Not since the fall of Victoria’s Kennett government in 1999 have we seen the prospect of a shock election defeat quite like what Queenslanders increasingly appear likely to deliver on Saturday.

Today’s Courier-Mail is certainly playing up the prospect of such a result with some damning coverage of Campbell Newman’s refusal to answer questions yesterday alongside this excoriating piece by academic Paul Williams listing a raft of LNP campaign blunders.

Shock jock Alan Jones was certainly not holding back this morning as he continued flogging the Newman government despite copping this 35-page Supreme Court defamation writ from the Premier and his deputy Jeff Seeney last Thursday.

Williams wrote today that the defamation writ was a blunder, as it drew attention to the allegations and highlighted Newman’s “glass jaw”.

One thing’s for sure: if the Newman government loses, Jones’ reputation for political brutality and impact will be enhanced no end, even if he has blown up a lot of lifelong conservative mates along the way.

The Newman government approach seems to be akin to a legal blitzkrieg against Fairfax and The Parrot, with Jones today claiming “every minister who has a phone number to call a lawyer is suing me”.

If the defamation cases ever went to court, the damages would presumably be larger if the LNP were defeated at the election and what Jones today dubbed the “gang of five” ministers suing could prove Jones’ key allegations to be false.

There is no doubt that Jones has been completely over the top with his language and some of the issues he has raised in an attempt to bring down the government. However, the size of the New Hope donations and the failure to deny the visit to Jones’ home has meant that the defamation writ hasn’t had the desired effect of shutting down debate on the issue. The reverse has occurred.

Newman has failed to articulate why he has changed his mind on the Acland coal mine expansion, or what environmental safeguards have been put in place. Then you have yesterday’s complete refusal to answer any questions on issues other than the economy.

Not since Jeff Kennett banned all political debate between his MPs and their Labor opponents during the 1999 Victorian campaign have we seen free speech and the actions of journalists so central to a state campaign.

Unlike Campbell Newman, Jeff Kennett participates freely in debate on Twitter these days, and he’s been hopping into both Bruce Guthrie and myself on this question of politicians using legal routes to pressure journalists, including these two pearlers:

Ironically, it was a failed Kennett defamation action against The Australian in 1999 that led to a big drop in the number of politicians who sued.

This was partly because Kennett funded the action himself and faced financial hardship after losing the case, but he was fortunate News Corp didn’t go him aggressively for costs.

Bob Hawke was Australia’s most successful political defamation plaintiff, securing more than $3 million in tax-free settlements during his period as prime minister.

Not one of those actions ever went to court, which doesn’t reflect well on the various media organisations that folded meekly with confidential settlements.

Radio station 4BC and Fairfax will probably end up settling with the various LNP figures taking action and you’d hope that Jones himself would make a contribution to any payment negotiated.

However, the fate of the action will very much depend on what happens next Saturday. If Campbell Newman remains Premier, it could run for years. But if the LNP is consigned to opposition, it is hard to see the party running a long and expensive action on behalf of some defeated MPs.

However, if the defeated ministers are bitter enough and have material personal assets, individuals could very well box on for years to try to clear their names and exact revenge.

One final issue: who would receive any settlement funds? If the LNP is funding the action, then it should certainly have all its legal costs covered before any of its representatives pocket tax-free payments from Fairfax and Alan Jones.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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