After the first week of the campaign, Peter Beattie’s biggest problem is keeping his grin to manageable proportions while he claims underdog status.
Liberal leader Bruce Flegg is trying to turn around his bad fortune by insisting that the media stop talking about the “process”. Flegg insists he’s not a polished politician. That much is true. But Flegg’s tactics highlight and reinforce the message about his inexperience which has been disastrous for the Coalition. The Libs have made themselves the issue.
Readers outside Queensland probably can’t see the exact dimensions of the total farce which has been the Liberal campaign. After spending days denying he could be Premier, and fuelling Beattie’s “can’t govern yourself…” slogan, Flegg’s subsequent appearances on the TV news highlighted his denial that he was kicked out of a shopping centre (despite vision showing he was). Then Mt Ommaney candidate Bob Harper tried to console him by reminding him that a lot of shoppers hate pollies thrusting their hand at them. And that was in the same news bulletin which exposed an “ordinary voter” talking to hapless Bruce as a former Liberal member.
The Liberals have cruelled the Coalition’s chances of putting any real pressure on a Premier whose familiar bag of political tricks has passed its use by date. Lawrence Springborg has run a better and more disciplined campaign than in 2004. But there are really two campaigns.
The Nats will struggle to dislodge dug-in Independents, and Labor is holding up its vote outside the South East corner. The Libs need to do the heavy lifting in Brisbane and on the Sunshine and Gold Coasts. But such has been the incompetence and disarray of their campaign, the only messages that are remotely cutting through are the Nats’ themes. And urban voters are unlikely to warm to the values displayed at Springborg.com which feature hard line moral conservatism, law and order and support for tree clearing in the bush.
The Liberal campaign is so messy that Liberal powerbrokers are already playing the blame game in the papers. The Australian reported that Flegg went into the campaign without a health policy, despite being health shadow. Blind Freddie could have predicted that health would be Beattie’s greatest area of vulnerability. But it’s being reported that Flegg hurriedly adopted National MP Rob Messenger’s proposal for a new hospital in Bundaberg (which is not needed – the problem is not facilities but doctors and nurses to staff them) and plucked a figure out of the air as a costing. Significantly, the story was leaked by Liberal sources.
Flegg’s potential rival, Michael Catalbiano, was on Sunday representing the interests of the Santoro faction in a nasty preselection for Robina. Suggestions that Flegg will be a five-week wonder as leader are only questionable because Catalbiano looks set to lose his own seat, and there might be few Liberals left standing to twist the knife when the dust of the election settles.
Last week, most observers were predicting Labor to win with a small majority. With the polls showing Team Beattie only 2% behind its 2004 vote, at this stage, many fewer seats than expected might be anticipated to change hands. There may be a swing back in favour of the Coalition, but if the election had been held over the weekend, I believe that Labor would have been re-elected with its majority of 16 cut only by 5. The Libs are in danger of repeating previous performances where their gains from Labor have been diminished by losing seats they hold.