Despite The Australian doing everything but issuing its own writs for a February election, no one other than Anna Bligh knows when during 2009 Queenslanders will go to the polls. But there’s alarm within LNP ranks at both the policy direction of the party and the lack of former Liberal Party members willing to assist in the campaign.

The electoral prospects for the Liberal Nationals are mixed at best. They are up against a tired and out-of-touch government, many of whose current and former MPs have records of bullying, harassment and stalking. With the collapse in commodity prices, Queensland is also facing a significant slump in mining royalties and tourism has been dire for months. However, the sheer scale of the economic crisis might shore up support for the Government, and unemployment remains relatively low — especially in Brisbane, the LNP’s weak spot — for now.

Greg Roberts picked up on policy concerns earlier this month in a revealing article on complaints about Lawrence Springborg’s small target strategy. It’s actually less a small target than a big Borg strategy. The party’s clunky website (six video feeds on the entry page?) tells anyone who might want to know what the policies of the alternative Queensland government are to click on over to the site of the former Nationals’ leader. This will tell you eight things you didn’t know about the Borg, but alarmingly, and perhaps tellingly, features an empty page under “Policies“.

Resistance is, in this case, not so much futile as poorly-informed.

Policies can be whistled up fairly quickly, if you’re not too particular. New, active members and quality candidates cannot. Party insiders say a number of preselections only attracted a single entrant. The party’s list of candidates reveals a large number of young candidates in their twenties and early thirties, not to mention 18-year-old Michael Palmer, who in a moment reminiscent of Blackadder’s “Pitt the Embryo” was pre-selected unopposed for the seat of Nudgee.

This is an impressive commitment to youth, but might worry voters looking for a bit of life experience in their political representatives. However, a senior party figure and former Liberal who opposed the merger has pointed out that the formation of the party did encourage some business people to overcome their qualms and get involved in pre-selections, albeit without quite understanding the Machiavellian environment they were getting into.

The LNP initially sent mixed messages about how appealing the new party was to the thousands of Queenslanders it reckoned were just waiting for the conservative side of politics to get its act together before joining. Insiders have told Crikey that the hoped-for influx of new members hasn’t occurred and many former Liberal party members are refusing to get involved in the new organisation, forcing LNP headquarters to repeatedly call for volunteers and plan to bus members from regional areas into metropolitan areas to man booths and hand out how-to-vote cards during the campaign. The loss is particularly heavy amongst older Liberals who did much of the work on the ground for the party. A senior former Liberal said Liberal members had deserted party meetings, leaving only Nationals, but they believe they’ll return during the campaign for the opportunity to help turf out Labor, especially if the local candidate is competitive.

Feet on the ground are a critical component of successful campaigning, and the LNP’s absent members will be especially missed in metropolitan and suburban seats that the party needs to win to have a chance of knocking off Labor. The LNP might be confident it can convince Queensland voters that it wasn’t a Nationals takeover of the Liberals, but it will have a lot more trouble convincing former Liberal members voting with their feet.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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