers. But Springborg has insisted he will be Premier, that he as alternate
Premier will debate Beattie, and the Nats’ election ads are reputed to be
presidential ads focusing on the Borg.

Confused? The electorate will be. It makes
Walletgate look simple.

Peter Beattie couldn’t have written the
script better himself. Many Liberal voters in Brisbane are horrified that a
vote for the Liberals would elect a National Premier. Undecided voters don’t
know enough about first-termer Flegg to make a judgement about him. At worst, Beattie
wins on the “devil you know” basis, and no matter how hard the Coalition try to
play catch-up, he has endless ammunition for his theme of strong leadership
opposed to a squabbling rabble. And the worst of all is that the Coalition
appear jointly and severally arrogant, contemptuous of the electors on one
Liberal hand, and presuming a God (or Joh) given right to rule on the National
hand.

The word in political circles now is that
the Liberals are despairing of attacking Labor marginals in the south-east, and
rushing to shore up their own marginals. Beattie’s got Howard-style luck from
his opponents at a time when many Queenslanders are looking for a change of
government.

Peter Fray

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