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Australia Diary Australia

Queensland Diary

31 March 2012

12:00 PM

31 March 2012

12:00 PM

If a political party without a soul can be said to have a spiritual homeland, then Queensland is the spiritual homeland of the ALP. The legend (perhaps, like so many Labor legends, apocryphal) is that the party was formed under the since-defunct ‘Tree of Knowledge’ at Barcaldine during the great shearers’ strike of the late 19th century. The first person elected to any parliament as an official Labor candidate was Thomas Glassey, whose election as the Member for Bundamba at the 1888 election preceded by four years Keir Hardie’s election to the House of Commons.

The first Labor government in the world was that of Anderson Dawson, who became Premier of Queensland, for seven days, in December 1899. It was a Queenslander, Andrew Fisher, who led the first majority Labor government in the Commonwealth Parliament. So Queensland, the birthplace of the Labor movement in Australia, seems a peculiarly fitting place to deal it a mortal blow.

•••

I spend the morning of polling day at the Milton State School, in the heart of Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser’s electorate of Mount Coot-tha — second only to Ashgrove on the Liberal National Party’s target list. The polling booths are decked with the usual bunting and wrap-around plastic. There is no mention of Labor or of Anna Bligh: the Labor wrap features a photograph of Campbell Newman and dire warnings of an LNP landslide. The LNP wrap also features Newman, so the impression left upon voters is that there is only one candidate in the election. Which, in a sense, is true.

•••

[Alt-Text]


My son Simon, who is a first-year law student and has got the politics bug, goes out with a few of his mates from the University Liberal Club the night before polling to help set up one of the Mount Coot-tha booths, and then to stand guard through the night lest the LNP bunting be torn down. A police patrol car approaches. Teenagers gathered on street corners in the early hours of the morning have an innate apprehension at coming to the notice of the constabulary. However on this occasion, as the police car draws up, the officer winds down the window and says, ‘Good on you, boys, every policeman in Queensland is voting for you.’

•••

During the course of the morning, we notice that a how-to-vote card is being distributed by Labor booth-workers, encouraging the gay community to vote for Labor. If the document is in fact being distributed on behalf of Labor, it is unlawful because it lacks the appropriate party authorisation. Foolishly, Fraser hands the document to me. The LNP decides to apply for an injunction to stop it. I take myself into LNP headquarters to prepare the material. To swear the supporting affidavit, it is of course necessary to use a Bible, and none can be found. Rather than delay matters, one of the staff opens the King James version online and, taking her iPad in my right hand, I swear the oath. (I think that is sufficient — better, in any event, than an affirmation.) Labor gives undertakings to stop the conduct. To nobody’s surprise, the undertakings are breached.

•••

On election night, I join the Channel 7 panel with Graham Richardson, Barnaby Joyce, Tim Nicholls and Andrew Fraser. It is a night of shock and awe: the Channel 7 computer allocates the LNP more than the necessary 45 seats before the Labor total has progressed beyond zero. Even Richo, whose expectations of Labor’s performance have been on the low side of deep pessimism, is shocked by the magnitude of the wipeout. Labor has not had fewer seats in the Queensland Parliament since the 1890s.

•••

One of the satisfying things about polling day was the election to Parliament of two of my former staff. Jason Costigan, Mackay born and bred and the new member for Whitsunday, was my sports adviser when I was Sports Minister in the Howard government in 2007; I was even more dependent than most of my colleagues would have been upon his encyclopaedic knowledge. He was also one of the architects of Australia’s successful campaign to have John Fahey elected as the President of the World Anti-Doping Authority, the second most powerful job in sport. And Verity Barton, who was preselected for Broadwater after a chapter of accidents with earlier candidates, became the youngest woman ever elected to the Queensland Parliament on the non-Labor side of politics.

•••

There has been much praise for the role of Lawrence Springborg as ‘the father of the LNP’. This is entirely fitting, since it was Lawrence who drove the merger of the parties in 2008 in the face of opposition from sceptics (including, at the time, me). Yet there is someone else whose role in conceiving of the new party should also be acknowledged: my colleague David Russell QC, for whom the fusion of the Liberal and National parties in Queensland, to create what we might describe as ‘Liberalism with Queensland characteristics’, has been a life-work. If, in the fullness of time, there is a single non-Labor party in Australia, its origin will be directly traceable to a vision David has pursued, through many twists and turns, since the days when he was the Country Vice-President of the Queensland Young Liberals in 1971.

•••

Among the endless post mortems, one of the strangest suggestions for Labor’s recovery was Peter Beattie’s idea that Julia Gillard should come to Queensland more often to sell the carbon tax, and even buy a house here. Sure, that’ll do it! Julia Gillard — who, according to CrosbyTextor research is 20 per cent more unpopular with Queensland voters than Anna Bligh — spending her days in Queensland talking about the carbon tax. I hope she buys her house in a Labor marginal.

George Brandis is a Liberal senator from Queensland and deputy Senate leader. 

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