Would Peter Beattie’s stunning win have been possible without the vote rorts affair and the Shepherdson Inquiry? I don’t think so. What for most politicians would have been a difficult situation was for Beattie an opportunity to redefine himself as distinct from conventional politics. We are living in an age of celebrity, and an age that yearns for public honesty and decency at a time when the media scrutinises public men and women more severely than ever.
The Shepherdson Inquiry gave Beattie the opportunity to assert his celebrity at the same time that he proved his integrity, giving him the decisive edge in a competition that came down to personalities, not policies. The two stars of this State election were Pauline Hanson and Peter Beattie, and they were the two winners. The Liberal, National and Labor Parties ran a poor third.
It might appear strange to anoint Hanson as a winner, but her election-night figures are deceptive. Her 9 per cent of the statewide vote looks disappointing, but she ran in only 39 seats. In the seats where she did run she won 20 per cent of the vote. This vote increases markedly when you add in the CCAQ and Independents who are Hansonite in their approach. It comes closer to 40 per cent in the seats which they contested. In fact, the National and Liberal Parties ran behind Hanson in 18 seats, demonstrating the potency of her vote. She was restricted to only three seats not because of her poor performance, but because Beattie performed so well that he took seats that, on the basis of last election, One Nation could have expected to win on this year’s vote.
Hanson was also successful with her spoiler strategy. Not so much because of her preference policy, although it did certainly account for a number of scalps, such as Denver Beanland in Indooroopilly, but because her presence made it impossible for a large percentage of traditional Coalition supporters to vote for anyone but Beattie. While Hanson’s support base loves instability, most habitual Coalition voters do not. They would not vote for the possibility of a minority Coalition government propped up on Hansonite preferences. The only alternative was Labor.
Beattie cleverly exploited this. His Vote-1-only platform gave Hanson a greater chance of winning seats than preferencing against her, convincing traditional non-Labor voters that the Coalition was a lost cause. The National Party then proved that by rolling Rob Borbidge on the issue, even though Borbidge’s position of not preferencing One Nation is the only one that is in their long-term interest. The Vote 1 platform also starved Coalition candidates of vital preferences, as minor-party supporters failed to allocate.
This is not to take away from Beattie’s success and the way he has redefined politics in this state.
Could the Coalition have stopped Beattie? Late last year they certainly could have. Liberal Leader David Watson had his own defining moment when perennial plotter and putative coup leader Santo Santoro spat the dummy and resigned from his front-bench after being ticked-off by Watson. It was amazing how many of people spontaneously told me how this had raised the Liberal leader in their estimation.
Watson needed to consolidate from that. But he didn’t. He allowed the rorting in Ryan, right on his front lawn, to continue. The unedifying spectacle of foreign nationals parachuting into Brisbane to vote in a pre-selection in the former Defence Minister’s seat undercut the Liberals’ argument that Beattie should be punished for rorting.
It also undercut a possible line of attack that Beattie may be clean, but that he wasn’t in control of his party.
However, the biggest failure of the Coalition campaign was not to have worked out a consistent and workable strategy for dealing with One Nation. How could the State Parliamentary leader be declaring in February this year that there would be no preference allocation to One Nation when late last year he had been told by his organisation that there would be? The fact that Borbidge was advocating the correct strategy makes the situation even more bizarre.
The Queensland National Party needs to understand that there is no short-term future in government for them while One Nation remains a real political presence. As it is almost impossible to fight a war on two fronts, their primary task is to clean up One Nation. That may make winning government a two-election process, but that is the price that Hansonism is going to exact. Cosying up to One Nation is no answer. Naomi Wilson, the candidate who kicked it all off by defying Borbidge in the seat of Cairns, still lost on the night.
The Coalition could also have held their ground more effectively if they had run on policies rather than rorting. But this would have required a big advertising campaign. The material was there – unemployment worse than the rust- bucket state of South Australia; lengthening queues at public hospitals; rates of crime still on the increase while budget cuts put corrections officers out of work; and a capital works budget that boasted little new work that hadn’t been planned by the former Borbidge Coalition Government.
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