The Peter Dutton fiasco is evidence of many things — silliness most of all. But it is also the bitter fruit of having chosen short-term expediency over long-term considerations for an increasingly embattled Liberal Party.
Dutton, the former Queensland policeman, has a touch of star quality about him and in some ways he is a Liberal Paul Keating in the making — political savvy, a fine sense of the exposed jugular and a good turn of passion.
One might have thought that the party, not overly endowed with talent, would have looked after him in small ways such as knocking the rough edges off his walloper’s diction but also in bigger ways such as ensuring he has a political future.
The hasty marriage of the Liberals and the Nationals in Queensland was all about the last state election, already run and lost. It truly beggars belief that in the scramble for merger no thought at all was given to issues such as federal pre-selections, and the Queensland Liberals have emerged from the process so far with nothing to show and still much to lose.
It says little for their collective political nous that they comprehensively failed to recognise that the Queensland Nationals have always been state focused, even to the extent of dishing out on the federal party when it suits them. Have the Liberals already forgotten Joh for PM?
Just where they go now is a real problem. Any attempt to try to force out a member in a safer seat will trigger a civil war among Liberals while any move to seek to shift a sitting member into the Senate will draw fire from the old Nats who want to look after their own.
A cynic may argue that if Dutton is as good as people say he is then it should not be beyond him to retain Dickson despite an unfavourable redistribution. If he stays and fights — and this would happen only if another avenue was not found — then Labor would have a field day campaigning against his lack of commitment to the electorate.
Are the Liberals still being led by the nose by the old Nats in Queensland? One must wonder who in the party was advising Dutton to throw his hat into the ring on the Gold Coast when the local party had stitched up the numbers anyway (and, by the look of it, come up with a strong and attractive candidate). It wasn’t all that long ago that another Liberal star, former Brisbane lord mayor Sallyanne Atkinson, was humiliated in the same seat after being branded a blow-in.
It is shameful that a professional political party can allow one of its own top performers to be humiliated in such a way. Or, perhaps, it is simply incompetence.