After the Queensland election, Peter Beattie’s political strategy may be judged on the basis of a cruise terminal. The Southport Spit north of Sea World is just about the last piece of oceanside natural bushland on the Gold Coast.

Until last Friday night, a cruise ship terminal was slated for development on the stillwater side. Indeed, Treasurer Bligh was extolling the economic virtues of the terminal in a pre-recorded ABC Stateline interview just as in real time Anna Bligh was releasing an impact assessment that nixed the development. Brisbane’s cruise ship terminal just hosted its first ship, and ads for the flash riverside shopping centre that goes with it have been everywhere in the glossy free press targeted to the Brisvegas inner urban crowd.

This vignette omits the context of Bligh’s interview. A large grassroots movement had formed on the Coast to oppose the terminal. The environment aside, it’s not hard to oppose when there would be few cruise liners stopping both at Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

Labor is ahead in the nearby Broadwater because of the popularity of MP Peta-Kaye Croft, but other Gold Coast ALP seats with theoretically safer margins are in danger. Cleverly, the backflip can be turned into a positive by sending a message about the environment. The Greens are meant to listen, as they decide preferences.

Peter Beattie has made an art form of unashamed backflips. John Howard learnt a trick or two from Premier Pete when he discovered “listening” at the height of his “mean and tricky” 2001 electoral trough.

Beattie has not just consistently run presidential campaigns but has also governed presidentially, distancing himself from his government’s actions. When he discerns the public will, he apologises and reverses the offending decision (much to the ire of many Ministers). Similarly, any crisis can be instantly remedied by taking charge personally. That’s why he became Minister for Water a week before the election was called.

In 2004, the Nationals ran ads explicitly highlighting Beattie’s backflips. They sank without trace. In 2006, Beattie’s “listening” pose is less fresh, and his bag of political tricks much more transparent.

Emboldened by the cruise terminal backdown, every interest group under the sun is thrusting its pet peeves and projects at Beattie. This is a new dynamic for a Beattie campaign. It will be fascinating to see if the past political master can pull off this tactic once again after eight years’ power.

Another long-term leader, John Howard, should be watching Beattie’s ability to continue trimming his sails to the prevailing winds very carefully.