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LNP loss will kill merger

By Scott Prasser - posted Tuesday, 3 March 2009


There is a lot riding on the forthcoming Queensland election that extends beyond Queensland's borders in ways more significant than other state elections.

The reasons are clear. Queensland in the 21st century is not the semi-rural Cinderella economy of the 1960s. It not only has a vast resources sector that, like Western Australia's, is vital to the nation's economic wellbeing, it is also at the forefront of the tourism industry and the recipient of Australia's enormous demographic change that has seen so many people move to its emergent sea change regions. Queensland will soon overtake Victoria as Australia's second most populous state, gaining more federal seats as a result. It is no longer different, as it once was too easily lampooned, but is where the issues affecting Australia's future - across infrastructure, transport, sustainability and urban development - have to be tackled.

In short, Queensland counts, and not just economically but politically. It is home to one of Labor's most successful state governments, which has delivered much to federal Labor in votes and personnel. At the same time, Queensland is the last bastion of the Nationals, whose stressed relations with the Liberals have been the cause of so many federal Coalition woes in the past.

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Now the Queensland National and Liberal parties are experimenting with a new amalgamated party: the Liberal National Party, whose success or failure rides on this election and this election alone.

The issue at this election is that Labor, which has ruled the state since 1989 except for a brief Coalition interregnum from 1996 to 1998, has to take responsibility for much that is not right. Queensland's inadequate infrastructure, poorly performing education system, haemorrhaging public hospitals, rising government deficits, outdated governance, compromised and politicised public service and weak parliamentary system are Labor's problems. For Labor's Anna Bligh the challenge is not just to win a fifth term but to win well. Otherwise her tenure as Premier will be limited and she will not have the authority to reform her Government or to make the tough decisions the state needs.

But for the LNP Opposition and its leader Lawrence Springborg, the stakes are higher and the potential adverse reverberations across federal politics even greater.

This is crunch time for the non-Labor cause in Queensland.

While Labor's success reflected the skills of former leaders such as Peter Beattie and the professionalism of its party machine, it has been the wrangles between the regionally located and shrunken Nationals and the even smaller southeast Queensland-bound Liberals that has enabled Labor to get away with so much and left the LNP in such a precarious state as they enter this election.

The state of the parties tells the story. Following the recent redistribution that created more seats in southeast Queensland, Labor has a notional 63 seats compared with the LNP's 22. That's a big seat gap to jump. It is an even bigger jump when you realise that the LNP has few seats in Queensland's urban southeast corner, especially around Brisbane where the votes, and an increasing number of seats, are located. In Brisbane, once a Liberal stronghold, the LNP has just two seats out of 30 and now, following the redistribution, one of those is notionally Labor.

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So to gain power the LNP must not just win more than 20 seats and gain a swing of 8 per cent but win in seats where they presently have no base. It seems to be a gap too far and a swing too great.

Indeed, the question facing the electorate is a swing to what, for what? The LNP has yet to show it is more than a temporary patch-up of two parties wanting power and that it is not just a rebadged Nationals desperately seeking survival. The LNP has to convince voters that it has real solutions to Queensland's problems and people with ability to deliver.

For Springborg and the LNP, anything less than a win or close result will mean the end. If electoral success is not forthcoming, the LNP will tear itself apart in a public display of blame and retribution.

It will mean long-term instability in Queensland non-Labor politics.

In Canberra, where Coalition relations are under stress, an LNP loss will encourage some Nationals to rethink present Coalition arrangements and to adopt more maverick policy positions to distance themselves from the Liberals. Such actions will undermine federal Coalition electoral fortunes and the authority of a weakening Malcolm Turnbull. It also will encourage an ever more popular Prime Minister to consider an early federal election to demolish the Coalition while it is preoccupied with its own internal problems.

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First published in The Australian on February 27, 2009.



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About the Author

Scott Prasser is Professor of Public Policy and was Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University. Scott has worked previously in senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments and in several universities in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Recently, Scott co-edited with Associate Professor Nicholas Aroney and J.R. Nethercote the book Restraining Elective Dictatorship: The Upper House Solution? He has just written with Helen Tracey a report entitled Beyond Gonski: Reviewing the Evidence on Quality Schooling.

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