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Replacing Campbell Newman: The LNP's motley crew of contenders

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There is a very strong possibility that the LNP Government will be returned in Queensland but Premier Campbell Newman will lose his seat. Alex McKean considers the premiership contenders.

There really is no way back from the place where a relationship has soured to the point where one person treats another with contempt.

It appears this is the state of the relationship between Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and the people of the State. People from many diverse backgrounds in the Queensland polity could argue that the relationship had reached that stage some time ago.

In just one example, on 21 May 2014, the premier made an interjection in Parliament about the "bogans in Logan". He then proceeded to insult the intelligence of the rest of Queensland by denying he had said any such thing, despite those words appearing in Hansard.

The premier claimed that review of the footage showed he had said something different. Of course, the footage is not publically available to verify Premier Newman’s claims because, a decision of the premier, early in his term of office, was to ban TV cameras from Parliament.

Perhaps Premier Newman should have followed the lead of Barnaby Joyce and simply doctored Hansard to remove the embarrassing remark.

The conclusion that Premier Newman holds the people he hopes will re-elect his government in contempt has become inescapable since the announcement of the election on 31 January. Not only was the election date calculated to ensure the youth vote is minimised, the premier simply denies the prospect that the LNP could be returned with the Premier himself losing his seat of Ashgrove.

But it is really very simple.

Campbell Newman holds Ashgrove with a margin of 5.7%. The most recent Newspoll predicts a Statewide swing of 10.1% against the LNP. Using psephologist Antony Green’s election calculator, such a swing would lead to the LNP retaining government and Newman losing his seat. 

Indeed, the same result, albeit with a variable majority of LNP seats, would flow from a range of swings between 5.8% and 11.1%.

So, why does Premier Newman not want to countenance this most likely of outcomes?

Presumably, the answer lies in the fact that people do not like to vote for an unknown quantity.

The LNP have not taken the course of ditching the arrogant and divisive Campbell Newman and being upfront with the public about who will be premier if the party manages to slither in for a second term.

Perhaps, this is not a consequence of the genetic predisposition of those within the LNP to avoid honesty and exposing themselves to scrutiny. The explanation for the evasiveness might lie in the fact that the LNP, after the disaster of the Newman experiment, remains what it has always been — an uneasy and unstable coalition of warring tribes.

None of the pretenders to the throne are terribly palatable. They are the same group of faces the LNP considered so unlikely to be accepted by the electors at the last election that the party resorted to the desperate experiment of parachuting in Newman. Repeated polling canvassing the popularity of these would-be’s and has-beens consistently shows slender support.

As deputy premier, the obvious heir apparent is Jeff Seeney. His portfolio responsibilities of state development, infrastructure and planning have, however, caused significant controversy in the current term.

A recent Reachtell poll showed that 13.1% of respondents thought Deputy Premier Seeney was the ‘better premier’.

When Lawrence Springborg and Fiona Simpson rolled Mr Seeney for the leadership in early 2008, Seeney’s approval rating as Opposition Leader, after 2 years in the job, had reached just 12%.

It was Jeff Seeney who shocked bureaucrats in his own department by squashing the prosecution of Karreman Quarries – a large LNP donor – and sneaking through legislation which declared the activities of Karreman to ‘always have been legal’. Deputy Premier Seeney then quietly appropriated $1.5M in taxpayer dollars to repair the damage done by the "always legal" activities of Karreman to neighbouring properties.

Jeff Seeney has also forced the Moreton Bay Regional Council to remove references to anticipated sea level rise due to climate change from its draft planning scheme.

The former MP who had represented Jeff Seeney’s seat of Callide, Di McCauley, has voted with her feet, resigning her life membership of the National Party in 2006 when he became Opposition Leader.

Ms McCauley said of Mr Seeney, that he

"...was my electorate chairman when I was the Member for Callide and that relationship was severely marred by his duplicity and driving desire to promote his own political future."

The other heavyweight contender is Treasurer Tim Nicholls. He too has courted controversy by labelling Queenslanders who have invested in solar panels as

"... part of the champagne and latte sipping set."

The 6 January poll showed only 10.2% favoured Tim Nicholls as Premier.

Treasurer Nicholls has been the key driver of the plan for the LNP to sell public assets if it is returned to government. Such a move, even if you put lipstick on it and call it a lease, would see a short term sugar hit for the economy, but lead to long term economic pain for Queenslanders who would lose the income streams from those assets. It remains a pig of an idea.

Far from being a "strong" choice, knocking down public assets at fire sale prices to political donors to buy yourself another term in government seems to be an act of cowardly opportunism.

The other failed leaders possibly lining up to pick up the scraps post-election are John-Paul Langbroek and Lawrence Springborg. Premier Newman’s concern about their ability to outshine his own modest leadership capacity is demonstrated by his gifting them the education and health portfolios respectively.

Only 7.7% of Queenslanders would prefer "JP" Langbroek as Premier. To be fair, the land-grab which saw schools closed down so developer mates could move in, was probably not his idea.

Mr Springborg’s fortunes are waxing, with 18% of Queenslanders backing him for the top job. It should not be forgotten, however, that, as health minister, Mr. Springborg employed a level of belligerent incompetence when dealing with the botched process of placing doctors on individual contracts rarely seen since the Joh era.

Mr Springborg has also presided over the sacking of thousands of nurses and sought to cover up the impacts on patients by manipulating hospital waiting lists.

Which brings us to the least pre-possessing of the possible prospects — Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie.

Years ago, I used to look at John Howard being careful with and rationing the truth and feel a sliver of gratitude that, at least while John Howard was prime minister, Tony Abbott was not. My concerns about what would happen should Abbott ever achieve his ambition have, unfortunately, proven well founded.

It is difficult to imagine a government more arrogant and capricious than the Newman regime. But it is always an error to think that things cannot get worse. In the present circumstance, worse is represented by that level of chaos and utter disregard for any form of traditional restraint on power which would await a Queensland inflicted with Mr Bleijie as premier.

More detailed analysis of his entire unsuitability for any public office, let alone the one he holds, or any higher office, can be found here, here and here.

Queenslanders deserve better than to be fobbed off with a transparent lie and not provided with an explanation as to who will actually take the reins of government after the election if, as present polling indicates, the LNP scrape back.

Queenslanders should demand more from the LNP than an election strategy that sees the current failed leader posing as the devil you know when the devils we can only imagine from their more limited exposure avoid the scrutiny of leading through an election campaign.

Maybe Queenslanders should choose hope over experience and take Campbell Newman at his word?

To do this, they need to vote in even greater numbers than current polling indicates to avoid an even more discredited politician emerging after the election to lead a disunited and chaotic LNP rabble government.

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