September 25, 2007 | Graham

Libs draw line at Brisbane too late

We might be somewhere around 5 to 6 weeks away from a federal election, but the Queensland Liberal Party State Council appeared to be more interested in making a meal of its own than stopping the Rudd threshing machine. There were two major decisions that they needed to make – whether to proceed with the expulsion proceedings against me, and whether to run in the Brisbane Central by-election.
Let’s leave me to dessert and another post and talk about Brisbane Central.
If you had asked my opinion a week-and-a-half ago whether the Liberals should run in Brisbane Central I would have said no. It would be a waste of resources, they have no hope of winning, and the best chance of unsettling Labor would be to give the Greens a clear run at it. With a federal election that is more critical than any since 1996 it is a distraction they don’t need.
This should have been reasonably easy to sell to the media. For once the Liberal Party could say, we are being tough and strategic. Then it could turn the argument onto the Bligh government. 12 months ago Peter Beattie told the electors of Brisbane Central he wanted to represent them for three years, now they’ve been dudded, just like Beattie’s been dudding Queensland for the last 10 years. His resignation was strategically timed so that the byelection would occur around the same time as the federal election, but “We’re not going to get sucked-in by Beattie’s clever political tactics,” they could say. “And look, just as we told you, the Labor Party’s full of union hacks and heavies, and they’re slipping another one of them into parliament. A Rudd government will be just as tricky and just as full of time-servers and time-wasters.”
So I was a bit surprised to hear Bruce Flegg on radio shortly after the byelection announcement saying that the Liberals were going to definitely be running in Brisbane Central. As parliamentary leaders don’t determine where and when the party runs, I assumed he must have been saying this with the agreement of the organisation. I subsequently found out that party president Warwick Parer had told him they would be running.
So I was shocked to find just a few days later that some elements in the party, on the urgings of state director Geoff Greene, had decided to reverse this decision. Now it may have been an ad hoc decision, but it was taken by the leaders of the state parliamentary and organisational wings, and publicly announced. A back-down was going to be damaging for one, if not both, of them.
It might not have originally been a set-up of Flegg, but it turned into one. Greene spent, on most accounts, around 30 minutes at last Sunday’s State Council running through a slide show of polling which purported to show how hopeless Flegg is. According to Greene he has the worst approval figures ever. I find this hard to believe, and even harder to believe that there so bad a competent professional couldn’t work with them.
But why was Greene spending all this time on state polling with a federal election imminent? The reason was that his major argument against running in Brisbane Central wasn’t anything to do with strategy or tactics, but that he didn’t think the state parliamentary leader was up to it. This was an opinion that was leaked fairly soon after the meeting to the media who duly reported in the Courier Mail:

The decision came after heavy lobbying from senior federal figures who believed the by-election would be a distraction from the main political game – winning the federal election.
There was concern about Dr Flegg’s campaigning prowess and the possibility his bumblings could shift the spotlight from Prime Mininster John Howard.

Way to go Geoff – shoot yourselves in as many feet as possible. If Flegg’s that bad what are you going to do in a general election?
The CM’s headline was spot-on “Libs unveil by-election strategy – surrender”.
It might be news to Mr Greene, but it’s his job to do the best with what he’s got. When I say it’s hard to believe that Flegg has the worst approval figures ever I’m thinking of Rob Borbidge and Joan Sheldon. When Borbidge and Sheldon went into the 1995 state election, according to Newspoll Borbidge had a net -9 percent approval rating. (They didn’t track Sheldon). And in one memorable poll in the CM Borbidge had an approval rating of 19%. But guess what, we overcame that to come within one seat of winning. And then we managed to handsomely win the Mundingburra by-election with Frank Tanti, who gave a whole new meaning to the words “stumble” and “bum”, and that clinched government.
Once Flegg and Parer had made the decision Greene had no other sensible choice but to run. Instead, he took the opportunity to pursue factional advantage. His criticism of Flegg is no more than a cover for his factional manouvering. Since he’s been in Queensland Greene has undermined the state parliamentary leader in favour of the Santoro aligned challenger, whether the leader was Quinn or Flegg, or the challenger Caltabiano or Nicholls. Caltabiano now sits on the party’s State Council, and was one of the ring-leaders in shafting Flegg.
What Flegg needs is more experience. A by-election that no-one expects him to win could have been managed to increase his experience. A good result would have given him a bounce. A bad result would have been swallowed-up in the federal election. That opportunity has now been lost to the factional infighting of the Liberal Party.
And these people think that I bring the party into disrepute! I’ll post dessert tomorrow.

Posted by Graham at 9:46 pm | Comments (3) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Graham – I have noticed that the Libs have ceased running the “Labor factions” line of attack in recent times – probably for the best given your insiders account of this meeting. Interesting to see that the bloodletting inside the Libs is just as vicious as the ALP.
    Over on youdecide2007 we’d love to hear from anyone with insiders’ accounts of local preselection battles and local party matters.

    Comment by Jason Wilson — September 26, 2007 @ 12:58 pm

  2. No wonder they want to get rid of you Graham,you analyise the reality and speak the truth.State Govt Politics is abysmal.We cannot afford for this incompetence to continue.We need serious reform of both State Govts and their bureaucracies.
    In NSW we are decending from crisis to chaos on a daily basis and the general public seem to accept it as the norm.

    Comment by Arjay — September 27, 2007 @ 12:11 am

  3. Thanks Arjay. Perhaps you could write me a reference. Afterall, given I only report on things which are generally public domain, maybe I actually raise their reputation by being prepared to be associated with them!
    Jason, I think factions are a bigger perceptual problem for the ALP than the Libs, but the Libs are doing their best to close the gap.

    Comment by Graham Young — September 27, 2007 @ 9:26 pm

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