The long running federal police investigation into the affairs of several Liberal MPs isn’t the only incipient disaster for John Howard in Queensland. As if he needs more headaches from a state where he has to hang on to seats in the face of the Rudd/Swan home town onslaught, the charming combination of the toxic factional politics of the state Libs and the ever fractious Coalition relationship with the Nats has lobbed up another time bomb.
The Courier-Mail has been reporting Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney’s half-hearted denials that he’s trying to oust his hapless Liberal counterpart, Bruce Flegg. The Nats have always blamed Flegg for losing the state election last year. There’s a lot of truth in that, as his error prone performance destroyed the Liberal vote within a few days of the election being announced. But it’s also a mightily convenient excuse for the Nats to absolve themselves from blame for their own very mediocre performance, which saw large swings to Labor recorded in quite a few of their regional and rural seats, swings Rudd Labor will be hoping to capitalise on.
Apparently Seeney has been conspiring with disaffected Liberal MPs to move against Flegg. In a caucus of eight, there are few of the other seven MPs who aren’t leader who don’t carry a leadership baton around.
In more than one sense, it’s hard to see what Seeney’s problem is. Flegg rolled over for him, quite disgracefully, by agreeing that Seeney would be the Premier after the next election even if the Libs won more seats, thus making such an eventuality almost certainly moot. Flegg is also one of the few Opposition MPs to have any discernible media presence. Seeney may believe that Flegg is not making an impact on the Beattie government, but neither is he. And of the rest of his front bench, Nationals Deputy Fiona Simpson has only been noteworthy this year for stories complaining about Seeney and orchestrating a protest involving tying red bras to Parliament’s fence.
The Liberal frontbenchers are never heard from, presumably too busy with factional infighting to actually take the fight up to Labor.
The move against Flegg has apparently been called off due to concerns that disunity would damage Howard’s chances. Apparently the state Libs haven’t noticed that talking about disunity all over the pages of the press might also be damaging. Gary Hardgrave, federal member for Moreton, reportedly believes that Flegg is dragging his own chances down. Hardgrave might do better to worry about the impact of his dumping from the Ministry and the federal police investigation.
The state Libs have already delivered the Santo Santoro disaster to Howard this year. They have form in squabbling over the fruits of defeat even before an election has been lost. Howard had better hope this dynamic isn’t playing out again.