Something is rotten in the state of the Queensland Liberal party.

Yesterday, I wrote about the spillover of toxic leadership wrangling into the federal sphere. It’s now clear that the state Liberals commissioned research into the party’s federal standing which included questions about the Liberal leader, Dr Bruce Flegg. As Graham Young writes, the inclusion of these questions is counter-intuitive and their being asked at all is likely to colour the polling results.

The polling was shared with National Party figures, but when Flegg asked about it, the Liberals’ state president, former Senator Warwick Parer, denied that it existed.

It’s widely suspected in Brisbane that the troubles some Liberals are having with the Federal police have their origin in the allocation of campaign funds not on the basis of electoral considerations but for factional reasons. Whether or not misuse of public funding is involved in these shenanigans is a moot question for the moment, and the Liberal MPs at the centre of the investigation maintain their innocence. The findings of an internal audit commissioned by the Libs after the investigation came to light have not been made public.

During the last state campaign, it was alleged that funds were re-directed to attempt to shore up the chances of factional honcho Michael Catalbiano in his losing battle to hold onto his seat of Chatsworth. This only highlighted the dysfunctionality of the Liberal machine and its focus on rewarding and protecting factional mates rather than beating Labor.

Much fundraising also appears to be conducted on a factional basis, with funds being allocated as if to feudal retainers rather than being centralised and directed rationally for the party’s best interests. It’s no surprise that many business donors have declared the door closed in the face of these tactics. This has only compounded the issue, with fundraising MPs such as Andrew Laming and the former Senator Santoro trading on Howard’s power and his presence at functions to raise funds independently.

The Labor Party machine in Queensland would never tolerate this sort of practice. As Young remarks, if it were going on, Rudd would surely step in. But Howard is taking his usual hands off attitude.

The State Liberals’ rep is toxic with voters. It’s bizarre that the party would seek to muddy the waters with the Federal campaign. It’s been a delicate balancing act to quarantine the mess that is the State Libs from Howard in the past.

Labor would have to like its chances in many Liberal-held marginals. The atmospherics outside Brisbane are rather different, but the state mess will have maximum impact here with heavy coverage and airplay throughout the metropolitan media.

The impact of the current ructions may be passing (though it hardly helps), but the bigger story is the likely turn inward of the state division. If they’re busy eating themselves and squabbling over the spoils of defeat, a very vicious dynamic could take hold. These apparently parochial stories could be well worth careful watching in the lead up to the federal poll.

The Libs only hold two out of the 35 Brisbane state electorates. A large part of the reason is their inability to organise a coherent campaign and the way their campaign efforts cannibalise their own candidates and members. That’s worth remembering when calculations about Brisbane federally are made.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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