Peter Beattie’s final legacy to Queensland (and federal) politics is characteristic of his modus operandi. The new Premier, Anna Bligh, will be able to execute the quick step Beattie was no longer capable of doing convincingly – admitting mistakes have been made, garnering sympathy, and promising to fix them. Beattie’s already done the hard part – telling the ABC twice last night that he’d been “over-enthusiastic” about local government reform and “should have listened more”.

Whether Bligh shifts the policy or not is moot, but she’ll change the rhetoric.

And it won’t be difficult to build a bit of honeymoon momentum on the back of the most recent Newspoll on state voting intentions, published in June, which found state Labor had a 51% primary vote and an astonishing 61% two party preferred. Both figures represent swings to the government from last year’s election.

Bligh will be elected unopposed tomorrow as Labor leader, and sworn in as Queensland’s first female Premier on Thursday.

Beattie’s legendary sense of timing ensures her elevation – it reinforces the contrast he wants to highlight with Howard’s position. “A smooth transition”, Beattie opined, demonstrates Labor is a “mature party of government”. The symbolism rubs off on the poised and calm Kevin Rudd, who looks every inch the Prime Minister in waiting when compared to the hyperbolic and shrill flailing around that has characterised the federal Coalition since last December.

Beattie embedded the transition in 2005 when Bligh was elevated to Deputy Premier. Opposition from the AWU was neutralised then, and the once dominant faction will be compensated by the likely elevation of Transport Minister Paul Lucas to the Deputy’s gig. Big Bill Ludwig may grumble from outside the tent, but that only underlines his irrelevance – one of Beattie’s little noticed achievements having been to tame his power and to groom a new generation of factional leaders under his own wing.

It will be interesting to see whether, as has long been rumoured, Bligh will announce that she is leaving her Left faction to become a non-aligned leader. Beattie, nominally a member of the old guard faction that was his historic enemy in the 1980s, was effectively non-aligned. Wayne Goss never joined the AWU. If Bligh does announce this move, it will be perceived as bold, and will disable much of the predictable carping from Opposition Leader Jeff Seeney. Julia Gillard will be watching closely.

In last year’s state election, Bligh was given nearly equal billing with Beattie. First elected to Parliament in 1995, Bligh, who presents well, and who is regarded as competent and popular, was a high-profile Education Minister for five years, presiding over major reforms to school education. Bligh’s own “education revolution” has been central to the “Smart State” strategy and has in fact given Rudd’s Labor many policy ideas. As Treasurer and Infrastructure Minister, she has easily deflected criticism from the weak state opposition.

In leaving office, Beattie also reinforces what he correctly identifies as his major contribution – the building of a “New Queensland” far closer to the Australian mainstream than “the Deep North” of yore. In doing so, he acts only to reinforce Labor’s “fresh” and young image, handing over the reigns to a talented and articulate 47-year-old politician. Bligh and Rudd are from the same generation. And they’re close, much closer than Beattie and Rudd. Coalition strategists should be even more worried about federal seats in Queensland then they were on Sunday.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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