Tagged: LNP

Why Queensland will never Joh again

As the magnitude of the swing against the Liberal National Party in the Queensland election became clear on Saturday night, one unlikely voice cut through the sea of claptrap and said what his former colleagues would not. While ex-premier Campbell Newman, his potential replacement, Tim Nicholls and federal MP Jane Prentice frothed about the need to re-frame their party’s message in more palatable terms to the electorate, another former state Liberal Party leader – the once ridiculed Bruce Flegg – was prepared to admit the truth: his party had monumentally stuffed up.

Flegg was once the member for Moggill, a suburb of semi-rural acreage on the banks of the Brisbane River that seems to be populated almost entirely by retired doctors and veterinarians. In other words, it couldn’t be more blue-ribbon Liberal territory if you stuck a giant silver spoon on top of the Brookfield Town Hall. Flegg himself is a former GP. Last October, he lost his 10-year hold on the seat to another medico, Dr Christian Rowan (a former Queensland president of the Australian Medical Association) in a pre-selection battle that turned nasty.

So it’s probably not surprising that Flegg wasn’t shy about unloading on his party on election night. Nevertheless, his words should have cut to the bone. His favourite, which he mentioned several times, was “hubris”, but Flegg didn’t dwell on the usual political tropes of arrogance and deafness to criticism. Instead, he zeroed in hard on the Newman government’s sacking, then subsequent stacking, of the cross-party Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee in 2013 as the decisive moment that turned the public against the LNP.

Other observers have mentioned a host of other obvious factors: the sale of public assets; the sacking of 12,000 public servants (right before members of parliament awarded themselves a whopping pay rise); the disembowelling of environmental protections that, among other things, reduced the Great Barrier Reef to a shipping lane for the state’s coal interests; and the uncomfortably cosy relationship with those same interests that saw laws guarding against political donations diluted. Even a confected war with bikies didn’t work in the way a good old-fashioned law and order campaign once did.

But Flegg’s post-election comments spoke to exactly how far the LNP overstepped its mandate. Let’s be clear: as much as Annastacia Palaszczuk can take credit for digging the ALP out of the grave (after previously not having enough MPs to fill a maxi taxi, they’re going to need a bigger bus), Labor has not “won” this election. Rather, it’s the LNP and its agenda that’s been comprehensively repudiated. And while everyone is hyperventilating about what it all means for the federal coalition and Tony Abbott, it’s worth thinking for a moment about what it says about Queensland.

In my view, the LNP’s most colossal misjudgement was that the Queensland electorate – particularly those in the urban enclaves of greater Brisbane which hold so many of the state’s seats – somehow still pined for the days when Joh Bjelke-Petersen ruled the state with jack boots and an iron fist. (Actually, perhaps the first thing the party executive should do is sack whoever advised the LNP to get the word “strong” into every utterance, from every pulpit and press release, as often as possible.)

Large segments of the LNP still haven’t accepted history’s verdict on the Joh years. The gavel came down hard with Tony Fitzgerald QC’s report in 1989, which banished the conservatives from office for a generation, barring a Bob Borbidge blip in the mid-1990s. Newman, the former Brisbane Lord Mayor, was recruited as a putative premier from outside the parliament to put an acceptably urbane face on the newly merged Liberal and National Parties. Once elected, though – with a monumental majority that saw the ALP reduced to a rump – it took about five minutes for the “Here we Joh again” comparisons to start flying.

That Newman frittered away his political capital fast enough to lose the lot, including his own seat of Ashgrove, within a single term tells you a little about him, a little more about the times we live in, and a lot about Queensland. If it proves anything, it’s that the state learned the lessons of the Bjelke-Petersen era better, perhaps, than even many of the natives may have thought. Fitzgerald, surely, will be wearing a quietly satisfied smile.

You could see the portents of this result in the by-elections of Redcliffe and Stafford, held in February and July respectively last year. Both were fought substantially on issues of integrity and accountability. Redcliffe had long been a rolling disaster for the LNP, with first-term MP Scott Driscoll forced to resign from the party, then the parliament, due to financial irregularities that saw him fined $90,000. Both he and his wife are now facing serious charges including fraud and perjury. The seat fell to Labor’s Yvette D’Ath with a 17.2 percent swing.

The Stafford by-election, brought on by the resignation of Dr Chris Davis, was even more telling. Davis (another former Queensland AMA president) was a fierce internal critic of the government’s neutering of the Crime and Misconduct Commission and, especially, the relaxing of laws governing political donations. “The passage of recent government legislation affecting critical aspects of our democracy goes contrary to my value system and that of the majority of my electorate,” Davis said. He was right: the swing against the LNP in Stafford was even more savage than in Redcliffe, 18.6 percent.

In that context, the massive state-wide swing against the LNP on Saturday is perhaps less of an upset than it appeared. Of course, no one (not even the bookies) openly dared to back the ALP from such a parlous position. But really, it wasn’t about them. The LNP, convinced of its electoral invincibility and drunk on its own ideological Kool-Aid, had turned itself into the political equivalent of a suicide squad. Therein, at least, lies a lesson for Abbott and his federal colleagues.

We don’t know yet – and might not know for days or more – whether or not Labor has enough seats to govern in its own right or to form a potential minority government, a scenario a spooked LNP called a recipe for chaos ahead of the election. It should, in fact, be the best thing to happen to Queensland in years. With no upper house, politics in the Deep North has long been characterised by governments with huge majorities trampling over impotent oppositions and democratic safeguards alike. Hopefully, this close result will signal a return to moderation, transparency, and close-checking accountability. As for Bruce Flegg, he was on the money.

Going the extra mile for the disabled

The same message had been coming up on my despatcher for over an hour, with variations indicating increasing desperation: “URGENT wheelchair booking holding Ransome-Wellington Point. 2 x advantage jobs on offer. Pax waiting. Please assist.”

Good luck with that, I thought. That sounds harsh, I know, but there was nothing I could do; I was in the Albany Creek area at the time, a good hour away from the southern bayside suburbs. And most other wheelchair-accessible taxis, I knew, would be in two places: at the airport or cruising the city, where they had the best chance of finding work. The only way any of them would be making the 45-minute drive to the Redlands would be if another fare took them there first.

And even then they might not want to hang around, 2 x advantage jobs (where drivers are, sometimes, allocated a pre-booked compensatory fare) or not.

The sad, brutal reality if you’re a person with a disability – especially if you live in the outer suburbs – is that unless you want to go somewhere pretty exceptional, it’s often pretty hard to find a cab willing to come to your aid. And mostly, wheelchair-bound passengers aren’t going anywhere exceptional: they’re relying on taxis to take them from home to their local shopping centre, or they’re on a visit to their kids from their nursing facility or respite centre. Basic stuff, which anyone should be entitled to without fuss.

In some ways, working with people with disabilities is one of the most rewarding aspects of driving a maxi taxi. You are providing a badly required community service. One of the best jobs I ever had involved picking up a clearly gravely ill woman from the Holy Spirit Hospital with her extended family – children and grandchildren – a week before Christmas a few years ago. All they wanted to do was drive around the suburbs for an hour looking at the Christmas lights.

But – as anyone who works in community services will attest – it’s poorly paid. And time is money in a cab. There is no baseline retainer. Most drivers make a little better than 50 percent of a 12-hour shift’s take, if they’re good at the job. They bear the cost of fuel, and many other expenses besides. They are not considered employees, so there are no holidays or superannuation or sickness benefits. And rises in taxi fares are invariably gobbled up by the owners, who simply increase the cost of leasing their vehicles to drivers.

It is, as Ross Gittins said earlier this week, a terrible deal, and it’s hardly a surprise that the industry is plagued by high turnover and desperate drivers willing to cut corners wherever they can to make a living. The turnover is particularly high in the maxi fleet. It’s a rare cabbie who will go the extra mile(s) – literally – to pick up a wheelchair passenger in Ransome. Of course we are dealing with people less fortunate than ourselves, but the simple fact is we have to eat, too.

So Campbell Newman’s decision to axe a proposed taxi subsidy scheme (negotiated by the Taxi Council with the previous Labor government) is a disappointment. The scheme aimed to compensate drivers $6.50 for each wheelchair fare. And $6.50 per fare, adding up to about $1.5 million, is minimalist compared to similar schemes in other states.

Of course, Newman and transport minister Scott Emerson have trotted out the familiar refrain that the state is broke. But being broke hasn’t stopped the government from taking a politically motivated appeal against the mining tax to the high court. How will that boost the state’s coffers, either in the short or long term? An unlikely victory would certainly see a bit of extra cash flow into the pockets of a few mining magnates with close ties to the LNP. I don’t think I need to mention any names.

Speaking more broadly, and as Barrie Cassidy has already pointed out, that’s the rod Newman and other premiers have made for their own backs with their decision to turn their backs on a trial (a trial!) national disability insurance scheme, and on this proposal. Every cent they spend will – and should – be measured against their lack of commitment to servicing some of the most disadvantaged members of the community. The money they are being asked to put in is a pittance in state government terms, especially in a state as rich in resources as ours.

They should be ashamed.

Wishin’ and hopin’ on gay marriage

It’s only three weeks ago that I ventured the opinion (along with many other commentators) that Julia had her mojo back, or at least was on the kind of roll that Labor hadn’t enjoyed for at least a couple of years. For the first time in her Prime Ministership, momentum seemed to be with her. Perhaps we should have known in advance that a stumble couldn’t be far away.

When the carbon tax bills were passed in early October, she spoke about being on the right side of history. She was correct. Whatever the Coalition crows about in opposition, they will not be able to escape the cost – be it political, economic or environmental – of climate change in even the short term. No amount of wishin’ and hopin’ will make this issue go away.

So too for same-sex marriage. Yet, for reasons best known to herself, Julia’s decided to put herself on the wrong side of history. I’m guessing it’s something to do with keeping those “faceless men” from the Right faction who installed her in power happy – notably the Catholic, socially conservative Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association secretary Joe De Bruyn.

De Bruyn has issued dire warnings that Labor stands to lose up to 15 seats at the next election should it change its party platform to allow “equal access to marriage … irrespective of sex” at the ALP’s national conference this weekend. Yet the polls don’t indicate any such thing, with a clear majority of voters supporting the legal recognition of same-sex unions. According to a Herald/Nielsen poll two weeks ago, even 50 percent of coalition voters are in favour of change.

Here in Queensland, the state ALP has heaped further pressure on its federal colleagues by legalising same-sex civil unions overnight. The arguments against by the LNP were predictably risible, with opposition legal affairs spokesman Jarrod Bleijie telling parliament that “Civil partnerships is not on a priority list in the minds of Queenslanders … The passing of this bill will not save Queenslanders money, it will not ease cost of living pressures, it will not get our triple-A credit rating back.”

Well, so what? As Tim Dick writes for Fairfax online today:

“The arguments for the secular state admitting gay couples into civil matrimony are so clear, so well traversed, and those against dismissed so soundly, that we are left dealing with the twin remaining forces of opposition: political fear, and prejudice. There is not one valid reason to oppose civil marriage for gay people. None.Yet some think it ought not to be a priority, as if doing the right thing by fellow citizens should wait until the mythical day on which the rest of the public agenda is exhausted, when schools and hospitals want for nothing, when plagues and pestilence have been banished and when eternal peace has descended upon all the world. Until there is nothing else to do. Only then can the gays have their day.”

If gay marriage is not on anyone’s priority list (other than those who are directly affected by discrimination) then it’s hard to see how it’s going to have a major impact on the ALP’s electoral fortunes, other than perhaps win a few votes back from the Greens. Which in turn makes it harder to understand why Gillard has chosen to fight another battle she can’t win.

To recap, Gillard’s tried to shore up her right flank without doing herself any damage on her left by opting for a conscience vote. It’s backfired badly. Conscience votes are usually reserved for life and death issues (abortion and euthanasia), not human rights issues. For a supposedly progressive party which believes in equality of opportunity, this issue has long since passed the point of being a no-brainer.

Intellectually, she’s been totally outgunned. Repeating the blandishment that marriage is between a man and a woman doesn’t cut much ice when you have the likes of Penny Wong (from the Left) and ACT Deputy Chief Minister Andrew Barr (from the Right) inside your own party, writing cogent and very personal arguments for change for both the broadsheet and online media alike.

The vote at the conference will be tight, but even if Gillard manages to hold her breath and the numbers with it, I can’t see it doing anything but damage to her authority and her dignity. Should the numbers go against her, there’s the risk of a party split, with some members on the Right indicating they’ll thwart any attempt to change the laws in parliament by crossing the floor. Should she hold sway, the issue will only continue to fester, with the party risking losing more votes and members to the Greens.

Labor has far more to gain than lose by rolling with the tide here. Hold it back and they’ll continue to be swamped. Oh, and there goes your mojo, Julia.