Queensland bookmakers are not only taking bets on Premier Campbell Newman losing his Brisbane seat at the next election — now they are laying odds on who will replace him as premier.
The latest polling in Newman’s well-heeled Ashgrove constituency shows that he is still trailing Labor’s Kate Jones, who is making a comeback after losing the seat in 2012.
She is on 52.2% and the Premier is on 41.1%, with the gap widening since Newman delivered an apology for his government’s “mistakes” and began a charm offensive through the Murdoch-owned Courier-Mail, the only daily newspaper publisher in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Townsville and Cairns.
As an example, the most recent Brisbane Sunday-Mail trumpeted: “Newman’s plan to slash power bills — EXCLUSIVE” (page 1); “Zapped — Power prices sliced” (page 2); and “Power cost cut” (page 3).
Driving through the streets of Ashgrove is like entering a special investment zone where money is no object in delivering goodies to local residents.
Since it dawned on the former Brisbane lord mayor that his popularity had imploded, Newman’s government has spent an estimated $80 million in Ashgrove to rebuild his approval rating. More than $65 million on an upgrade of a critical intersection, new classrooms ($3 million), a sports hall ($ 5 million), $8322 for a new kitchen for the Boy Scouts and $6160 for a local Italian festival — the list goes on. Local media reports have estimated the spending spree was worth, so far, about $2500 per voter.
Queenslanders who thought that former premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was King of the Pork Barrel are now having second thoughts.
If the Liberal National Party wins the election but Newman loses his seat, the favourite to take the premiership is current Treasurer Tim Nicholls, a silvertail Tory from socially exclusive Clayfield. The bookies must be reading from an unusual form guide; after Newman, the most reviled politician in the Banana State would have to be Nicholls.
His political ineptitude was on display recently when he announced that privatisation was off the LNP’s agenda. Instead, state enterprises would be leased to the private sector for up to 99 years. The cheers from the Murdoch press were drowned out by loud groans and slow hand-clapping by voters across the state.
If Newman, a former army major nicknamed “Noddy”, is sacked by voters in his electorate, the one LNP politician capable of rescuing the administration is Health Minister Lawrence Springborg, currently available at the succulent odds of 7-1. He entered Parliament in 1989 at the age of 21, and at 46, he will soon become the “father of the house”. Springborg was the key player in bringing together the Nationals and Liberals to form the LNP.
But among LNP heavyweights in the lounge room of the Brisbane Club, Springborg is considered “yesterday’s man”, and he remains in the doghouse for leading the conservatives to two election defeats in 2004 and 2006.
If the premiership does fall vacant because Newman is tossed out of his electorate, the LNP will not only be leaderless but rudderless as well, with no coherent plan for the economy, investment or jobs.
With Victoria going to the polls on November 29 this year, and New South Wales on March 28, 2015, Newman is being squeezed to find a date to call an election before Queensland’s deadline of June 20 next year. With all three elections bound to show sharp swings against the Coalition, Newman doesn’t want to go down the gurgler in an electoral backlash against the LNP along the eastern seaboard.
He is attempting to change course, present a “softer” image and buy his way back, a strategy that doesn’t appear to be working. Indeed, it may be repelling more voters than it is attracting.