Fourth term Labor governments seem to get into trouble very early in their terms. At least a sample of two would suggest that (for the statistically inclined, the potential population isn’t that large). The gloss went off Paul Keating’s victory for the “true believers” very shortly after election night, rubbed off by a combination of perceived triumphalism and the indirect tax rises that made a nonsense of the anti-GST campaign.

Peter Beattie’s Queensland government has also been having its woes. Former Attorney-General Linda Lavarch resigned shortly after the election, revealing a diagnosis of clinical depression. Lavarch had been embroiled in controversy over rogue surgeon Dr Jayant Patel’s extradition. Water has been a continuing source of irritation with the predictable time over-runs on infrastructure projects, and Beattie’s backflip on the recycled water plebiscite only begged the question of why it had ever been contemplated in the first place.

And then there’s the Mulrinji and Police Union fiasco.

Beattie has also been haunted by ghosts of ministers past. Both Gordon Nuttall and Merri Rose have been charged with offences – Nuttall over an undisclosed $300,000 loan and Rose for allegedly blackmailing Beattie for a well paid job after she lost her seat. (Both former MPs deny the allegations and will defend them vigorously in court).

Beattie has apologised for selecting Nuttall in the first place, but the signs from polling prior to last September’s election were that his characteristic apology strategy had worn pretty thin with voters. Beattie recognised this when he promised that the fourth term would concentrate on service delivery.

Rumours last week about a possible Anna Bligh challenge were just scuttlebutt. But the fact that such rumours start is a worrying sign for the Premier. With state Parliament resuming, he needs to lift his game and start accentuating some positives.

As always, Beattie has been well served by the pathetic rabble that is the Queensland Coalition. Bruce Flegg’s leadership is only safe because there are no alternatives. Jeff Seeney has reinforced his own offputting macho man image through extracting a ludicrous coalition deal that would make him Premier even if voters elect more Liberal MPs. And his tubthumping on the first day of Parliament won’t have done anything to dispel his hitman persona.

The Beattie government has many solid achievements to its credit. It would have been better for both Queenslanders, and it’s now becoming apparent, the government had a stronger opposition been elected last year. As the parliamentary year begins, Beattie’s challenge is to get back on the front foot. As always, his biggest battle will be with complacency and indiscipline within his own administration, rather than with the Coalition.

Peter Fray

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