March 14, 2004 | Graham

Easy Peasy for Johnson

Liberal MHR for Ryan, Michael Johnson won an easy victory today by 328 votes to 68 over his only rival, Stephen Huang. This doesn’t really say much about Johnson. Stephen Huang was not the candidate to beat Johnson who won originally three years ago by stacking the preselection council with Chinese (some of them not even Australian). While Huang is Taiwanese Australian, beating Johnson for preselection for Ryan is not about winning the Chinese vote, nor is it about winning the European vote – it is about enlisting a new wave of voters into politics. Councillor Margaret de Wit, who challenged and then withdrew, would have won more votes, but this result suggests she made the right decision by not standing as she would have been fishing in the same stagnant puddle.
Michael Johnson had glowing references from John Howard, Joe Hockey and Alexander Downer. Only the naïve think these things really count for anything. Peter King the recently deposed Liberal Member for Wentworth had all the references in the world, but it could not save him. Malcolm Turnbull ran straight over the top, in the process winning support from many of King’s presumed supporters. In fact there were rumours that the Prime Minister’s numbers man, Senator Bill Heffernan, was in the contest working against the Prime Minister’s expressed wish not to have any challenges at preselection before this election.
The Howard Government is criticized for lacking policies and direction. I am not sure that this is the case, but it certainly needs more depth in its team. That a seat like Ryan, the only jewel in the Liberals’ Brisbane crown, has a member like Johnson is a demonstration of this. Not only is Johnson a lightweight who, despite his references, has yet to make any positive impression in Canberra, he is a major part of the state Liberal party’s problems.
Any polling in Brisbane shows that the Liberal Party as a party is on the nose. This is because of chronic and demonstrated ineptitude and the stench of corruption that the branch stacking activities and manipulation of party rules of people like Johnson has brought. Indeed, Huang treated preselectors to a story about his first encounter with Johnson when he moved into Ryan. He was called in for an audience and Johnson’s first words to him were “Stephen, are you for me or against me?” The meeting proceeded in this bullying tone, with racist aspersions being cast on those of us of a non-oriental origin in a way designed to wring tribal loyalty from Huang. Huang, who as a state candidate defied the whole Liberal Party on the Pauline Hanson issue in 1998, was similarly defiant in this instance. Ironically, while Johnson is part of the problem, within Ryan most voters are indifferent to him, barely knowing who he is.
Mark Latham has made such an impact on national politics because electors have got tired of the hacks who masquerade as statesmen. They have warmed to Latham because he appears in a political context to be unconventional, which is to say in any other context, normal. Malcolm Turnbull’s accession in Wentworth is another indication of this mood and the willingness of Australians to back people from outside the political oligopoly. Voters are so willing to accept non-politicians as political leaders that they will forgive them many of the sins they will not normally forgive politicians – like inconsistency on issues.
Wasting a seat like Ryan on a small-time apparatchik like Johnson underlines how desperate at the moment is the plight not just of the Queensland Liberal Party, but conventional political parties in Australia. Should Howard lose the next election, generational change is likely to engulf the Liberal Party and dispose of should-never-have-beens like Johnson. But the generation won’t be from those who are older to those who are younger, but rather from those who have only themselves to offer to those who have something to offer.
The confirmation of Johnson as the Liberal Candidate also presents the Labor Party with an opportunity. If all the leaked polling is correct (and it can’t be, but unfortunately I have no way of knowing which leaks are correct and which aren’t so for the purposes of this black box exercise, let’s just assume that it is), then some of the more marginal seats are holding firm for the government. This may mean that some of the less marginal seats are in danger. Ryan has once been held by the Labor Party, albeit after a byelection, so it is possible that with an energetic campaign, they could actually win it back this time. It’s a long-shot, but worth a go. Certainly if you painted the state election results onto a map of Ryan the Liberal Party would not hold it.

Posted by Graham at 9:49 pm | Comments Off on Easy Peasy for Johnson |
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