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Experienced, With Political Baggage

The political scene in Australia continues to amaze. We are ever closer to the motion to make the Liberal Party leadership positions vacant. That vote will come on Tuesday, or possibly Monday if a rumour doing the rounds is confirmed fact. And in Queensland we continue to witness the fallout from the extraordinary election result just one week ago. Peter Wellington has declared his hand and the ALP are ever closer to government – a situation barely even considered by anyone.

In the midst of negotiations between the two major political parties and Katter’s Australian Party, the LNP moved to elect a new leadership team.

This move was a necessity to give some clarity of direction and focus to the negotiations. A leaderless team cannot possibly be considered for office – especially one with multiple representatives seeking to put forward the case for the continuation of a LNP administration.

In any case that is likely a forlorn hope, even with the uncertainty of the Ferny Grove poll result. Negotiations should continue in good faith, but it seems the LNP may as well begin planning for the 2018 Queensland election. If anything has been learned in the last 5 years, it is that almost any opposition could find themselves in government. And those political parties may not even have to work hard for that privilege.

After a meeting lasting about three hours, the LNP Party Whip, Ted Sorensen, emerged from the caucus room to inform the waiting media and the public that the new leader was Lawrence Springborg and his deputy, John-Paul Langbroek.

Those who have kept up with Queensland politics in the 21st century, and the media today, will realise that the LNP have chosen to return two former leaders to the top two positions in the LNP caucus. On the face of it a good thing, but not necessarily.

In terms of the negotiations between cross-bench MP’s and the major parties, the new yet old leadership team is a sensible move. The Katter’s Australian Party MP’s have said this week that they are most comfortable negotiating with Lawrence Springborg. This is obviously a sign that he is one of the most rural-minded MP’s in the amalgamated Liberal National Party.

When speaking of the need for an experienced leadership team, it is also hard to go by a duo who have held the leadership three times between them. Contrast that with the ALP leader, Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has been the Opposition leader for three years. However, Lawrence Springborg is also experienced in electoral defeat, having led the coalition and subsequently the amalgamated LNP to three poll losses.

This kind of experience in leadership and electoral defeats means less in political terms for the party though, than the political journey of Mr Springborg and Mr Langbroek over the last three years. For the entire term Lawrence Springborg was in the troubled health portfolio, and John-Paul Langbroek the Education Minister. To put it simply, the ALP will have a fine time with this right up until the next election. The Health portfolio was an absolute disaster for the new LNP leader. And education policy was not without difficulty either.

It is entirely possible that a rush to impress the KAP team of two will backfire on the LNP, or at least provide some serious discomfort over the next 3 years.

What is needed now is a sustained disavowal of elements of the last three years. This has happened to a degree, including today. However, actions, including a mix of jettisoning some policy and tinkering with others would be a far better way for the LNP to begin regaining the electorate’s trust.

Ideally though, the LNP could have gone with a different leadership team. Two of the candidates touted – Scott Emerson and John McVeigh – might have been a safer option. Both Mr Emerson and Mr McVeigh have some ministerial experience, and therefore some guilt by association with the former LNP Government. On the other hand, they are far less politically compromised than the team which the partyroom voted for today. Transport and Agriculture were never the cause of mass angst during Campbell Newman’s time as Premier.

The reality is that the decision was made to go with two different candidates. Whether or not they are there in 2018 remains undetermined.

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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