Leading article Australia

Queensland was about you, Malcolm

2 December 2017

9:00 AM

2 December 2017

9:00 AM

The Queensland election has come and gone. While votes are still being counted, it’s clear premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and her motley Labor crew will form majority government. Although Labor is achieving this with barely one-third of the primary vote, the Liberal National opposition took a massive swing of more than eight per cent against it.

One Nation might be lucky to pick up one seat, but gained 14 per cent of the vote. Its preferences were crucial, and too few of those preferences flowed to the LNP. Conservatives rejected conservatives, and Ms Palaszczuk was the beneficiary. As in 1998 and 2001, Pauline Hanson effectively determined who governs Queensland.

Federal Coalition MPs, from the Prime Minister down, rushed to trot out the tired ‘it was fought on state issues’ mantra. Yes it was, but the Labor-LNP choice boiled down to two risk-averse, big-spending, high-debt, high-spending options. No vision, no imagination, no leadership, no competence.

If that sounds familiar, that’s because the Turnbull government and the Shorten opposition are delivering these in Canberra. For the PM and other senior MPs to brush this off as a Deep North thing is denying their own reality. When they lament the big number of voters who supported One Nation last Saturday, they shouldn’t delude themselves that most were voting for One Nation – or, particularly, Ms Hanson. Rather, they were voting against the major parties; especially against the LNP as the notional standard-bearer for centre-right values. To One Nation and Australian Conservatives voters, the system is broken, and the LNP as personified by the Turnbull government is not only unable to fix it, but is part of the problem.

Conservative voters are sick and tired of politicians obsessing about themselves and their student politics antics. They expect that from Labor, but are angry about hubristic Coalition displays like Christopher Pyne’s embarrassing ‘we’re in the winner’s circle’ boast to Liberal moderates about same-sex marriage. They don’t like in-fighting in Coalition ranks. They absolutely hate that the political class too often treats the future of the nation as some sort of game. That the likes of Bill Shorten and ‘Shanghai Sam’ Dastyari are even worse than the current lot doesn’t mean that, as with One Nation in Queensland, centre-right voters won’t boot the Coalition out, whether with primary votes or preferences.

They want a federal Coalition government with stable leadership à la John Howard, a sense of shared values, some political courage and political nous. While it’s encouraging Mr Turnbull has shown some mongrel over the latest revelations of Senator Dastyari’s shady dalliances with Chinese donors, to retain majority government he must channel Tony Abbott and campaign like crazy, at every opportunity, in the Bennelong by-election. To retain the Coalition’s razor-thin majority, he can’t afford to be like Macavity the Mystery Cat, never there when he’s wanted.

As pointed out in this magazine, the Liberal party faces an existential crisis at both federal and state level. It is riven by factionalism and self-interest, with too much mediocrity and careerism in its parliamentary ranks. It is looking anything but a party of government. But as Steve Smith and the Australian Test cricket team showed in Brisbane this week, leadership and confidence come from the captain.

For his party to survive 2018’s state (and federal?) electoral onslaught, Mr Turnbull needs to show confidence, leadership and vision behind which Liberal supporters can rally. They crave reasons to park their primary votes with the Liberals and Nationals – not One Nation et al – and not gift the next political generation to Labor. If the PM doesn’t deliver, it’s not just the federal Coalition that will find itself in long-term opposition. It will be state and territory Liberal parties that will face a long, dark night of a decade or more of opposition.

Start by ditching the pointless, crippling Paris Agreement, and by providing legal protections in the SSM bill.

Dastyari must go

‘Whose side is he on? Is he on the side of the agencies that keep us safe or is he on the side of a foreign government?’, Malcolm Turnbull demanded to know, following allegations by the Sydney Morning Herald that Senator Sam Dastyari ‘warned Chinese Communist Party-linked political donor Huang Xiangmo…that his phone was likely tapped by government agencies.’ This in the light of the citizenship ‘loyalty’ scandal and Dastyari’s own past.

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