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No free favours for Sunrise State

10 March 2009 835 views No Comment

JUST more than halfway into the election campaign, many Queenslanders are, despite their annoyance at an early poll, pondering the political mix that will work best: Labor at a state and federal level or a state Liberal National government?

From now until March 21, Premier Anna Bligh will use Kevin Rudd’s $42 billion rescue package as a prop in her election campaign. Labor is also persisting with a negative ad campaign to undermine the economic credibility of Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg, instead of focusing on desperately needed improvements to health, transport and infrastructure.

Now that Queensland boasts a single conservative party, Springborg is arguing that he will fight for Queensland and that voters should look to Western Australia, where a Liberal Government has done just as well as Labor in Queensland out of Rudd’s multibillion-dollar largesse. At his launch in Warwick, Springborg claimed it was well and truly time for a change. Recent polling suggests the Liberal National Party may come close to wresting power from the ALP in its own right or with the aid of one or two independents.

With less than two weeks to go, Bligh must be pondering just how smart it was in the “Smart State” for her to go to the polls early, given Labor’s poor performance and its longevity. On the conservative side, however, some think the LNP’s chickens may be coming home to roost. While a single conservative party was necessary to win, at the time of the merger some put their own interests ahead of getting electable candidates into Brisbane electorates. Now they are fighting an uphill battle to be taken seriously by southeast Queensland.

If the LNP is to win, it has to carry several Brisbane metropolitan and provincial city seats. To do so, Springborg needs to counter the perception that the LNP is little more than the Nationals by another name. He also needs to convince swinging voters that he is a capable economic manager, as well as prevent Labor hanging on to some crucial city and suburban seats on the back of Green preferences. Just how helpful support from the Liberal Lord Mayor of Brisbane may prove to be is uncertain.

History suggests it is dangerous for Bligh to portray herself as an extension of the federal Labor Government. For almost 20 years Joh Bjelke-Petersen fought federal Labor and Liberal prime ministers alike, and for almost 10 years Peter Beattie did the same to John Howard. Yet Rudd, Malcolm Turnbull and Warren Truss will all be pushing as hard as they can to get their side elected. For Rudd this will be particularly important since he is from Queensland and, like Wayne Swan, was intimately involved in state politics. That Rudd’s old sparring partner from the Seven Network’s Sunrise program, Joe Hockey, is heavily involved in the Queensland campaign is an added reason for the PM to get involved, especially as his own Government has to face the people some time in the next 1 1/2 years.

In return for his support, the PM should put pressure on Bligh to resolve critical issues. The acid is on Rudd to improve hospitals, so he should demand that the under-performing Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson be moved on.

Bligh must dump some of her hopeless ministers after the election to make way for fresh blood. Police Minister Judy Spence and Public Works Minister Robert Schwarten were elected 20 years ago. Yet Bligh has not had the political strength to secure their retirement. If her Government is returned, she must regenerate her ministry and appoint a Gold Coast minister.

Then there is the crucial fiscal and economic problem of restoring Queensland’s AAA credit rating.

Labor comes into this election with a huge majority in the one-house parliament.

Yet if Springborg and the LNP can continue to make inroads in the metropolitans, they could be in with more than a sporting chance runing a “Send the Government a message” campaign. This tactic has Labor running scared, which is why its television advertising repeatedly denigrates Springborg.

ALP campaign director Anthony Chisholm recently emailed all Queensland branch members reinforcing the party line that “those people who rely on Labor governments during the tough times need a returned Bligh Labor government that will fight to protect jobs”.

Since Beattie’s retirement, ministers who rode to power on his coat-tails have been freely telling business and journalists how much they enjoy Bligh’s more relaxed style, which gives ministers more freedom and say. But this is a double-edged sword, as Queenslanders have seen how incompetent some of them have been. Coupled with the recent loss of Queensland’s AAA credit rating, this could cost Bligh the election. If Labor has been such a good economic manager, why does NSW, a basket case, still have a triple AAA credit rating?