Following the Campbell Newman shenanigans in the LNP on Tuesday (described by many commentators as a “courageous” gambit, presumably in the Sir Humphrey sense), Anna Bligh certainly sounded not unreceptive to the idea of an early state election on the state edition of 7.30 on Tuesday night. The Premier has been developing her theme that an unrepresentative and unelected party machine outside Parliament has created the conditions for a farce within the House, and seriously undermined Westminster democracy. She’s also been reiterating her claim that Newman is driven by ambition alone, leaving the Brisbane flood recovery when his constituents would most expect leadership.

As anticipated, yesterday’s question time was rowdy.

Less widely commented on was the fact that Maroochydore MP and LNP frontbencher, Fiona Simpson, challenged Jeff Seeney for the “caretaker” role of Leader of the Opposition, and it’s said received 13 votes in the party room of 32. Another report on the background to the Newman coup confirms my suspicion, expressed on Tuesday, that the push was orchestrated by a combination of ex-Santoro faction Liberals around Tim Nicholls and the extreme hick faction of the ex-Nats, including Seeney himself.

The question for the Premier is whether she moves quickly to capitalise on the disunity and disarray of the LNP, or waits for the tensions between the supposedly complementary roles of Seeney as “interim opposition leader” and Newman as “election team leader” to become entrenched. There is a chance that the LNP may be able to simultaneously create an impression of chaos in Parliament and allow Newman to appear apolitical and “presidential” outside. His “can-do” Brisbane City Council campaigns, after all, always heavily played down his partisan affiliation.

Then there is the factor that, while the LNP may claim they are ready to fight a state election at any time, it’s highly unlikely that Newman has done much groundwork in Ashgrove. (And it’s interesting to observe LNP “insiders” being quoted as saying he declined to run for the more marginal Brisbane Central, held by Grace Grace, in which he actually lives, because his decisions on the structure of rates on apartments and other controversial local issues make him a toxic candidate there).

Labor may also wish to go to the polls before a state budget that is widely anticipated to be difficult. Floods aside, there are stories all round the public service of claw backs of funding imposed before the end of this financial year, and little room to move in funding election goodies. Having Graham Quirk in his infancy as Newman’s replacement as lord mayor may also highlight the implications of Newman’s desertion. It’s interesting, too, that Newman’s first impulse as a state leader is to talk about transport issues. Many Brisbane residents would be hard pressed to associate him with anything else other than tunnels, and the LNP is still widely regarded as a policy free zone in the state arena.

If Labor does decide to fire the starting gun, May 7 might be the date. It’s the first Saturday after school and university holidays and long weekends, which would leave enough time for a campaign.

Update: And Newspoll comes in with a three-month aggregate poll showing Labor ahead 52-48 on the 2PP in Queensland.

*This first appeared on Larvatus Prodeo, an Australian group blog that discusses politics, sociology, culture, life, religion and science from a left of centre perspective.

Peter Fray

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