October 08, 2007 | Graham

Howard’s Ryan debacle

Leaked Liberal Party research says that the once-blue-ribbon seat of Ryan in Brisbane is “ultra-marginal” as a result of John Howard’s decision to fund the $2.3 B Goodna by-pass, rather than widening the existing Ipswich Motorway, according to this morning’s Australian.
The research was most probably leaked by LP Headquarters in an effort to swing the seat back, however factional politics have played their part in the saga.
The by-pass has never been popular with any of the electors in the area. People in Ipswich refer to the current motorway, which serves as their major link to Brisbane, as a carpark, and people in the western suburbs of Brisbane are happy to live in a quiet cul-de-sac and don’t want another link road with connections to them put through their area. All the local politicians that I am aware of are opposed to it, with the exception of Blair MHR Cameron Thompson.
But Thompson apparently has the best access to the Prime Minister, because in March Howard announced that he would fund the more expensive and less popular option, riding over the wishes of local state politician Bruce Flegg, who just happens to be the Liberal Party’s state parliamentary leader.
Flegg is a member of the moderate faction in the party, and Santo Santoro was out raising funds for Thompson shortly after his resignation in disgrace from the senate. Factional alignment seems the only viable explanation for this bizarre decision.
There is another leg to this factional story. Johnson was originally aligned with Santoro, and while he has since fallen out, wouldn’t have been preselected the member for Ryan on his merits. He appears to have been a very poor member for Ryan. I know this from our polling. In May 29% of traditional Liberal voters who responded to our survey and who came from Ryan said they were unlikely to vote for the party with Michael Johnson as the member. The verbatims were fairly negative, and this one from an erstwhile Liberal voter more or less summed them up “Michael Johnson is the invisible man in our electorate and does not turn up to local meetings of importance to his constituents. Like a bad champagne, all froth and no substance! ;-> ”
Not all the blame should go to Johnson. Ryan is the “jewel in the Liberal crown” not just because of its margin, but because it is home to the smartest and richest people (on average of course) in Brisbane. A loss of Ryan would confirm the trend under John Howard for the Liberals to lose these seats to Labor as they have loosened their grip on the professional class. In effect Howard has traded seats like Ryan for working class seats like Blair by pitching so strongly for blue-collar conservatives (Blair now encompasses much of the territory once represented by Pauline Hanson). Except this election most of the seats like Blair appear to be heading back to Labor whence they originally came.
Ramifications of a loss in Ryan could be far-reaching for the Liberals. In the event of a change in government the party will need to remake itself. That means ousting ineffective factions and broadening the party’s support base so that it doesn’t make dumb decisions in opposition like the Goodna bypass. Johnson is actually a force for good in the Queensland Liberals at the moment as a member of the “rainbow coalition” that is hoping to oust the sicilian faction from the party’s administration at their next convention. He controls massive numbers of branch delegates and provides the edge between them and Santoro.
Losing Ryan may paradoxically strengthen the Santoro faction’s hand if it takes Johnson out of play, even though they would be responsible for its loss, whichever way you look at it!

Posted by Graham at 9:26 am | Comments (5) |
Filed under: Australian Politics


  1. Well, Liberal Party polling may suggest that the main reason incumbent Michael Johnson is now facing possible defeat in Ryan is his support for the proposed Goodna by-pass. But I’m hearing otherwise. It’s true that this $2 billion plus proposal was never the subject of proper community consultation or fair comparison with an upgrade to the long neglected Ipswich Motorway.
    But what I’m hearing from substantial numbers of Ryan voters on many door-steps is more fundamental, and brought up a lot more frequently than the by-pass. And, of course, I acknowledge both a conflict of interest in saying this and the fact that this isn’t “objective data”, but it’s true nonetheless:
    Across a range of issues Ryan voters are telling me in many ways that they just want representation in Canberra that is balanced, substantial and constructive – and they don’t believe these attributes have been much in evidence over the last six years. It’s about a lot more than the Goodna by-pass.
    Charles Worringham
    Independent Candidate for Ryan 2007

    Comment by Charles Worringham — October 8, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

  2. I must say my (admittedly limited) experience as a Ryan resident has been the opposite of that quoted here. Johnson seems very active as a local member.

    Comment by John Quiggin — October 9, 2007 @ 1:18 pm

  3. Graham:
    Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if Michael Johnson in Ryan ended up as the only United Australia Party, oops, I mean, Liberal Party parliamentarian from Queensland left in the next federal parliament? 🙂 L-O-L
    I make no apologies whatsoever for not weeping. The Liberal Party really has only itself to blame for its self-destruction. Attacking its traditional supporters [war veterans, small business operators, migrants, aspirational home owners, retirees, etc.] might make some Liberals feel tough and hairy-chested but it doesn’t bring in too many votes. Nor does having its Man-Of-Rust, its semi-demi-hemi-king, running hither and yon doing messages for a manifestly failed foreign potentate bring in many votes either.
    Wonder what political entity will fill the niche currently being clogged by the Liberal Party?

    Comment by Graham Bell — October 9, 2007 @ 4:25 pm

  4. If Michael Johnson is the Queensland Liberals great hope then they must be in a sad state of affairs. From his branch stacking start to his ‘unique’ campaign funding arrangements and now the ‘Where in the World is Michael’ headlines in the local Westside news – he’s not exactly a knight in shining armor.
    On a side note, I recall seeing a picture of MJ sitting in the front row of a Liberal Party get together in Brisbane a couple of years ago. He was quite easy to pick out of the crowd, not only because he was the only person there wearing a t-shirt instead of a suit but he was also the only guy who had a picture of himself (or was it his name?) printed on the front of his shirt. Does anyone else recall this or have a copy of the picture somewhere?

    Comment by SimonC — October 11, 2007 @ 10:06 am

  5. This may be well off track, but Johnson could well loose Ryan not because of the Goodna By-Pass, but because of the traffic problems he and his band of merry “hand wavers” cause when waving to passing motorists from the roadside!
    The naive notion that this “visible presence” somehow connects with voters is surely not based on any substantial research – probably most likely on anecdotal drivel.
    Last week the Centenary Highway was banked back from the river to Ipswich Road as early as 7am – you would naturally think as a result of an accident.
    But no, Johnson’s hand wavers were on the Jindalee side of the bridge, waving and carrying on, and the traffic was slowing (maybe to abuse them, I am not sure). The ripple effect was that the traffic was still slow at the Mt Ommaney on-ramp at 9.30am.

    Comment by lightman — October 17, 2007 @ 4:26 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.