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Conservatives must unite to survive

28 February 2008 1,121 views No Comment

FOR years I have been arguing that the only hope the conservatives have of defeating Labor in Queensland is a single united party.

I have also argued that the recently re-elected National Party leader Lawrence Springborg, who at age 21 was the youngest person to take a seat in Queensland Parliament, is far and away the most talented of the state’s conservative MPs.

First elected to the one-house Queensland Parliament in 1989, the member for Southern Downs was Queensland’s youngest cabinet minister when in 1998, aged 29, he became minister for natural resources in the government of Rob Borbidge.

Springborg is an urbane MP from the bush whom the city can like and relate to. Indeed, if he led a united conservative party, Springborg could next year give ALP Premier Anna Bligh a real run for her money.

This is because on one hand, with the conspicuous exception of Bligh herself, the Peter Beattie-less state ALP is conspicuously short on talent, while on the other, a Springborg-led united conservative party could be eminently electable, especially if the position of Springborg’s deputy was filled by someone such as ex federal Liberal MP and minister Mal Brough, who may be persuaded to move to state politics.

But as has often been the case in recent years, the big problem is the faction-riddled Queensland Liberals, most of whom oppose a merger.

Hence a number of Queensland Liberal senators, worried about losing their positions, are putting self-interest first by publicly opposing Springborg’s eminently sensible move.

Another obstacle is the furphy that, in the next Queensland state election due in September 2009, the state Liberals if they stand alone can win more seats than the Nationals.

The Liberals have rocks in their heads to think that in the foreseeable future they can win more seats than the Nationals. Never mind that the Liberals only have eight seats out of 89 in parliament.

Let’s hope that sense prevails and the state conservative forces join in one discrete entity.
One big problem facing the conservatives is the optional preferential system of voting that Beattie was able to exploit by a “Just vote 1” campaign.

Another difficulty is that Beattie froze the number of seats in the parliament at 89. This means that in the electoral redistribution that will take place this year, the increased number of seats in Queensland’s southeast corner will have to be at the expense of the country.

Balanced against this is the fact that Beattie is no longer leader of the ALP. This means that his brilliant tactic when faced with any major problem of constantly saying, “Sorry, very sorry, I will fix it” (as though the problem weren’t the making of his Labor government) can no longer apply.

Yet this quintessentially Beattie tactic is no longer available to Bligh.

Springborg, who stepped aside as Nationals leader shortly after the September 2006 election, once said that campaigning against Beattie was like trying to put a blanket over constantly moving smoke. But Springborg is no longer fighting the formidable Beattie.

His present battles are first against the recalcitrant Liberals who oppose a merger and then against a much less formidable ALP led by the admittedly talented Bligh who, despite her protestations to the contrary, may well call an early election some time this year.

Springborg, who is only 40 years old, has learned a lot in the past few years in Opposition. In particular, he understands that disunity is death and that the conservative forces in this country need to be swiftly welded together into one political party.

As his previous and present championing of a single united conservative force in Queensland makes clear, Springborg is unafraid to champion necessary but temporarily unpopular causes.

He has a number of other innovative ideas, not least of which is allowing conscience votes on a wide range of social issues and advocating the breath-testing of members of parliament.

If it is good enough for the parliament to legislate for police officers, aeroplane pilots and train and bus drivers, why should not MPs be regularly and randomly tested for booze and other drugs?