Home » Columns

Bligh’s demise can’t come soon enough

24 October 2009 1,084 views No Comment

ANNA Bligh recently returned from her first overseas trip since being elected Queensland Premier in her own right on March 21.  She visited India, the Middle East and Russia.

The worst world economic crisis since the Depression has led to the loss of Queensland’s AAA credit rating, rising unemployment and the government’s unpopular decision to sell off public assets such as ports, rail and timber.

Yet Bligh did not visit Queensland’s main trading partners: Japan, South Korea and China. It was the loss of coal royalties that reduced government revenue and in part helped Queensland go into serious deficit.

There can be no argument about a visit to the emerging market of India and maybe even the Middle East, but Russia ahead of China, Japan and South Korea confirms that Bligh’s government has the wrong priorities.

Bligh’s predecessors, National Party leader Joh Bjelke-Petersen and Labor leader Peter Beattie, would have visited Queensland’s main trading partners months ago. They would never have left such a crucial visit to a mere minister.

Internally, Queensland is abuzz with frustration, from as far north as Cape York, where the Bligh government’s wild rivers legislation is enraging Noel Pearson and local Aboriginal clans, to as far south as Surfers Paradise, where what was to be this weekend’s SuperGP (formerly the Gold Coast Indy) was dealt a crushing blow by the last-minute withdrawal of the main act.

Instead of the thrilling spectacle of the A1GP cars, Queensland is left with a second-rate Holden v Ford V8 street race.

Recent polls show the Bligh government would easily lose a state election if it were held now. On the other hand, there is a lack of enthusiasm for Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek. Hence the frustration with both sides of politics.

The reality is that Queenslanders are disillusioned with both the Labor Premier and the Opposition Leader. Queensland has the NSW factor: that is, a very unpopular government with a long time to go to the next election. The next Queensland election is two years and five months away. That is an eternity in political terms.

Queensland is used to popular leaders who are constantly selling the virtues of the state. Bjelke-Petersen and Beattie were Queensland salesmen who told the nation (and the world) that Queensland was the best place on earth, and Queenslanders responded positively to it.

It is a different story today, when state politics are negative and very personal. The parliamentary exchanges in the house between the government and opposition are quite different from the Beattie and Rob Borbidge years, when there was strong political competition, though with underlying good humour. There is little time under the Bligh government for the popularist politics of taking on Canberra and fighting for Queensland, and Queenslanders don’t like it.

The Labor Party is privately confident it can outlast this period of unpopularity and get re-elected on the strength of the opposition’s incompetence. There is an ingrained belief that after four Beattie election wins — including three landslides — and the Bligh government’s election in March this year Queenslanders will stick to the government they know rather than risk an untested and shaky opposition.

All this makes the political situation volatile and ripe for change. If the Liberal National Party can come up with a decent leader and develop some half-decent politics, it will win. If the LNP had the strength to agree on a presentable leader it could take and keep control of the political agenda.

The opposition has to gently remove Langbroek and replace him with Tim Nicholls, the member for Clayfield, or former opposition leader Lawrence Springborg.

Springborg has lost three times, twice to Beattie and once to Bligh. But Queensland’s second longest serving premier, Francis Nicklin, lost five times before winning.

Springborg is decent and many Queenslanders feel cheated that Bligh didn’t come clean before the March election about many of her plans for after the election. They may well be prepared to give him another go.

One thing is certain: Queenslanders want a change and they don’t want Langbroek or Bligh. Springborg may yet rise again from the political ashes to win the ultimate prize.

We can rest assured Kevin Rudd will not want to see too much of the unpopular Bligh in next year’s federal election campaign. Bligh should remember that when Queenslanders decide to swing against a government they do it in a big way and the result is ugly. Queenslanders will re-elect federal Labor next year and vote out Bligh in 2012, but only if the state opposition can get its act together.

Ross Fitzgerald The Weekend Australian October 24, 2009