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The end is Bligh

7 July 2009 856 views No Comment

JUST more than three months ago Anna Bligh led the Labor Party in Queensland to a comfortable victory, winning 51 of the one-house parliament’s 89 seats.

It was far from a landslide victory but it was a relatively good performance nevertheless, especially bearing in mind she was campaigning for Labor’s fifth term. In winning that election, Bligh made history in becoming the first elected female Premier in Australia and she temporarily silenced those critics who had thought the Liberal National Party could win the election.

There was much ALP rejoicing at the Premier’s victory and she was elected unopposed to become one of Labor’s national presidents for the next three years. Compared with the political gloom and doom of Labor in NSW, Bligh was a shining star and, to add to the delight of federal Labor, from Kevin Rudd’s home state. But that was in March. Now it is a vastly different story. Today the Queensland Labor government is fighting NSW to become the most unpopular government in Australia for the party.

Last week, Bligh gave evidence in the trial of former Labor minister Gordon Nuttall, who is accused of taking secret payments. The Nuttall trial in many ways is a symbol of the problems that have struck Labor and Bligh since the state election.

Queensland under the long-term National Party government of Joh Bjelke-Petersen in the 1970s and 80s witnessed police and political corruption on a grand scale, where businessmen received political favours. The Fitzgerald inquiry in the late 80s substantially cleaned up the state.

The investigation into Nuttall began after former Queensland premier Peter Beattie referred certain matters to the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which established the present case against Nuttall. Beattie, who on Friday gave evidence in the Nuttall case by video link from Los Angeles, had previously referred the case of another former minister, Merri Rose, which resulted in her being jailed. One can hardly imagine Bjelke-Petersen doing that to any of his ministers.

Recently, Galaxy research suggested that Labor’s vote in Queensland had collapsed and if there were an election now the ALP would lose badly. The poll showed that 56 per cent of Queenslanders, including one in three Labor voters, believed the Premier had lied to them during the state election campaign and 72 per cent felt they had been misled. Normally, re-elected governments get a honeymoon and their political stocks remain reasonably strong for some time. There is no honeymoon for Bligh.

The story of Labor’s voting collapse in Queensland is not complicated. It is simply a case of inept judgment, bad administration, poor communication and a lack of political skills.

The world economic crisis hit Queensland hard. Revenues from coal and other sources started to drop and the budget bottom line was in serious trouble. Bligh and Treasurer Andrew Fraser set about trying to win back Queensland’s lost AAA credit rating by selling key parts of Queensland’s rail assets, two ports and some timber assets. They also decided to end Queensland’s 8.3c a litre fuel subsidy. At the same time deregulation caused steep increases in electricity prices.

As a result, unhappy Queenslanders have turned away from Bligh and the Labor government in droves. The opposition, which a few months earlier had lost an election, was suddenly on 55 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote and could hardly believe its luck.

When a large section of the electorate believes the Premier is a liar, then the government has a real problem.

At present there are no obvious challengers for Bligh’s job, but Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, from the Australian Workers Union, and Speaker John Mickel may be forced to stand up and be counted if the party’s political fortunes have not improved by Christmas.

Ross Fitzgerald The Australian July 07, 2009