Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Goodbye Campbell Newman, Tony Abbott Will Be Next

State elections around Australia, especially for a first-term government seeking re-election, are usually stale stolid events. Quite often, the results offer some pointers to the federal government but, as the political operatives love to say, they are ‘fought on state issues’.

But not this Queensland election. There has been an unusual synchronicity between Queensland and federal politics, with the respective leaders, Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott, facing many leadership issues and following a similar ‘crash through or crash’ strategies, and largely alienating the electorate with similar political agendas: public sector job cutting, austerity.

Campbell Newman is widely tipped to lose the seat of Ashgrove and the Liberal–National Party is expected to suffer a 10 per cent swing against it, enough to put the Labor Party within striking distance of an unlikely election victory or, at least, a much better position to be able to win the Queensland election in 2018.

Of course, governments are elected to manage budgets and ensure the security of the state, but electorates do not expect them to implement large-scale job cuts, close down schools (up to 55 closures were recommended by the Newman Government), enable massive and unviable destructive mining projects in environmentally sensitive zones (also offering $1.9 billion of funds for these unviable projects), or create politically motivated legislation that curtails the rights of specific groups and bikies (VLAD). Perhaps too many episodes of Sons Of Anarchy.

Both Newman and Abbott are weak leaders that were catapulted into strong electorate positions, but have largely squandered their opportunities. Newman is a novice leader who was in the unusual position of entering the Queensland parliament as Premier – and, if the polls are correct – will leave parliament as Premier, unless another LNP MP volunteers their seat. Abbott is in a category alone, confusing the office of Prime Minister with his own personal indulgences and political pet projects and, because of his leadership weakness, is subject to renewed leadership speculation about challenges from Malcolm Turnbull or Julie Bishop.

Weak leaders are the ones who constantly needing to talk about being ‘strong’ (Campbell Newman mentioned the word ‘strong’ 18 times in the first three minutes of his campaign launch) or, in Abbott’s case, the ‘captain’s call’. Repetition is the trademark of the politician, but there has to be an element of truth or electoral acceptance for this to be valued. Simply repeating ‘strength’ doesn’t lead to the perception of strength, if the strength is not there in the first place.

Former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, suffered the same syndrome when she mentioned ‘moving forward’ 23 times in her election announcement in 2010. There is an art to repetition in politics, but in these cases, the repetition simply devalued the content, and noone believed it anyway.

On top of these leadership and performance issues are the return of Bjelke-Peterson-style corruption, and the ‘white shoe brigade‘. There are allegations of corrupt behaviour by Mermaid Bay MP, Ray Stevens, where he stands to make great gains in Gold Coast developments (Stevens refused to answer any questions about these developments and involved in the infamous ‘chicken dance’ interview with journalist David Donovan). And in September 2014, the Newman Government reduced rights that allow stakeholders fight mining applications, without any parliamentary discussion.

Whatever the final result might be on Saturday night, there will be a massive swing against the LNP, some polls predicting as much as 12 per cent. The repercussions for Tony Abbott will also swing with the turning tide in Queensland – Abbott and Newman are of the same leadership ilk, and the results will offer pointers for what will happen to Tony Abbott and his leadership when federal parliament reconvenes on February 9.

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