A not-so-goofy plan to rule the state of Brisbane
As Campbell Newman yesterday outlined one of the more goofy political strategies Australia has seen, there was one stark impression: The bloke himself didn’t come across as goofy.
Newman, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, was explaining to reporters how he planned to be the Liberal National Party (LNP) State Opposition Leader without having to actually be in the Queensland Parliament.
In about a year’s time he would run for a seat Labor has held for 22 years, and in the meantime a surrogate elected last night would be the official Opposition Leader. But actually, the Opposition Leader would be Campbell Newman.
Ultimately, his plan is for him to become Premier, replacing Labor’s Anna Bligh, at the election expected early next year. It seemed so easy, so seamless.
Queensland, my home state, has produced some ripper candidates, not excluding Pauline Hanson.
For example, there was the Joh for PM campaign to elevate Premier Bjelke-Petersen even though he wasn’t in Federal Parliament. But at least he was in somebody’s Parliament.
There have been cases of state leaders and one national leader holding their positions while not in Parliament. This was during the time it took them to transit from an Upper House to a Lower House—Neville Wran and Barrie Unsworth in NSW, and John Gorton federally.
But again, at least they were in a Parliament in the first place. That has been something of a basic requirement when you want to perform as a parliamentary leader. Campbell Newman is in local government.
However, a key factor is that Brisbane City Council is not some dinky municipal cul-de-sac. It is the biggest metropolitan council in the nation and encloses a population of about two million, operating assets worth about $13 billion with an annual budget of $1.6 billion.
It is a state within a state, and the Lord Mayor has a position which has almost the same elevation as the Premier. Newman already has close to parity with Bligh.
The same could not be said for the men he believes he has replaced, former LNP leader John-Paul Langbroek and his deputy Lawrence Springborg. (Another sign that the Newman plan was not as goofy as it looked was the meek departure of these two men.)
Anna Bligh was given high marks for her handling of the Queensland floods; so was Newman during the terrible Brisbane end of the deluge. Bligh is deeply involved in the state’s reconstruction; so is Newman.
And Newman is putting himself on the line. He isn’t trying to sneak into Parliament via a safe seat, and he will quit his lord mayoral job once he gets preselection for Ashgrove.
There are two large flaws in the Newman master plan.
The first is that Anna Bligh might put off an election for as long as possible so that the confusion of two Opposition Leaders—one real, the other pretend—could be compounded.
The second is that Brisbane voters like keeping their successful Lord Mayors.
Brisbane mayors have become significant, even substantial, names on the national stage.
The late Clem Jones, Labor for 14 years to 1975, brought sewers to houses and paved neglected streets, and created parklands. In 1974 he put together the bid which won Brisbane the 1982 Commonwealth Games. He topped that by also working as curator at the Brisbane Cricket Ground (The ‘Gabba).
However, when Clem ran for a state seat in 1972 he was rejected by voters. The official explanation was that the public wanted him to stay on as Lord Mayor.
He ran for a federal seat in 1974 and was again rebuffed, apparently for the same reason.
That might happen to Newman. The voters might insist he finish his work at the local council rather than enter state Parliament.
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