The Queensland election about to be held on the weekend holds more interest and twists than an episode of Game of Thrones. There’s a number of plot questions to be answered:
– Is Campbell Newman’s Government so bad that it could lose after just one term?
– How shocked a look can be maintained from a Labor Opposition that had just 7 seats after the last election?
– Can the LNP have the win win of getting back into power, but be rid of their “Can’t Do Popularity” figurehead?
– If so, will there be a new Queensland Spring(borg)?
– How excited will Antony Green get with the swing calculator tool?
Tony Abbott, the noticeable absentee from the Queensland campaign, may still have cast more than just a pebble into the pond of Newman’s chances with his barking mad reactionary Sir Prince Philip moment (about which, my favourite article has been the one by Guy Rundle in Crikey). As a result of his schoolboy love affair with British royalty, the former director of Australians for Constitutional Monarchy has given extra reason for Queenslanders to be miffed with the Liberal National Party brand. Yes, I know people should vote on state issues – and there’s plenty to dislike with Newman’s slash and burn, favour the rich neo-Bjelke Petersen administration. There are those, however, for whom state and federal blur into one. Therein could lay a problem for Abbott.
Queensland’s newer and older Liberal members will most likely be out and about this week, trying to not be associated with Abbott but still helping out. Voters on their way to booths may well recognise their local Federal MP and give them an ear bashing about what screws are going loose in Canberra. These won’t be people obsessively watching the News Limited hunt for Peta Credlin’s head – they won’t be the ones who think Canberra is just an extended episode of The West Wing, where what staffers do is all important. (This sentiment was one well encapsulated by Bill Shorten talking about the anti – Credlin campaign – “This is not some episode of The West Wing where you attribute everything to the staffers”.) These voters will be ones concerned about the Abbott Government’s ability to deliver anything positive.
Where these messages from voters may get interesting is in what the Federal MPs take back to Canberra. The ones in the more marginal seats may well take back to Canberra the same kind of panic David Bradbury took back to Canberra back in June 2010. Bradbury, people may remember, was out and about campaigning in the weeks before the disastrous Penrith state by-election of June 19 (in a curious side note, David Leyonjhelm was a candidate in that election for the “Outdoor Recreation Party’). The 25% swing against the ALP should have been sheeted home exclusively to an electorate punishing an MP for misusing public funds and forcing a by-election, as well as a state government well on the nose rather than anything happening in Canberra. While Bradbury did mention state issues as being the chief issue for the loss, he also mentioned in the party room upon his return that asylum seekers was “hitting him hard”, one of the many concerns expressed by MPs that were mentioned in the Peter Hartcher / Philip Coorey piece that came just before Rudd was pushed out of office. It is hard to imagine that Queensland MPs coming back from their electorates won’t have messages about Abbott’s personal flaws ringing in their ears, ready to be delivered to colleagues and the party room.
Not only does Abbott have the fallout to weather from Queensland in the party room meeting next week, there’s also the matter of his National Press Club address to come on the heels of that on Feburary 2. What normally could be seen as a bland speech / question session to most people now takes on another dimension as Abbott is not only forced to make a speech about what is to be done, but may face real questions from those in the audience about his abilities to lead and consult. Now is the time that he can’t be allowed to just blame Labor, he will hopefully be forced to stand by his own failings. Ordinarily, such a performance at the NPC should not have any impact on a PMs ability to lead, but in this environment, it could well be afforded that importance. If he can’t put together a competent performance – and it’s hard to see that he will be able to present any kind of coherent stance or position – the returning Queensland Liberal MPs’ questions and concerns about a bad NPC performance may turn into something more tangible.
It makes the next week pretty interesting, which may be the understatement of the year.