Queensland state Liberal leader Bruce Flegg is under fire from factional foes within his own party for standing up for his constituents over the controversial Ipswich by-pass.

Flegg must surely be wondering whether the friendly fire has more to do with undermining his already fragile leadership than “defending” the Howard Government’s decision to spend over $2 billion on a by-pass when it could have got away with backing the state government’s alternative for about half that amount.

Before he was first elected in 2004, Flegg mounted a strong local campaign against the by-pass proposal, a campaign he repeated before the 2006 Queensland poll.

But he is not alone in his opposition – it is shared by the Brisbane Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman, a fellow Liberal, and the local Liberal council representative… both of whom have hardly been slow to make their views publicly known.

But a front-page story in yesterday’s Brisbane Courier Mail had senior Liberals accusing Flegg of “betrayal” of John Howard over the by-pass issue, and unnamed Liberal officials threatening disciplinary action against him.

On Brisbane radio yesterday, Flegg not surprisingly held his ground. But the Liberals state president and the former flatmate to the Prime Ministerial flatmate, Warwick Parer, hardly gave Flegg a ringing endorsement in the next interview.

While it’s hardly a secret the Santo Santoro faction would like to get rid of Flegg, the threats over his opposition to the by-pass may really have another target.

The Federal MP for area represented by Flegg is Michael Johnson. Until very recently he had been a vocal supporter of the by-pass proposal.

But last week he was reported as expressing “concern” about the community reaction. Sitting on a margin of just over 8%, he might have every reason at the moment to be concerned.

Perhaps the Santoro faction is firing a warning shot across Johnson’s bow as well?

Community opposition to the by-pass is growing in the parts of Ryan where the Liberal vote approaches 80 per cent.

If that were to evaporate, Ryan would be within Kevin Rudd’s grasp.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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