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Spilling the Blood in the Nicest Possible Way

Things are hotting up on the Liberal leadership front. The backgrounding from disgruntled PM’s has now morphed into spectacularly public dissent.

Public statements from Abbott Government MP’s about Tony Abbott’s leadership began in a very dramatic fashion with Jane Prentice on the national broadcaster. And again today the ABC played host to an even more dramatic statement – Dennis Jensen revealed he had told Tony Abbott that he could no longer support his leadership. Throw in Warren Entsch calling for the issue to be resolved in the partyroom next week and Mal Brough giving qualified support for the leader and you have the beginnings of a very messy situation.

Australia has seen a lot of leadership change in the last 5 years. Governments have fallen and governments have imploded, with leadership contests becoming more common. Matters look certain to come to a head in the near future within the Liberal Party.

Because of the certainty of the impending events, some care must be taken that the party deals with this difficult situation in the least ugly way possible. The Liberals need to learn from lessons of the past and make the move as seamlessly as possible. That will probably be easier said than done.

The best option is no challenge at all. That does not mean that the situation should continue as is. That would be among the worst outcomes. Poll results of 57%-43% in the Labor Party’s favour would become the new norm. The no-challenge option means the Prime Minister resigning in the face of growing discontent among members of caucus. Given the Prime Minister’s defiance and rhetoric at the National Press Club on Monday, this is also the least likely eventuality. So the party will have to navigate the next best way forward.

Another terrible option would be waiting too long before a challenge or transition. The Coalition Government would be even further paralysed by the inability to perform the basic functions of government – much like the ALP were in the period between 2010 and 2013. The present situation should be resolved within a matter of days or weeks and definitely not months. The new leader needs more than a year to get people listening again.

In an ideal world, one leadership contest or a single transition to a new Prime Minister would make the best of a bad situation. That means going about the process in a particular way.

In the event of a leadership contest, all candidates should publicly pledge to leave politics – like Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd did in the last leadership spill of 2013 – if they lose the battle. But instead of pledging to leave politics at the next election which is about 18 months away, the losing candidate or candidates should pledge to leave politics immediately, forcing a by-election. This option might cause some voters to be a little angry in the short-term, but it would be the best way project an air of stability in the medium to long-term.

Even more important than the ease of the transition is the shift in policy and rhetoric. This has already commenced, though barely, under Tony Abbott, but needs to go further under his replacement. The party must realise that the the products need to be re-designed and the sales pitch altered. A fresh team in the problematic treasury, health, education and social services portfolios would help sell the message of change.

Tony Abbott and the Coalition face some difficult days and weeks ahead. But this issue needs a resolution and that solution has to lead to the best medium and long-term outcomes for the party. Egos cannot get in the way or the Liberal Party leadership issue will fester. And that is what really cooked the Australian Labor Party.

Just how quickly these events will reach a crescendo is yet to be determined. But this situation can be controlled and managed better than it has been so far.

Cooler heads must prevail.

Queensland Helps Break the Political Mould

In the world of politics there is a lot of talk about different eras. In most countries politics is referred to in terms of pre and post-war eras. In Australia we talk about pre and post war politics and even post-1975 Australia. And in the United States of America there is also discussion of a post-war era. Today in Australia, we can fairly comfortably talk of there being a post-2010 age of politics.

The Newman Government – and Campbell Newman himself – dramatically lost power in Queensland in what has to be one of the biggest shock results in politics, even eclipsing the hung parliament outcome in federal politics in 2010. To put it simply – nobody saw this coming, surely even the Australian Labor Party in Queensland.

A number of people argued after the Victorian election earlier this year and the hung parliament in 2010, that one-term governments could be the big new possibility in Australian politics. It was far from certain that it could be a new feature of Australian democracy on a semi-regular basis back when Daniel Andrews became Premier, but now it seems it can be seen that way. Barring drastic change in the fortunes of the federal coalition, it seems the Abbott Government will be a one term government.

The questions that will be asked a lot over the coming days and weeks are ‘what happened? And how/why did it happen?’. Without a doubt there were multiple factors, including things the LNP had control over and that they did not.

By far the biggest factor which the outgoing government in Queensland could control but failed to was how they governed the state. Campbell Newman and the LNP governed with an arrogance, surely in large part fuelled by the whopping majority handed to them by voters in 2012.But they also began governing without listening to voters. It is one of the simplest rules in democratic politics that you must listen to the public.

Even in conservative Queensland, it is hard to deny the fact that federal politics played a role. A number of state and federal Coalition MP’s admitted as much, including Jane Prentice in a most dramatic fashion on the ABC election night broadcast. Long gone is the time when you could safely say that federal issues had little or no bearing on state results. In this space, it has come very quickly to a point in time when most people are asking when Tony Abbott will lose his job as Prime Minister rather than if he will.

The assets question is an interesting one. It is a question that was put to Queensland voters by the LNP Government a while back and one the LNP thought they could build a case for on the back of deciding to lease some assets rather than sell them. However it seems that polling indicated it was one of the big issues on the minds’ of the voting public.

The cuts made by the LNP at the beginning of their tenure surely played a role in the devastating result too. Voters knew that the LNP had to make cuts and they always have to after a long-term Labor Government. It was the terrible and shady way this issue was dealt with which would have really annoyed the people of Queensland.

It is hard to argue that the ALP won this campaign, and therefore government. The whole campaign it felt like they were going through the motions. It was quite obvious that the only goal many in the party saw achievable was knocking over Campbell Newman in Ashgrove. To put it quite simply it was the LNP who lost government. They did so through a series of politically stupid decisions.

The LNP have to make some difficult choices now in order to become electable again in three years’ time. They have to pick a new leader and really think about which issues to keep on fighting on in the usual way and those where they need to have a different perspective.

In terms of the leadership question, it looks reasonably likely that the Liberal National Party will finally turn to Tim Nicholls. As far as experience in a key economic portfolio goes, he looks like the ideal candidate to replace Campbell Newman. The trouble with his candidacy will be the question of whether or not he is viewed by the public as damaged goods having been the Treasurer for Campbell Newman.

The LNP would really want to think long and hard about this very important consideration. The issue with John-Paul Langbroek and Lawrence Springborg, other than their ministerial association with the former government, will be their failed attempts at the party leadership in the past. However, working in their favour is the example of John Howard.

There is one other contender thrown up in the leadership equation, and that is Scott Emerson, the former Transport Minister. There is the ministerial association with the outgoing administration, however he has not been as heavily linked with a string of tough decisions as the other candidates have been. Mr Emerson would also be a lacklustre choice, but then so was Annastacia Palaszczuk and she will become the new Premier.

There are not a lot of certainties in Australian politics anymore. We will have to keep watching intently to see what else may happen and just what is possible the next time Queensland heads to the polls.

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