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Gasping Coalition

By Scott Prasser - posted Wednesday, 20 September 2006


The Queensland National and Liberal parties have lost seven state elections since 1989.

Their brief return to office in 1996 was the result of a by-election rather than a general election win. It is an appalling record of failure. For the Queensland Liberals it is one of gross incompetence and a federal leadership that neither understands Queensland politics, appreciates its national impact nor has the wherewithal to intervene to knock down the whole decaying edifice that is now the Queensland Liberal Party.

The Nationals gained no additional seats overall and regional Queensland swung 2.1 per cent to Labor.

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But, because it is southeast Queensland where the seats are, the real losers were the hapless Liberals who gained only one extra seat. With eight seats, the Liberals are back to where they were in 1956. In 1974 they had 30 seats.

Noosa was won only because the incumbent member Cate Molloy stood as an Independent and split the Labor vote. Everywhere the Liberal performance was pathetic. In Dr Bruce Flegg's seat of Moggill, Liberal Party heartland, he received just 50.3 per cent of the primary vote. On the Gold Coast they just held Robina. The high Green vote - which was more than 17 per cent in Moggill - highlights the lack of Liberal appeal.

By-election wins of last year, Redcliffe and Chatsworth, returned to Labor. Even Liberal leadership aspirant Michael Caltabiano lost.

There is no doubt that the failed Coalition merger, the sudden elevation of Flegg as leader, his campaign gaffes, the lack of policies and limited campaign funding, possibly exacerbated by internal party factional sabotage, all contributed to the Liberals' woes.

However, Flegg is not totally to blame. The Queensland Liberals have long been marked by faction fighting, poor candidates, lack of business support and unimaginative policies, ever since former leader Terry White took them out of coalition and out of government in 1983.

The Liberals have been out of serious contention in Queensland politics ever since. Internal mafia-like factional turf wars over a decreasing number of seats have not helped. The Liberals are run by those more concerned with securing their power base than actually winning office.

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Although the Nationals remain the larger of the Coalition parties, the growing urbanisation in the southeast means the future of the non-Labor cause in Queensland rests with the revival of the Liberal Party.

Demographic changes and a future redistribution are against the Nationals. Except for Maroochydore, the Nationals have now been vanquished from the growing southeast Queensland "sea change" areas. These areas will become even more important after the forthcoming redistribution.

There are five challenges facing the non-Labor parties for the future that must be addressed if they are to have any chance of winning government, that at the earliest, will be in two elections' time.

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First published in The Courier-Mail on September 12, 2006.



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About the Author

Scott Prasser is Professor of Public Policy and was Executive Director of the Public Policy Institute at the Australian Catholic University. Scott has worked previously in senior policy and research roles in federal and state governments and in several universities in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Recently, Scott co-edited with Associate Professor Nicholas Aroney and J.R. Nethercote the book Restraining Elective Dictatorship: The Upper House Solution? He has just written with Helen Tracey a report entitled Beyond Gonski: Reviewing the Evidence on Quality Schooling.

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