August 08, 2006 | Graham

Gender-bending fish does Quinn, will it do Springborg?

Ultimately it was Queensland’s drought that did for ex-Queensland Liberal Leader, Bob Quinn, using the agency of a mythical “gender-bending” fish. If it wasn’t for the drought, Toowoomba would most likely not have been voting on whether to drink recycled sewage as a solution to its water problem. And if it wasn’t for the vote, Nationals leader Lawrence Springborg wouldn’t have given a press conference in which he claimed:

There’s quite a significant amount of research as well, I mean with regards to hormones and the effect that’s having on the feminisation of fish. There’s a whole range of information that’s available in various journals, that’s where the unanswered questions are, because what it does it actually changes the basic metabolism of species.

And Bob Quinn wouldn’t have been plainly standing behind him at the time.
It was Quinn’s failure to distance himself, intellectually rather than physically, from this outrageous claim that apparently spontaneously led to party rank and file, and parliamentarians, deciding that enough was enough.
Bob Quinn claimed yesterday that he had been ambushed. He wasn’t the only one. Even insiders close to Flegg were shocked to find that yesterday’s party meeting would see a spill. In the event Quinn decided to resign and nominations were called. Flegg was the only nomination (perhaps unsurprisingly as the other possible contender, Caltabiano, wasn’t even at the meeting, making this almost the political equivalent of a double eviction, certainly a double ambush).
Will Quinn’s demotion change the fortunes of the Coalition at this election? I doubt it. Changing state Liberal leaders in New South Wales and Victoria has not resulted in any sustained surge in the polls. Last time this happened in Queensland, when Joan Sheldon rolled Denver Beanland, there was also no improvement at the next election.
Quinn was travelling very badly, but the Coalition campaign is going to rely on Springborg, more than the Liberal leader. Flegg may be a better performer, and we have yet to see whether that is true, but in the short time between now and the next election he will have trouble leveraging that into political advantage. However, the change in leader will make it easier for the Liberals to raise money.
Still, the challenge for the Liberals will not be so much to keep their own leadership team on the rails, but to get Springborg to use the same standard gauge as the rest of the country. Concerns about gender-bending fish are going to make voters wonder whether Peter Beattie might really be “as good as it gets”!
It might win you votes in Toowoomba, where most of the seats are safe, but it isn’t likely to bend too many votes your way in the more sophisticated suburbs of the south-east where the election will be lost and won.

Posted by Graham at 9:28 am | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. I’ve emailed Mr Flegg asking him to clarify his stance on water but to no avail. On one hand John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull (two federal liberals) are both in favour of water recycling whereas Mr Springborg is making bizarre unscientific claims about fish with identity crises, so I’m eager to hear where the new Liberal leader stands.

    Comment by Adam — August 10, 2006 @ 1:02 am

  2. Adam
    The Liberals & Nationals (Qld Coalition) are fully supportive of water recycling but with first priority of recycled water being for industry and agriculture. Recycled water for drinking is only as a last resort.
    Springborg rightly has stated that more scientific research needs to be done before we can be sure especially with the quantities that Labor is suggesting (up to 30%, which is a lot higher than some other places around the world).
    I remember scientist’s telling us that asbestos was ok……Umm…. now scientists are saying recycled water is ok…Umm… I’m with the Coalition, let’s do some more research before we start consuming too much.
    First priority of recycled water should be for industry and agriculture.

    Comment by LM — August 10, 2006 @ 6:01 am

  3. LM – you’re not serious are you? You’re comparing water to asbestos? I can assure you that it has been in use by human beings for at least 300,000 years, and has been used by every species of hominid for millions of years on top of that and has only been found to have beneficial effects.
    If the Liberal Party can’t do better than this I’m afraid Peter Beattie will continue to run the state.

    Comment by Graham Young — August 10, 2006 @ 5:10 pm

  4. I’m slightly confused here by Graham and Adam’s statements – are you saying that:
    a) gender altered fish are not occuring as a result of hormones in water
    b) That it doesn’t matter what happens to the fish, humans will be alright or
    c) the recycling scheme to be used would have safely eliminated the problem.
    If c) then I agree with you – reverse osmosis is safe. However, reading your pieces it looks as if you might be suggesting a) or b), in which case I think you are being even more unscientific than Springborg.
    The proposal for water recycling in Towoomba was a good one, but it does not mean that pseudo-estrogens are not a problem in some cases.

    Comment by stephenl — August 10, 2006 @ 5:13 pm

  5. Reverse osmosis is safe and doesn’t leave oestrogen in the water.

    Comment by Graham Young — August 10, 2006 @ 5:31 pm

  6. Graham – now you can’t be serious. Man-made water recycling plants have been around for 300,000 years!!!!
    What occurs in nature is ok. What we try to engineer may be the problem. Of course all water is recycled – by nature over hundreds of years.
    I’m concerned with the man-made recycling plants – and this is from someone who studied industrial chemistry at university.

    Comment by LM — August 11, 2006 @ 6:34 am

  7. Dear LM, I was talking about consumption of water. Water itself has been around for billions of years. The purification process treats the sewage to a point where it is pretty close to pure H2O, and as a chemist you should understand that we have techniques that can easily prove and monitor that.
    You’re anonymous on this blog – you don’t have to spout the party line! I was talking to a senior National Party parliamentarian this morning who was much more forthright than this – and he couldn’t have been less anonymous as he was wearing a name tag at the time!

    Comment by Graham Young — August 11, 2006 @ 10:23 am

  8. Graham
    Party line? The original question posed by Adam was what is Flegg’s (Qld Liberals) stance on water recycling, considering Howard and Turnbull support it, to which I responded. First priority to industry and agriculture (which has been the Coalitions position for the past 3 State Elections!)
    I then posed the idea that such large quantities of recycled in drinking water (up to 30% Beattie is suggesting, I think?) could be dangerous. The theory of Reverse Osmosis is safe and I agree with you there – 100%, but it is reliant on a heavy ongoing maintenance and testing program to ensure it works properly.
    Now we have seen how State Government departments have been poorly maintained lately, i.e. Energex, Hospitals, etc. and that the system fails.
    More research needs to be done before we put such large quantities in our drinking supply.
    Keep up the good work!

    Comment by LM — August 11, 2006 @ 11:01 am

  9. Arguments that follow the pattern:
    “Scientists said X was safe and it turned out not to be safe, scientists are now saying that Y is safe, therefore let us not take them at their word.”
    are invalid, one does not logically follow from the other.
    But even if it it were logical, scientists have been right about the safety of new technologies and chemicals far more often than they have been wrong about them.
    Scientists said that a 20% oxygen mix in air was safe for humans and they were right. Therefore Scientists will be right about all things all of the time. Spot a logical flaw here?
    There is a white swan, there is another white swan, I have spent 30 years observing swans and they were all white, therefore all swans are white.
    Scientists said that Ventolin eased the symptons of asthma and that it was safe. But they were wrong!
    Scientists said that attending Socialist Alternative meetings was bad for your health.

    Comment by Benno — August 14, 2006 @ 9:25 pm

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