Ailing Queensland Premier Anna Bligh will be knifed before state parliament resumes in February and replaced with Attorney-General Cameron Dick, senior Queensland ALP sources say.
Speculation was swirling in government circles this morning that the powerful Queensland AWU faction is readying the numbers to neck Bligh, possibly in tandem with a special party conference spruiked by the Left to reverse the state’s privatisation debacle. It is believed the AWU would shift its numbers behind Dick on conference floor to force a leadership spill and the Left, if the privatisations were reversed, would go with them.
Crucially, the push for Dick is believed to have the support of deputy Premier Paul Lucas, who would retain his role under the new administration. A shift in Lucas’ loyalty would mean the other perennial leadership candidate, Treasurer Andrew Fraser from the rival Old Guard faction, would be forced to shift his support away from Bligh and back Dick.
Dick, the brother of former ALP power broker and state secretary Milton Dick and a leading member of the AWU, is highly regarded in Labor circles as a formidable operator untainted by the stench of corruption surrounding jailed former minister Gordon Nuttall.
“He’s got no ties to Nuttall, no ties to the Treasurer and he hasn’t screwed anything up”, one source told Crikey.
Under the terms of her axing, Bligh would be expected to take up a job on the federal payroll — possibly with Kevin Rudd’s inner circle.
Crikey understands that internal dissent has reached boiling point following last month’s appointment of Nicole Scurrah as Bligh’s chief of staff, who, as a policy-based economics adviser was accused of “not knowing where the bodies are buried”. The mass confusion over a successor in the days following her predecessor Mike Kaiser’s resignation was believed to be the result of pressure from the factions to appoint rival deputy Stephen Beckett instead.
Bligh continues to be trounced in the polls, which indicate a 5% swing against the government. If repeated at the 2012 state election, the trend would deliver at least 19 seats to the opposition Liberal-National Party. Her personal handling of the privatisation debate is also under fire with voters rating her the least popular premier in 20 years. Bligh’s only saving grace has been the invisibility of opposition leader John-Paul Langbroek, who has struggled to connect with voters.
Public dissent among state MPs over privatisation has so far been muted but Crikey understands that Member for Rockhampton Robert Schwarten is privately livid over the Queensland Rail sell-off that has led to angry protests in the heart of his electorate. Bligh’s switch to 99 and 50 year leases rather than an outright sale has been portrayed as a hamfisted attempt to retain support.
Instead, many MPs are believed to be pondering “what would Beattie do” as they reminisce over the charm offensives conducted by the former premier whenever he sniffed unrest in the electorate.
“Peter would have sniffed the breeze, embarked on a listening tour and returned to Brisbane with a workable compromise. Anna has just rammed this through”, one insider told Crikey. Last week, a Transport Workers Union official suggested the former Premier could become a comeback kid in the event of a Bligh implosion.
A complicating factor for the Left is the problem of knifing one of their own, and if they did, negotiating an acceptable chop out. The position of ALP assistant secretary and Bligh loyalist Jackie Trad is believed to be crucial to setting the plan in motion. Dick’s stability has been questioned among the Left with fears he may fail to hold his seat of Greenslopes in 2012 if the electorate continues to turn against Labor.
Meanwhile, a fringe possibility is the ascension of Grace Grace, the Member for Brisbane Central, who is believed to be well-regarded among all three factions. Grace, who was handpicked by former Premier Beattie to succeed him in his former seat, is a former head of the Queensland Council of Unions and has avoided the opprobrium of serving in Bligh’s cabinet. She is close to Queensland AWU king maker Bill Ludwig.
The other potential candidate, speaker John Mickel, has also escaped the furore around Bligh but would probably struggle to secure the support of the factions internally in caucus.