ROGER SCOTT. Personalities and Millstones in Queensland

Personalities are increasingly significant in political contests, particularly as voters in all countries are abandoning the dominant parties. Politics in most Australian states are firmly controlled by capital city interests. Queensland has been slightly different, in this as in so many other ways.

Elsewhere, the ALP draws on working class votes and middle-class “progressive” sympathisers, but in Queensland these two elements are often spatially distinct. Over a long period, their opponents have been divided into two distinct organisations, dominated by the rural-based Nationals. Given this diversity on both sides of the “capitalist divide”, political leadership has been equally diverse.

With loyalty to the two largest traditional parties decaying, personality politics in Queensland has been similarly variegated and consequently more unpredictable than in other states or nationally. Some of these personalities play to parochial audiences and do not get much attention outside the state, or even outside parliament until there is an unusually close vote in a hung parliament in which most votes are close.

ALP losses inside Parliament

When Palaszczuk transformed a seven-member Opposition into a minority Government she had to deal with a large number of members with no previous experience. This led to significant problems. First was the Indigenous member for the far northern seat of Cook who had to be expelled from the ALP very early on for lack of disclosure of issues in the pre-selection process and continuing accusations of domestic violence; then the member for nearby Cairns forsook the party because it rejected claims he made about local government corruption. A third ALP member who had more experience, as one of the original seven survivors from the Opposition in the Newman era and so entitled to a Ministry, became an uninhibited back-bencher after giving misleading information about her handling of confidential documents. A fourth ALP member had been relegated to the back-bench after being dismissed from Cabinet for failing to meet basic requirements of personal financial responsibility. Finally, a fifth member of the ALP team, subject to highly unfavourable public accusations of (non-political) bullying, was denied re-endorsement at the eleventh hour before the 2017 election was called. Altogether a motley crew when it came to maintaining majority support for the beleaguered Premier, when deals also needed to be done with one genuine independent, elevated to the Speakership, and a duet of Katter’s Australian Party members.

A One Nation gain

By contrast, there was the only loss from the LNP side – the recruitment to One Nation of one of the own former Newman government Minister (disgruntled by relegation to the opposition back-bench).  Steve Dickson has served for a few weeks as the sole representative and putative leader of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

Even though she has never been a member of the local legislature, Pauline Hanson herself aims to count for much more in Queensland in the long term than these occasional accidents. It is Hanson’s personality which has captured the limelight in Queensland politics, because of her national presence and the celebrity appeal she has been able to exploit, aided by a compliant media. In particular, she touches a raw nerve by embracing a set of race-based policies which have deep historical roots on both sides of the conventional party divide.

Katter’s Australian Party

But the media continues to do a disservice to those who wish to distance themselves from Hanson. There are other personalities, all of whom need more attention than they currently receive compared to Hanson.

The first of these is Robbie Katter, the local representative of the Katter family. (The second and third are the two opposing leaders – Nicholls and Palaszczuk – both with millstones around their neck – Campbell Newman and Gautam Adani.  See below)

Robbie Katter has the lightest millstone: the perception of collaborating too comfortably with the ALP to sustain their period in minority government.  Katter has shrewdly offset much of that load by pursuing an independent policy line on issues which matter greatly to his regional and rural constituents, notably on gun control (the issue so close to his flamboyant father) but also on fighting overseas monopoly control of sugar marketing arrangements and resisting ALP legislation on tree-clearing. The vilification and disdain shown to Katter by the Newman LNP government certainly came back to bite them.

The late-night manoeuvre which reintroduced compulsory preferencing may have proved a double-edged sword for the ALP but it certainly benefitted Katter’s chance of expanding his numbers beyond the current two members, especially as the seat of Dalrymple, held by the other KAP member, has been abolished in the redistribution In the north.  What Katter continues to offer is a sensible alternative for protest voters in country and regional seats. The striking difference to Hanson and One Nation is the Katter family’s long history of working amicably with Indigenous communities and resistance to the racial and religious elements underpinning One Nation’s policies.

Tim Nicholls and the memory of Campbell Newman

Nicholls is at the other end of the socio-geographic spectrum from Katter and lacks Katter’s natural charm, particularly in dealing with rural and regional voters. One of Nicholls’ obvious weaknesses is his own intra-party credibility beyond Brisbane; activists from the former National party within the LNP are sceptical of his credentials to represent their interests despite his willingness to travel among them and to ensure prominence to the rural-based deputy leader. His ghost is the unshakeable spectre of Campbell Newman and the ultra neo-liberal economic policies of the Newman-Nicholls government.  As I pointed out in reviewing Newman’s memoirs last year, Newman singles out Nicholls for direct blame for almost every bad decision of the era, including the choice of chief justice as well as for the specialist economic decisions such as privatisation.

Annastacia Palaszczuk and the burden of Gautam Adani

The millstone for Palaszczuk is Indian financier and mining entrepreneur Gautam Adani. He is less of a ghost from the past, though inherited from previous regimes, than a constant reminder of a potentially unpalatable future. The millstone is lightened by three factors: first,  his presence in Queensland is the result of cumulative decisions at state and national level; second, he has had an even warmer embrace by the Liberal National coalition – and the compulsory preferential system means that the protesters have limited choice;  third, there is real uncertainty among non-partisan financial experts about the future financial viability of building such a massive coal mine, as well as doubts about the actual employment effects from the mine itself compared with the long-term employment prospects to be derived from tourism if the Great Barrier Reef is saved.

The threat of Hanson holding the balance of power

For potential protest voters, the “clear and present danger” is not Adani but the prospect of a hung parliament in which a Nicholls government could not be trusted to honour its future commitments – like the Newman-Nicholls government promises in the past on public service issues.  A hung parliament would leave One Nation in the driving seat, with a rampant endorsement for its underlying philosophies at both state and national level. Viewed in this wider perspective, the poll should be seen as a plebiscite about the power and influence of Pauline Hanson.  All other issues pale into insignificance.

Roger Scott is an Emeritus Professor of Public Administration in the University of Queensland and former Director-General of Education in Queensland. He was the Foundation Director of the TJ Ryan Foundation in Brisbane.

 

 

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4 Responses to ROGER SCOTT. Personalities and Millstones in Queensland

  1. Paul Frijters says:

    I see that the rampant corruption of the government, and the protest movement against it (eg Cameron Murray for South Brisbane, but also the CCC inquiry and the Ipswich debacle) get no mention in your piece. You conveniently paint it as ALP versus Pauline Hanson. Convenient spin. You even dare say that anything else is insignificant. That is some statement, Roger.

    So I looked up the TJ Ryan foundation. Announced at birth by the ALP leadership and writing annual reports that to me read like apologias of the ALP government. In close cooperation with the Courier Mail no less. I do see that you also put up more critical work on your website (if you look for them), such as the comments of Tony Fitzgerald (which I will copy below, streight from your website), but I see very little of that kind of thinking in your headline reports and nothing in your summary above. Why? Is Pauline Hanson a convenient enemy for you and the ALP?

    http://www.tjryanfoundation.org.au/cms/page.asp?ID=3960

    The only hope for democracy is for politicians to stand up to political parties

    Former Queensland ‘corruption fighter’, Tony Fitzgerald QC, comments via the ABC (13.7.17) on the demise of truly ‘representative’ politics in Australia, with politicians beholden to party interests ahead of public interest.

    ‘Democracy has largely been reduced to a contest between three dominant parties, two of which act in coalition.

    ‘Each is a private organisation with a small membership which primarily represents the interests — in particular the economic interests — of a section of the community.

    ‘They dominate public discussion and debate and one or other of them has governed Australia for more than 70 years.

    ‘They enacted the legislation that provides public funding based on past election results, giving them a major electoral advantage over other parties and independent candidates.

    ‘During that period, politics has been transformed from a public service to a career with a well-defined path for those who embrace the culture and authority of their chosen party, and accept that ideology and sectional interests are more important than the common good.

    Former Queensland ‘corruption fighter’, Tony Fitzgerald QC, comments via the ABC (13.7.17) on the demise of truly ‘representative’ politics in Australia, with politicians beholden to party interests ahead of public interest.

    ‘Democracy has largely been reduced to a contest between three dominant parties, two of which act in coalition.

    ‘Each is a private organisation with a small membership which primarily represents the interests — in particular the economic interests — of a section of the community.

    ‘They dominate public discussion and debate and one or other of them has governed Australia for more than 70 years.

    ‘They enacted the legislation that provides public funding based on past election results, giving them a major electoral advantage over other parties and independent candidates.

    ‘During that period, politics has been transformed from a public service to a career with a well-defined path for those who embrace the culture and authority of their chosen party, and accept that ideology and sectional interests are more important than the common good.

    ‘Winning is all that matters and “whatever it takes” is the basic rule.’

    • Roger Scott says:

      Thank you for your contribution and your reproduction of the Fitzgerald comments from the Ryan Foundation website. I am proud to have been one of the signatories sponsoring the national advertisement supporting comments by Mr Fitzgerald and I deplore the existence of widespread political corruption wherever it occurs. This includes governments at all levels, in public bureaucracies and in universities.

      It is all a matter of relativities – from visiting the Ryan website, you will see that I have written at length on the revival of One Nation as a major political force, summarised in an earlier contribution to Menadue. An electoral outcome which empowered this party to exercise the balance of power would be disastrous for the health of Queensland democracy.

      You comment that my previous writings have been mere “apologias for the ALP government, in close co-operation with the Courier-Mail no less”. This would give great offence to one of my co-authors, Howard Guille, and I hasten to utterly reject the notion of any close co-operation with the Courier-Mail – Mr Leahy owns the copyright on his own cartoons and is free to approve their reproduction, an approval he has not restricted on party-political grounds. I admit to being a subscriber to the Courier-Mail but this does not seem to have won me any coverage in their columns. Both the Greens and Katter’s Australian Party receive due recognition for their achievements in those annual reviews, although I make no secret of my preference for the former on environmental issues and opposition to Adani.

      • paul frijters says:

        thank you for the reply.
        I do not take back my assessment of your summary reports. I am in particular thinking of an assessment of a year in politics that is not named ‘A view of politics in Queensland’ but is named after the current ALP leader. That report follows the spin of that party in Queensland (which is that its all about jobs).

        I also find it very weird to claim that One Nation holding the balance of power would hurt democracy in Queensland. Why would it? Do they have a political platform to abolish parliament or to curtail civic liberties (as for instance the bikie laws have done which the ALP has not reversed?)?

        I am not a fan of the policies of one Nation but Pauline Hanson does strike me as one of the very few in Australian politics who says what she actually believes. How more of that in our politics is bad for our democracy is beyond me. The implicit notion that power should be held within the existing club (the existing main parties) runs foul of what Tony Fitzgerald said above. So if you truly agree with Fitzgerald, may I suggest a radical rethink of your politics and the activities of your foundation?

        Btw, who funds your foundation?

  2. Roger Scott says:

    Two factual responses –

    Re names of publications : My wife as executive editor assembled a collection of earlier publications produced by me and a few other Research Associates during the years before Palaszczuk came to power. It is called The Newman Years and almost all of its components listed in the table of contents refer to Newman in their title.

    Re funding: The source of funding is hardly secret : it is referred to in the speech in Hansard setting up the Ryan Foundation and in our regular annual reports. Slightly more than half comes as grants from the Queensland Council of Unions and the remainder from ALP sources. It is spent on technical support for the web-site and on infrequent conferences; the only salary cost relates to part-time editing and web-site maintenance. Nobody on the Board receives any remuneration, nor do Research Associates.

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