July 24, 2005 | Graham

Can Queensland Opposition capitalise on Redcliffe by-election?

Queensland’s Labor Party appears to believe it is born to rule, and that could help the Queensland Opposition to win the Redcliffe by-election. That’s as long as the opposition can convince the public that they are not born losers – and the signs are not good on that front – which is probably the reason for the ALP’s belief in the first place.
Saturday’s Courier Mail reported the resignation as Health Minister of Gordon Nuttall. The headline was actually “Nuttall dumped from Cabinet”. But when you looked a little more closely it appears to be the case that the erstwhile Health Minister is just being moved to another portfolio. Some dumping! The public would have a right to think that they were the ones being dumped. Nuttall is actually being rewarded for his incompetent handling of the portfolio as his salary and super will presumably stay intact at the same time that he gets something with an easier ride.
What’s more, Nuttall was so keen to face the music that he gave his press conference in Sydney, a fact that was disguised by some kind television cameraman apparently pulling curtains across the picture of the Harbour Bridge that would otherwise have framed his conference. That’s neither good journalism on the TV station’s part, nor accountable government on Nuttall and Beattie’s.
These are signs of arrogance which continued on last night’s television news bulletins. Beattie is using this “dumping” to reshuffle his cabinet, and apparently move some ministers out who will not be recontesting the next election. This in itself is an admission of failure, as Beattie was only elected 12 and a bit months ago which was the correct time to move the retirees on. Either that or just before the next election, but not half-way through his term.
On top of that, Beattie is so sure of retaining government that he was portrayed by the television news as setting the scene for Anna Bligh, the Education Minister, to succeed him. Succession planning is always a good idea, but not too obviously, or the public, and your party, may think you are taking them for granted.
Still, the move is characteristic Beattie spin. After Speaker Ray Hollis resigned he had no choice but to sack Nuttall. Not only had Hollis shown the proper way under the Westminster system, but he has given the opposition a potential leg-up by causing a by-election in his seat of Redcliffe. This is a seat which was not traditionally Labor until 1989 when then Liberal Leader, Terry White, lost to Hollis. With the right circumstances it could swing back, despite the government’s present healthy margin, particularly as it has experienced demographic change over the last few years which is seeing it transform into Brisbane’s premier bayside location.
If Beattie hadn’t moved Nuttall his presence would have made a loss almost certain, which would have caused further problems in health. So Beattie moves him, and then uses the opportunity to shuffle the whole thing, distracting attention away from the incompetence of his government and giving an impression of vigour. It’s a classic Beattie move, turning a disaster into a “triumph”.
But, on the basis of our polling over the last few years, it still leaves plenty of room for the opposition in Redcliffe, if only they can get their acts, and their lines, together.
First the Nationals should leave the seat to the Liberals to contest. They can stand some three-cornered contests in a general election, but not in a by-election, particularly as the vote is likely to be contested by a whole slew of minor contenders who will tend to splinter the vote. Under Queensland’s optional preferential system this will tend to favour the party with the largest bloc of votes, which in this electorate should be Labor. Redcliffe is not the sort of territory where the Nationals will do well, so they should leave it to the other non-Labor party. A loss attributed to conservative party bickering will poison the next general election and reinforce negative public perceptions.
The Liberal party then has to get its lines right. Those lines have to be that this election is about two things. First making Beattie accountable on health, and second, building back up so that they can give Beattie a good opposition. They can draw a line between the first and the second issues because one of the biggest problems in keeping Beattie accountable is the lack of opposition seats. Whatever else it is, they should resist the temptation to label it as the beginning of the end of the Beattie Government. With all his faults, people want him to stay.
The other big problem is a perceived lack of opposition ability. This perception will not be solved by making megalomaniacal claims about how the Liberal Party “is about to [be] lift[ed]…to conservative political dominance in Queensland, consigning the Nationals to second fiddle,” as Liberal Senator George Brandis does, also in yesterday’s Courier. The Liberal Party has to demonstrate that it is interested in electors, not itself. That means that the campaign has to concentrate on health, and the other areas where Beattie needs to be brought to account, not on anything else. They might also pay a bit of attention to the Redcliffe Base Hospital. Some of the comments in our research were less than complimentary to it, and this is an electorate with an older demographic where health is going to be an even more important issue than elsewhere in the state.

Posted by Graham at 3:13 am | Comments (7) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I do not think that Beattie will lose this time. Springborg is so negative he is ALWAYS carping, fault-finding and criticising. Voters know what he is against which is everything but what is this negative, pessimistic person for?? By the way have you noticed the “disappearance?” of his deputy (forget his name – Sheeny/Sheedy?) the modern day Hinze. Has he been ordered not to make waves? to stay out of sight? Hooroo

    Comment by R.Patterson — July 25, 2005 @ 1:23 pm

  2. As a Redcliffe voter I notice a spin by government (& media following)to try to keep the electorate focus on the big picture. Those on waiting lists ( or trying to get on one) will no doubt be influenced by the health portfolio problems but I believe the issues will be increasingly shifted to local issues as the campaign progresses. Labor has served the electorate poorly, railway cancelled in spite of identifying need, speed limit on bridge dropped adding time to commuters, Redcliffe trots on friday night taken and given to Gold Coast (by government agency), hospital rumblings of problems/downgrading,special school cutbacks of support staff, planned removal of old bridge ( a major recreational facility) if the new addition goes ahead for just a few issues. Across this range many are affected. Positives are hard to find, upgrading of TAFE (affect only a few)is the only one to mind. I wish Ray Hollis a long and healthy retirement. What we need is a strong independent voice ala Liz Cunningham to serve OUR needs, not a party time & line server. Regards

    Comment by G. Emery — July 26, 2005 @ 10:51 am

  3. Did you see the amusing piece of political advertising in the form of a postcard purporting to be from Hollis? It was about his overseas trips, and ironically identical to one the ALP employed against John Howard.

    Comment by benno — July 26, 2005 @ 7:07 pm

  4. You attribute to me, in direct speech, words whih are not mine, and then reference an article in the Courier-Mail which makes it perfectly clear that the words attributed to me are not mine. Please correct this inaccuracy.
    Senator George Brandis

    Comment by Senator George Brandis — July 27, 2005 @ 5:38 pm

  5. George,
    The quotes are from the Courier Mail. I have reproduced them below:
    “If you were a scholar of politics or population movement, says Liberal Senator George Brandis, Queensland would be among the most interesting places on the globe.
    This is because, Brandis and other Queensland Liberals argue, the human tide of southerners moving to Queensland to retire or start new lives is literally transforming the Queensland electorate and, at breakneck pace, creating a completely new political dynamic.
    Brandis and his fellow Liberals have good reason to be interested in demographics.
    They believe the sea-change phenomenon is about to lift their party, for so long the poor cousin of the Nationals, to conservative political dominance in Queensland, consigning the Nationals to second fiddle.”
    It appears to me to be quite clear that while they are indirect speech they are being attributed to you and others. Is this not a fair summary of what you believe? And if it isn’t have you taken it up with Matthew Franklin?
    I’m happy to amend in line with the truth and whatever Matthew’s recollection of your sentiments is. I have no interest in publishing incorrect statements.
    BTW, good to see you reading the blog.

    Comment by Graham Young — July 27, 2005 @ 5:57 pm

  6. Exactly what has the opposition got to offer when it comes to Health?
    More private hospitals?
    More middle class pork barreling with private health insurance rebates?
    Protecting the AMA (which is just another union except its called an assocaiation so that makes it ok?)
    Will they be able to break up the Royal Colledge of Surgeons strangle hold on the domestic supply of surgeons?
    Would a conservative Liberal Government pour more money into health? Perhaps by selling some more of our assets….

    Comment by alphacoward — August 1, 2005 @ 3:31 pm

  7. As most people vote with their feet and not their brain we will see no change in Redcliffe if Labor or Liberal win.
    Labor promised a train.
    Liberal promised nothing.
    I have seen the plans for the new bridge and what a waste of taxpayers money.
    The old bridge will only be on Redcliffe side of hayes inlet and the current bridge is falling apart.
    It would be cheaper to put a tunnel from Redcliffe to Sandgate(Brighton)
    As we will see nothing will change and Redcliffe will miss out again

    Comment by R.Eaton — August 3, 2005 @ 8:35 am

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