Premier Anna Bligh, who was unanimously elected Queensland’s first female Premier by the Labor caucus this morning, will waste no time rolling back the council amalgamations championed by her predecessor Peter Beattie. But she will ditch parts of Beattie’s merger plan because of the electoral damage it threatens to cause Kevin Rudd in his home state.

There are 28 federal seats in Queensland, 21 of them held by the Coalition, one Independent and only six by Labor. The Rudd team is banking on the local hero winning an extra six seats in the Sunshine State to carry him to The Lodge but, on current estimates, Labor appears to have a good chance in just three of them.

Three months ago, Labor was on course to pick up significant gains in Queensland, largely due to voter antipathy to John Howard’s anti-union Work Choices legislation.

But in what can only be described as a policy brain snap, Beattie suddenly decided to crown his political career with a draconian attack on local government – reducing the number of councils from 156 to 72, cutting the number of elected councillors by 724 and creating mega-councils across regional Queensland.

Hadn’t he heard of the fierce hostility to a similar plan in Victoria which eventually led to the humiliating defeat of Jeff Kennett in 1999?

Under extreme pressure from the Rudd team, Beattie was forced to tone down his confrontational rhetoric as well as the more punitive parts of his council legislation, but the damage had been done: crowded local meetings are still calling Beattie a “bully” and a “dictator” and voters are being mobilized to take the first opportunity – the federal election – to give Labor a taste of their anger.

What happened next is unclear but the facts speak for themselves. Beattie brought forward his retirement saying he was taking the advice of his wife, Heather, delivered by her in a stage-managed Sunday newspaper article last weekend, and Anna Bligh was handed the crown with riding instructions to disentangle immediately the amalgamation mess.

Did Beattie jump or was he pushed? One source said it was a bit of both. Either way, he has done the right thing by “Ruddy” and improved Labor’s chances of winning those crucial extra seats in Queensland. For his services to the cause, he will be richly rewarded if Rudd wins. The role of ambassador beckons.