If there’s one thing the Queensland Liberals don’t get marks for (well, actually, there a lot), it’s originality. NSW colleagues having a divisive leadership battle? Hey, let’s do the same in Queensland, after a few weeks’ damaging front page stories in the Courier-Mail largely inspired by leaks from contending factions.
The Santoro affair has been (accurately) seen as a damaging contamination of the federal sphere by the pathological state Liberal division. Bizarrely, the dethroning of King Santo and the endless squabbling about his replacement as Senator has now come back to haunt the state Libs.
As I wrote in Crikey a few weeks back, hitherto hapless state Leader Dr Bruce Flegg was on solid ground in opposing Howard’s Goodna bypass. It’s poison to his own constituents, and will probably lose Ryan MP Michael Johnson more than a vote or two. Flegg is in the good company not only of Liberal Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, but also Peter Beattie and the state government.
But now, apparently, the Santoro faction has damned him for acting against the interests of the PM. As if Santo hasn’t, well, been doing just that in recent weeks.
The weekend saw farcical allegations of a false email claiming that Flegg was under investigation for a secret slush fund (and it’s hard to be a self respecting Liberal MP in Queensland without at least your factional opponents believing you to be in possession of same). Claiming that a hotmail account was hacked, this being the Queensland Liberals, Flegg has referred the matter to police.
Now, Clayfield MP Tim Nicholls, a first termer, is refusing to pledge loyalty to Flegg, and discussing a leadership with his colleagues. That would be six colleagues, presuming that he’s not lobbying Flegg himself. Flegg has called on Nats leader Jeff Seeney to sack Nicholls from the opposition front bench. Seeney would probably like to sack the entire state Liberal party from the front bench.
Nicholls holds the seat of Clayfield. At least he won it from Labor, unlike the last Liberal member, one Santo Santoro, who lost the formerly blue-ribbon territory (which includes the commanding heights of Brisbane society on Hamilton Hill) to Labor, who proceeded to hold it for two terms.
Putting a first term MP in the leadership didn’t work out so well last time when the first term MP in question was Bruce Flegg himself. His, and the party’s ratings, went south very quickly from the day of his coup.
Polls unfavourable to Flegg have been leaked from Liberal headquarters today. Santo Santoro is said to have a big hand in the leadership crisis.
Perhaps a consulship in Sicily should have been Santo’s golden parachute from the Senate. He’s clearly not taking Ian Macfarlane’s advice to spend more time with his family. He’s devoting his considerable energies to payback.
Whether the Liberal machine has any time to do a tracking poll amidst all the leaking, plotting, and police investigations is unknown. But Queensland voters, who’ve long regarded the Liberal crop of state MPs as a risible rabble, may now have come to the same conclusion about the Libs’ federal members. Santo’s made the connection for them, and the Libs’ implosion has been splashed all over the front pages.
If Howard could rewrite history, perhaps he’d like to go back further in time than the Joh for PM campaign and encourage Joh’s secession campaign in the 70s. Because it looks very much like Queensland will be the graveyard of his government this year.