25 March 2012

The work to be done in Queensland

There are two aspects to the Queensland state election: the LNP has won it and the ALP has lost (and as usual, my predictions sucked). There is a lot of silly commentary about the Federal implications, with Coalition people dressing up their best-case scenario as "pragmatic reality" to the point where journalists accept it as a real story, and it's time to have a long hard look at that.

The size of the LNP margin puts such high expectations on them that they will be unable to meet them.

In many Asian countries, the government is less than transparent and accountable when it comes to awarding tenders for major infrastructure projects. In return, they insist those projects delivered to specification, and stay within time and budget constraints. In Australia, government can be less than transparent and accountable when it comes to awarding tenders for major infrastructure projects at times, but almost always those projects regularly suffer from time and budget blowouts, and the companies involved retreat and let the relevant minister or head of government cop all the flak. If you're going to get schmoozed by a big company and do them a billion-dollar favour, surely you'd insist on absolute rigour in terms of reporting and no excuses for failure. Expecting that all state government infrastructure projects in Queensland will be models of probity and lessons in how to manage a large-scale project effectively is probably, if you pardon the expression, a bridge too far.

The fact that the CMC cleared Campbell Newman of misconduct allegations surrounding property deals (or at least recommended they be referred to the Ombudsman) should mean that the LNP is especially vigilant in steering clear of any and all perceptions of corruption. Look, it might work, but you have to be prepared for the possibility that it might not.

To give one example: Queensland needs a better health care system. The Bligh government concentrated on building capital equipment, albeit from a depleted base, to look like they were doing plenty when they weren't doing enough. They got the rewards that governments get when they privilege capital expenditure over operational, which is: thanks for the new gear, now rack off! A focus on capital expenditure is designed to treat people like shallow yokels who are meant to be overawed by the $millions attached to such projects. Those who propose such projects tend to believe their own publicity after a while, and wonder what "the punters" could possibly want more than a shiny new building worth $millions, catching themselves in their own shallow-yokel trap. Newman is going to lead a new government trying new things, and he's going to be transparent? Yeah, right:
The LNP knows that good economic management and careful planning can deliver health services on time and on budget.
Where's the proof that it can deliver "good economic management"?
... and less beds than originally promised.
Even though this is Queenslanders writing for Queenslanders, it's still fewer, not less. If you focus on this "accountability" too much you have health care professionals spending all their time answering to snippy auditors and spinners. This might not be that different to what they do already.

The LNP has won 44 seats. There are 89 seats in the Parliament. Add to that other MPs who didn't contest this election and were replaced by a member of the same party, and new members such as the Katterites, and you've got a Parliament where a majority of members - including the Premier - doesn't know their way around the details of Parliament and government. Basically, the LNP will need to run the perfect government in terms of delivery and probity, in order to match the high expectations reflected in last night's vote. No stumbling new ministers, no new MP who have dodged the kind of scrutiny that felled two candidates for Broadbeach but who may yet slip up.

It will also need to run a perfect government in order to carry the dead weight of their Federal counterparts, and Misha Schubert:
Coalition strategists say Labor would be "massacred" in Queensland if Gillard were forced to head to the polls soon. Of its eight seats north of the Tweed, they think Labor will be lucky to hold just three ... Griffith might fall too if Kevin Rudd does not recontest.
Here is the wolf of one party's wishful thinking dressed up as the sheep of pragmatism. On what basis would the Federal government be "forced" to the polls? Would Tony Windsor wake up one day and suddenly regard Abbott as a man of substance and discernment? Is Craig Thomson finally going to fall over (and is Dave Mehan really going to be unable to fend off whatever deadweight the NSW Liberals foists upon Dobell?)? It's a weak premise on which to hang a story. Besides, all those Liberal wannabe strategists seem to overlook the vote-repelling presence of 'Stinky' Gambaro in Brisbane.

Campbell Newman is not Tony Abbott. Newman has made some mistakes but he's a far better man than Abbott and he appears to actually like and respect women, in general rather than in particular. Newman has a record of achievement in his own right whereas everything Abbott has done has been under the close but paternally indulgent supervision of Fr Emmett Costello, Trevor Kennedy or John Howard. By the time of the next Federal election:
  • Newman and the LNP will have lost some of the best wishes and benefit-of-the-doubt it has today. It may not necessarily have lost all credibility whatsoever, but it will be a bit more shopworn than it is today; and
  • Gillard will have a greater record of achievement than she has already; and
  • Abbott and "Liberal strategists" will still be looking for that one knockout blow that obliterates all of Gillard's patient work.
The Queensland result looks to confirm the Federal Coalition in its policy inertia, which may be no bad thing.

Katter has arrived. He would have been embarrassed with no seats, but two seats is a start without the flash-in-the-pan aspect of Hanson's 11 in 1998. Katter took almost all the swing against Labor in regional Queensland. They'd have to be a strong chance for a Senate seat at the Federal election. In other states:
  • The WA Nationals seem to do what Katter is doing already;
  • Katter has a real ability to take votes from the Nationals and Liberals in rural NSW, particularly if he wades in to the Murray-Darling dispute;
  • He could do well in Tasmania as the anti-Green, attractive to disenchanted Labor voters who can't go all the way to the Liberals;
  • He could split the CLP in the NT, just as Labor is on the ropes there with its inadequate response to the Federal intervention; and
  • In other states he could be interesting.
By the way, a big raspberry to all those "professional" journalists who insist that Queensland Labor has been decimated. It hasn't. "Decimation" means a substantial reduction, and comes from a practice inflicted on the Roman Army by its own ranks as a disciplinary measure. What happened to Queensland Labor was far more than mere decimation, and it wasn't inflicted by their own ranks.

Anna Bligh faces the prospect of spending every day for the next year getting hammered by the new government, now wonder she wants to get out as soon as possible. The problem is that she is going to be replaced by one of the dauphins whom the LNP rightly targeted, who will have (like the Bourbon monarchs of France) learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

If Cameron Dick or Andrew Fraser or [insert other name of a recently defeated Queensland Labor MP who is a real loss to public life here] was really all that, have them teach a class or practice law for underprivileged people or something like that - not as a one-off media stunt but as a job that needs to be done, regardless of who's in state government and what they're doing with it. However convenient it may be to shun them into a political staffer job or something with a union, it would be counterproductive for Labor over the long term. Even in a caucus of seven or eight, if Annastacia Palaszczuk (pronounced palla-shay, apparently) becomes leader the media scrutiny on he new government will become distracted by phantom stories of the dauphin in South Brisbane maneuvering against Palaszczuk.

Last night Bligh was gracious in accepting defeat. It wasn't the time for coulda-shoulda-woulda but Labor does need to face up to why it lost. Assuming Newman will be incompetent and corrupt is a recipe for 20 years in Opposition. The dauphins are the answer to the wrong question. Gillard faces different challenges but is not prevented from getting out there and communicating what she's doing, and what Abbott isn't doing; she is not shackled to the corpse of the Bligh government by any means, and nor should she cringe before the phantom of the essentially dysfunctional LNP rolling over her.


  1. I had to laugh - and then cry - as the ABC also went with the 'if these results happened federally etc and so on' line.

    Yeah and if an elephant falls on Can Do's head he'll be squashed.

    Both are kinda interesting to talk about and both are unlikely to happen, yet one of them is actually discussed by people who expect to be taken seriously. Funny old world.

    And now to that long-running rumour about Bligh being prepared for the federal seat of Griffith ...

  2. "Basically, the LNP will need to run the perfect government .. in order to match the high expectations reflected in last night's vote. No stumbling new ministers.."

    Why? Lord knows the O'Farrell government in NSW hasn't been anything remotely like "the perfect government", and I'm yet to see any sign that anyone cares, especially in the complete absence of anyone in the media telling them that perhaps they should care.

    1. I said they'd need to do that in order to maintain their levels of support and carry their lazy Federal colleagues with them.

    2. Ah, fair enough, I thought you just meant in order to satisfy the people who voted for them.

  3. Queensland another country politically. Must be the weather. Like US south they go for strong, decisive, plainspeaking leaders who can kick the heads off opponents and don't take them, the voters, for mugs. If the leaders live up to expects, voters can't be bothered diselecting them, hence long terms. But when roused, they show no mercy. They gave Bligh a go, but when discovered she'd lied to them about fuel subs and asset sales she was g.a.w.n. Ditto Gillard will be g.a.w.n for same reason. Federally Keating was gawn in Qld after 1993 budget, and Howard after workchoices for the same "us mugs?" reason. But of course there are no federal issues to be seen in southern fantasyland.

    All this has been very obvious since 2009 in Bligh's case and 2011 in Gillard's, but southerners don't seem to get Queensland at all.

    btw - The only time (apart from floods) Queenslanders started giving Bligh points again was when she began sliming Newman, Mrs Newman, his distinguished father in law and so on. They are accustomed to "real" leaders being nasty, shameless and ruthless in the trenches. Again, must be the weather. Or maybe the annual cyclones.

    Note to Labor strategists filing Slime campaign material for use against Tones, child care director Mrs Tones, hot daughters of Tones etc: Never let Gillard confess she has no evidence and ensure she maintains stridently to end of campaign that all is about to be forwarded to AFP "any day now."

  4. As you say, Andrew, your predictions are often out.
    1. Andrew Fraser almost immediately stated he didn't want to be the bunny to be run over by an electorate with the smell of grapeshot still in their nostrils.
    2. Not one of the other recently removed former Ministers has been vain and ill-advised enough to put up their hands for the seat. One imagines that the Labor Party are smart enough to have taken note of the LNP practice of retaining defeated candidates to go around again the next time & the time after that in the same seat, as the State government becomes shop-worn, slowly picking up seats here and there until the election which brings them back into power. Then they have a ready supply of experienced MPs to draw upon(if it doesn't take 15-20 years for them to get back in again, of course!). In the meantime they can get the regular jobs you speak of & find time for local community groups etc. That is, if they are still interested in coming back. If not, they can mentor someone new.
    3. Biggest mistake was not believing that the Labor Party would choose a local to run for Anna Bligh's seat. Albeit a high-profile local in Mrs Beattie, but at least a local.
    4. Final mistaken assumption is stating that Dave Mehan will be the next ALP candidate for Dobell, after Craig Thomson. Can't divulge who it may well be, but I will just say that a local small businessman and defector from the Liberal Party might instead be the go. Which is the sort of smart politics that I have been encouraging from the party for too long now, but maybe after the NSW and Queensland losses, that message might finally be starting to get through. Poach from the other side's hard won demographics,as the Coalition are doing now to Labor. Hope so. No one wants a One Party Nation(or should that be a One Nation Party government?) under Tony Abbott & the State parliaments bent to his will. Democracy demands nothing less than an effective Opposition. Which does not mean a man with a Blunderbuss for a mouth,such as we have now.

  5. I still haven't been able to find, as an outsider, an explanation _why_ Labor was so much on the nose in Queensland. The economy there seems to be going ok. Unemployment is %5.5, about the same as the rest of the country. The angst about the broken promises about asset sales - wasn't the electorate listening to Howard's "never ever" or Abbott's "don't believe me if it's not in writing"? Yes they had problems in their health system, but doesn't everybody?

    It appears that Bligh got something very wrong politically, but what?

    Anyone able to enlighten me?

    1. This is the best I've seen: http://blogs.crikey.com.au/pollbludger/2012/03/26/the-hole-where-queensland-labor-used-to-be/

    2. Thanks Andrew, the Pollbludger article is excellent and then some. I'm starting to make headway!

  6. Forgive my ignorance, but do they have much of a platform to actually do things, or is it more to 'undo' Labor changes. In my opinion, the latter is somewhat easier than the former...

  7. Firstly, thank you for pointing out that "decimated" is an incorrect term for what has happened, it's just irritating when so called professionals use a word because it sounds dramatic, regardless of appropriateness.

    I suspect if I was Mr Newman I'd be a little peeved with Mr Abbotts press ramblings post election. According to Abbott the QLD result was a protest about the carbon tax, or maybe the MRRT, or just against the Gillard government as a whole. Yep, Mr Newman and co shouldn't take any credit for the result at all, it was all about Federal politics. I suppose Mr Abbott just likes basking in the glow of success, even if it is a reflection of someone else's hard work. Heaven knows, he's got few successes of his own to bask in.

  8. I think dropping a fuel subsidy of eight cents a litre together with privatizing stuff you said you wouldn't was never going to help. That sealed the loss. And the Debnam-like attack by Bligh on Newman sealed The margin.

  9. I'm pretty sure that a guy with a wife and 3 daughters doesn't really have a "Women" problem. Besides the fact he was 50-50 wth Women in an essential poll 2 weeks back.

    1. "Pretty sure" based on what?

    2. I think a man that can say (on QandA a couple of years ago) that if abortion was legal 'more women would go out and have one', and can use the phrase 'No doesn't always mean no' during sneering electioneering - has a 'woman problem'.

      I get that this is not especially relevant to the topic of the post though.

  10. > "If Cameron Dick or Andrew Fraser or [insert other name of a recently defeated Queensland Labor MP who is a real loss to public life here] was really all that, have them teach a class or practice law for underprivileged people or something like that..."

    Can't speak for Wonderboy but Dick spent several years of his later twenties as a volunteer in Tuvalu for Australian Volunteers Abroad.

  11. Similar to`Anonymous Mar 25, 2012 03:57 PM`, I too saw the ABC herd-think on breakfastnews, that the Queensland thumping would be repeated in the next Federal poll, which left me ROFLing. --- I seem to remember the embedded media saying that an `ocean-of-green` would hit the state after the 2010 federal poll, that didn`t happen. (vic/nsw-??) --- They seem to be so quick to run crap in a sloganistic way, without any explainer of substance for the crap. Nice post Andrew, and I really wish the embedded media would ask themselves some of the questions, (you clearly ask to yourself for your posts,) for their own so-called reports. -- Bligh`s thumping does not automatically transfer to Mr-Rabbit Love!

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