Friday, March 23, 2012

Campbell Newman should give Anna Bligh a ministry

A historic election tomorrow with the first ever victory by an organisation called the Liberal National Party in the state where it was founded. Queensland may not be the template for a conservative party merger but its stunning success will make the rest of the country take notice. I said in January the LNP would win comfortably and my then prediction of 13 seats to Labor now looks on track. (photo of Anna Bligh in Mitchell: Derek Barry)

Yet by March there was a bit of a narrowing and I doubted my own prediction. When I did the seat by seat Crikey poll on 13 March, my results were LNP 55, ALP 28 (including Ashgrove) and Independents 6. This still would have amounted to a handsome win for the LNP though tainted by the polls showing Kate Jones was ahead of the presumptive premier Campbell Newman.

Now just ten days later, that forecast appears hopelessly optimistic for the Labor and I won't be winning the Crikey comp. The tainted polls on Newman have been wiped away as is possibly the Queensland Labor Party itself. Labor's rump of 11 to 15 seats leaves hardly any ministerial talent and precious little room to grow in the near future.

Anna Bligh will be one of the few to survive but almost certain to take responsibility for the crushing loss and resign the leadership. Kim Jameson is tipping Annastacia Palaszczuk to be leader of the rump. Jones won’t survive in Ashgrove where the Newman polls have swung almost 10 percent and he is favourite again to get in as Premier. He may have a dislikeable glass jaw but there is no doubting his cojones in taking on a difficult seat and winning. He will owe nothing to his powerbrokers, many of whom would not have mourned his loss.

Because of this, Newman will have a lot of personal power when dealing out the spoils of office. He will lead a huge party with much jostling for position and granting of favours. He is guaranteed at least three terms of office to entrench that power. So here is an out of left field suggestion for him: Offer Anna Bligh a job.

The worst that could happen is that she refuses it, finding it too hard to work for a government she fought hard to resist. Newman would not lose any face and could get on with the largesse. But if somehow she agreed to take a role, the incoming government would be able to make a big statement of intent about inclusiveness and incorporation of ideas of the best people in the state.

Though neither side would admit it, their philosophies are broadly similar with a small tendency for Labor to prefer inclusion over wealth creation with an equally marginal tendency the other way for the LNP. Queensland Labor’s time is now up. In power for all but two of the last 20 years, voters are tired and want a change. That impression has been hammered home by a relentless advertising campaign powered by a huge budget that only winners attract. Newman is not exactly charismatic but has milked his “can do” reputation to the hilt to persuade enough people he will be a better leader.

Yet it will be a hard act to follow. I’ve met Bligh on a number of occasions on her visits to Roma and Mitchell and she is impressive in action. In every situation I’ve seen her in, she has always struck me as the one in charge and the master of every brief. Watching her from afar in last year’s 2010-2011 flooding, she was an effective commander-in-chief, overshadowing the Prime Minister in her visits to Brisbane.

There is also no doubting Bligh’s personal energy and commitment to Queensland, again on first hand observation. In any speech I heard her give, her vision always came around to getting a wealthy future for all Queenslanders. As such she saw the positives in coal seam gas while looking for ways to control the negative impacts. Newman won't change much because he too will rely on the royalties from this massive industry to pay Queensland's debt. There is no way a moratorium will ever be imposed on the industry.

Meanwhile Bligh has led the state through a succession of natural disasters that have emptied the state coffers as quickly as CSG is filling them. Where the gas is mined here in the Maranoa (a council region bigger than Togo or Croatia), the road damage bill alone is well north of $100 million with much of the devastation of the most recent floods last month still unaccounted for. It is reasonable to assume Mother Nature has not finished punishing her errant children and further severe storms in the years ahead are likely if the latest Bureau of Meteorology/CSIRO guide to the weather is correct.

So I could think of no better person to lead the Queensland Reconstruction Authority (or whatever it is renamed to in the LNP era) than Anna Bligh. The role has been filled by army personnel so it is reasonably non-political. There is no doubt that Bligh would throw herself into the ministry with the same gusto she finished the campaign on with 50 seats in a week (ours was one of the missing 39) and a laundry list of Love’s Labor’s Lost at the death.

As the first elected female Premier in Australia, Anna Bligh’s reputation will only grow after she leaves power. People will forget the failures of her watch, most of which were inherited from Peter Beattie. Instead they will remember a likeable and very able leader. The Newman at the current helm should capitalise on this in his moment of greatest power and offer her a ministry.


Jack P said...

Hate to nitpick on what are usually excellent posts Derek, but the "Queensland Labor Party" is an entity entirely different from the Queensland Branch of the ALP. A little bit of reading around the split of 1957 (one of the reasons they were in opposition so long after) should clear this up.

Derek Barry said...

Fair point Jack P - I meant the Qld Branch of the Labor Party. Loose wording on my part.