Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Tomorrows Antiques Today.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on January 21, 2008

Why do they bother? It’s the only question we can ask.

The Qld Nationals have re-elected Lawrence Springborg, an otherwise entirely likeable individual, to replace that boofhead Jeff Seeney. His prize? – to occupy one of the two positions of Opposition Leader in Queensland politics.

We need two up here because the whole is apparently less than the sum of the parts, which leaves the broad Opposition just a third of a leader short of competency – maybe if they had three conservative parties with an Opposition Leader each they’d get somewhere.

Why Springborg pounced is fairly obvious – Seeney was out of his depth, annoyed the bejeesus out of people and basically hasn’t said a thing worth listening to for years. He’s not a particularly charismatic guy either so the Nats were really sitting in a small canoe somewhere in the upper reaches of Shit Creek under a Seeney leadership.

But at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what the Nats do; the next non-Labor Premier of Qld will be a Liberal- which gets us onto this whole United Conservative Party comedy act.

Jeff Seeney’s great idea was pretty much like Lawrence Springborgs last great idea – some type of merger between the Liberals and Nationals in Qld politics. The logic behind this idea is pretty simple, which speaks volumes about the political nous of its supporters; a single party won’t be screwed over by optional preferential voting.

The big problem as far as many LibNat Coalitionists see it, is that optional preferential voting doesn’t guarantee preference flows from conservative minor parties, nor for that matter from each other, it splits the conservative vote in 3 cornered contests allowing Labor to romp home using Greens preferences when they need it (which do tend to flow where it counts), and the whole cranky pants outlook towards optional preferential generally acts as a convenient excuse for why the conservatives keep getting hammered in elections.

It seems to have escaped most of them that the reason they don’t win elections actually has more to do with the fact that their political platforms, or what passes for them, are irrelevant to a majority of the electorate. Qld has dramatically changed over the last 20 years, even the last decade – these guys haven’t adapted to that change and until they do they all better get used to being treated as a joke.

The reason why a United Conservative Party will not work in Qld is simply because of the nature of conservative political support in the State.

A growing number of conservatives in both South East Qld and the major regional population centres are Liberal voters that think the Nats are a bunch of unsophisticated political Neanderthals that aren’t to be trusted. You will never, for instance, see a National Party member hold a Brisbane seat ever again. It’s not necessarily the Nationals brand that they don’t like, it’s the political positions that have created that brand. It’s why we’ve seen ordinarily conservative voters on the Gold Coast vote Labor rather than National when there wasn’t a proper Liberal candidate standing.

Yet any united conservative party in Qld would have the Nationals as the dominant force simply because they have a larger party base and a larger parliamentary representation at the moment. From the outset the merged party would start to represent everything that turns off the largest and fastest growing section of conservative support in Qld – the moderately conservative Liberal voter.

The tensions between the old Libs and the old Nats in any merged party would become unmanageable; their political differences would be untenable. They would become perpetually caught in the same problem that John Howard found himself in last year – if you pander to the Nats voters and their brand of political interests, you turn off your inner city voting block and start endangering seats. If you pander to the inner city voting block and focus on their brand of political interests, you turn off the Nats voters and start endangering seats. When that happens, you spend so much time shoring up your two ideologically opposed support bases that the outer suburban voters become easy pickings for Labor, as well as which ever support base you failed to maintain.

It’s the consequence of having conservative parties in Australia being addicted to moralising and using nanny state social politics as a political weapon – the things that divide these groups on social policy and their general views on the way that society ought to work are simply greater than the things that unite them. The conservatives should probably just STFU about these types of issues like Labor does and they might not have as big a problem. But they just can’t seem to help themselves.

There is no easy way forward for the conservative side of politics in Qld, but a merger would make the job even harder over the short and medium term considering the initial dominance of the National party in any merged entity in Qld – especially in terms of its likely effect on the moderate Liberal voting block. The long term solution, and one that John Howard was particularly successful at, is where the Liberals simply destroy and replace the National Party over time, slowly but deliberately and with a vicious intent.

Yet even then, the problem of the ideologically opposed twin support bases remains and will probably never be fully reconcilable.


34 Responses to “Tomorrows Antiques Today.”

  1. mbahnisch said

    However, Possum, they will continue to provide us with much amusement over the next little while. Whichever way the United Conservative Party turns out, it’s bound to be a schemozzle, and you’re quite right to say that Springborg is a one note politician – aside from this (which = winning power), he doesn’t appear to stand for anything in particular.

  2. Ron said

    You seem to have dismissed the optional preferential voting system as a significant factor in Q’ld and the strong vote from the strong leadership ‘Beattie” factor

    You need saleable Opposition “Leaders” to win elections when a Government stuffs up. Yemma & Beattie showed this in reverse.

    Think you’ve over rated Opposition Party’s policy development

  3. mbahnisch said

    They never did any policy development, that’s the problem. Such policy as they did present last time round was either crap made up on the spot or a wishlist of porkbarrelling goodies. Lolling about on the green leather benches and plotting against each other is much more fun than hard work in Queensland Tory circles.

  4. Possum Comitatus said

    Mark – I see the inevitable tory shenanigans as a great contribution to the cultural life of Brisbane. New York has great free theatre in Central Park, London has the same at The Scoop – and now Brisbane is destined to have it’s own world class free theater, specialising in the tragedy as comedy genre, right here in our own Sandstone precinct.

    Marvelous I say!

    Although I hope some of those Nats stay away from iambic pentameter :mrgreen:

  5. Ron said

    You all show massive disrepect to the Nationals at a time when Warren Truss is bringing his youthful image & fresh ideas

    This is the Labor era , lap it up whilst Labor rather than the Libs have wall to wall quality leaders (WA notwithstanding)

  6. Quality leaders, Ron? Iemma has dropped the ball far too many times running NSW and Bligh is just continuing Beattie’s big-project populism behind a different grin.

    Queensland’s electoral system is clearly not working; the ALP manage to stay in power with massive majorities without even breaking 50% of the popular vote. The three-cornered contests hurt the conservatives and it’s next to impossible for minor parties to get elected without behaving like independents (and how can one then run a state-wide campaign?).

  7. Rates Analyst said

    I think you missed the contra-positive Sam….

    The point was that Iemma deserved to lose, but without a strong Opposition Leader the voters stuck with Labor. Hence highlighting that the problem is not the voting system, but that the Queensland Opposition, without a strong leader, lost becuase of the absence of a strong leader, not the voting system. Iemma wasn’t a strong leader, the point was that neither was Debnam.

    I’m new to this topic and have little knowledge of Qld politics, but if there are “moderate Liberals” who choose to vote Labor rather than Nat when there is no Liberal around, why are we so sure their preferences would flow to Nationals over Labor in the presence of a real Liberal candidate?

    They seem to be expressing an intent of voting 1 Lib, 2 ALP, 3 Nat?

    That sort of preference leakage could probably get the ALP from 48% to 53% and would therefore justify the strong majorities Sam is referring to. (I’m guessing the ALP had about 48% to begin with?)

  8. Possum Comitatus said

    RA – optional preferential loses the conservatives some preferences in three cornered contests, especially among generic conservative voters that don’t care if it’s a Lib or a Nat they’re voting for and whom have an allergy to the numbers 2 through 7. But the size of the optional preferential voting problem for the conservatives is nowhere near as HUUUUGE! as these guys make it out to be. The closer to the South East the seat, the more people will refuse to votre for the Nats with the exception of a few shrinking pockets on the Gold coast that long for the days of Bjelke Petersen and pumpkin scones.

  9. mbahnisch said

    Although I hope some of those Nats stay away from iambic pentameter :mrgreen:

    And keep their shirts on this time! 😉

  10. Peter R said

    Poss and other psephos/more knowledgeable people out there,

    Perhaps you can educate me? I understood, at least in historical terms, that preferential voting was basically introduced to allow the conservatives to defeat the large, growing and presumably more unified Labor vote. I gather from what you are saying that the system is almost working in reverse ie it’s working in Labor’s favour – at least in Queensland. Why?

    Also, much to my shame, I learned today from this blog that Queensland has optional preferential voting. (It’s to my shame because I was born and raised in Nudgee – yes Poss, I remember and know well the smell from the Golden Circle cannery sludge pit next to Binda station! – although in my defence it seems to have been reintroduced in 1992, the year I moved interstate). Anyway, any information or stats on how many actually exercise their option against those who don’t, in what proportions do those who exercise/don’t exercise their options vote Labor, Liberal etc as their preference. Has the new/old system reduced the importance of preference deals or the predictability of the flow of preferences?

    Finally Poss, I’ll be interested to see if your prediction that the next non Labor premier will be a Liberal turns out to be correct. They were a joke when I lived in Queensland and their numbers in Parliament and recent shananigans re the leadership seems to indicate that not much has changed. A bit of a brave prediction, I think.



  11. Ron said

    No you are wrong Possum ,

    3 cornered contests hurt the Consevatives both in preference leakage and wasted fonancial resources and two different conservative messages in the one seat.

    Thats why its always a problem in Federal Elections as well.

    Q’ld is worse because the Nats are the senior party and are mostly right of the liberals (except on tarifs)

    But as I’ve said the conservatives in Q’ld and indeed Australia wide biggest problem State wise is lack of quality leadeship in Opposition not policy

    thats why Yemma survived

  12. Possum Comitatus said

    Ron, the issue isnt so much about 3 cornered contests – they dont need a united conservative party to avoid 3 cornered contests as that can be achieved by simply having better management over which party contests which seats.

    A united conservative party would stop three cornered contests superficially, with the old Libs and Nats fighting it out for pre-selection. But what would inevitably happen is that they would end up with Nat candidates spouting Nat homilies in seats that demographically should have a Lib candidacy and would never win the seat as a result. The outcome would be exactly the same as if it were a three cornered contests.

    And that’s not even getting into the problem of rural and regional independents breeding like rabbits outside of the South East as a reaction to a united conservative party. Outside of the South East you would still effectively get 3 cornered contests, but rather than being between the ALP, the Libs and the Nats it would be between the ALP, the UCP and some conservative independent. Just the names would change but the same old problem would be there.

    3 cornered contests dont matter so much Federally as there is no optional in the preferential so preferences flow – and Libs pick up preferences from minor parties that the Nats couldnt. That’s why the Libs keep winning 3 cornered contests Federally.

    Howard went along way towards destroying the Nats via his pursuit of three cornered contests knowing that the Libs would win nearly every time.

  13. Ferny Grover said

    Completely agree with your analysis Poss. Any merger in Qld is, in effect, a takeover by the Nats. The Great South-east (where the bulk of the votes – and seats – are) will not vote National, and as long as any united party is dominated by old Nats, they will continue to spend their days in that ever-shrinking canoe you mentioned. Lawrence is a very decent, honest, likeable guy. He suffers, however, from a lack of education and life-experience (I’ve read some of his private members bills – which are barely literate). All he’s ever been is a politician. He really has no idea about running anything, be it a business, a party, or a State, and is incapable of demanding serious consideration by city folk of his credentials to lead Qld. And as for championing good policy – forget it, noone’s home. You’re right about the rise of rural independents in this scenario. There may even be a rise in urban liberal independents to compensate for having a Nat-dominated UCP foisted upon the cities.
    So bring on the UCP. Instead of 2 targets, Labor’s big guns will only need to concentrate on one. On second thoughts, the UCP will be too involved in civil war to trouble Labor’s guns at all.

  14. Possum Comitatus said

    Peter, the reason preferential voting doesnt seem to be working as well in Qld at the state level comes back to the slight problem of a growing number of Liberals refusing to vote for the National Party. 3 cornered contests are generally avoided, but the the result has been that the Nats end up standing candidates in seats that Liberals should demographically be standing in, so the ALP vote gets a bit of a push from voters that might vote Lib if one was standing, but would rather vote for the ALP over a Nat any day of the week.

    Under optional preferential, there’s not a huge number of exhausted preferences – although that would have a lot to do with the fact that the ALP is attracting such strong primary vote support. If they started losing that primary vote level I’d expect the number of exhausted preferences to rise a bit – but not enormously so. But because of the relatively small number of exhausted prefs, usually a few thousand per electorate – the three cornered contest issue simply isn’t as bad as some elements of the Nats and the Libs make it out to be. Its just another thread woven into their fabric of excuses they use to blame everybody and everything… including each other, for the their poor electoral performance.

    The Libs are still a joke, any organisation that even suggests that they solve their leadership deadlock with a toss of the coin cannot be anything other than a joke – but the next non-Labor government will have to win seats in Brisbane and the South East simply to become government. And there’s just no way the Nats will ever win those urban seats needed.

    You can see how the prefs ran and exhausted at the last State election here:

    Just go down to “Two Candidate Results after Distribution of Preferences” to see the exhausted prefs, and click on any of the seats under “Results by District List” to get a feel for the pref flows.

  15. Queenslander said

    As an adopted Queenslander – I totally agree with your analysis Poss. I do not know of any of my fellow mexican migrants who would ever consider voting for the National Party.

    Also a united conservative party would mostly confuse recent migrants who don’t know the brand and therefore stick with the devil they know – let alone the scary social policies they would espouse.

    My bet is that the Coalition will be in opposition until the Libs win enough seats in SE Qld to be the major partner and the way things are going this is going to take at least two terms… “it won’t happen overnight but it will happen!”

  16. Andos the Great said

    From news.com

    Nats, Libs agree to form one party

    “THE Queensland Nationals and Liberals have reached an in-principle agreement to form a single, united conservative party.”


    It’s on! Should be some enjoyable theatre in store as this ‘progresses’.

  17. Queenslander said

    Can we start a book on the odds of success and if so how it will take? The winner an all expenses paid trip to Hell when it freezes over!

  18. 2353 said

    Queensland’s electoral system is clearly not working; the ALP manage to stay in power with massive majorities without even breaking 50% of the popular vote. The three-cornered contests hurt the conservatives and it’s next to impossible for minor parties to get elected without behaving like independents (and how can one then run a state-wide campaign?).

    The ALP obviously gets 50% in the majority of the seats contested – you don’t need 50% of the State something that Bjelke-Petersen rigged for yonks to stay in power.

    Minor parties do have a chance of winning seats – they just have to win 50% + 1 of the total vote in each seat contested. How to do that is what apparently remains a mystery, changing the voting system won’t help that – look at the last Federal Election.

  19. Magoo said

    A new party could be ‘centerised’. A new party would not necessarily have the current infighting because would not necessarily have the same members. A new party would work.

  20. Magoo said

    I think many will have to get over the notion that there will be no more National Party. If you get past that you see the future.

  21. Magoo said

    I also don’t think the QLD liberal party will survive. It’s over. IMO

  22. Queenslander said

    Magoo – who would be the members then? Obviously the idea is to merge – so by default it will have the same members with the same divisions… Its clear to anyone that most Libs hate the Nats and visa versa.
    In regional Queensland there the Nats have more in common with Labor… can’t see that changing no matter how much they might wish it so.

  23. Will of Kooyong said

    Poss, I agree with you there. Living 24 yrs in Townsville makes you know that regional Libs hate regional Nats. The real reason for this goes back to the gerrymander days. Also, the SE Libs aren’t going to be a powerhouse until they win control of the Brisbane City Council (not just the mayoral position), because the BCC has a lot of power over in its own right.

    I mentioned elsewhere today that the timing of the formation of the UCP would give the ALP another win on a silver platter. Why? Because while they’re in the depths of it all, Bligh can call an early election. The time for merging is either when they’re in office, or immediately after a loss, not half way through a term.

    I of course don’t want to be seen telling the Tories how to do their job, I was never apart of the ‘born to rule’ club. 😉

  24. Ron said

    As I’ve previously bloged their main problem is all about lack of quality leadership , not about a combined party.

    The proof is in all other States , the Libs are the senior party and they have few 3 cornered contests …yet the Libs still lose.

    Combining Partys removes the losses from 3 cornered contests that I’ve described , but does not address the main flaw the Libs have in all States…may they continue to not realise this

  25. Magoo said

    Will of Kooyong, I agree. A new party will not be effective until after the next state election IMO

  26. Ferny Grover said

    whether they form a new party now or later will make no difference. Structure your party how you will – arrange your organisational assets in any way you please. It all makes no difference to the average voter. The fact that Lawrence seriously thinks that what Qld wants most is a new political party and that successive failures have nothing to do with a lack of leadership or policy, shows what a political vacuum he is. Leadership and policies Lawrence!! Invest your energies and resources in these and maybe, given a decade or so, people might begin to listen. But a new party featuring the same ol characters dressed in a new suit?? Just another mob to vote against.

  27. caf said

    Peter: As an aside, preferential voting at the Federal level is currently helping the ALP a little more than the Coalition – although only a handful of seats at the last election were not won by the candidate with the biggest first preference total, most of those were an ALP candidate getting up on Greens preferences (with the rest mostly being a Coalition candidate getting up on conservative independent preferences).

  28. Ron said

    I was wrong

    Have just heard Lawrence Springborgs speak.
    Uniting the Partys was all that is needed to sway 50% of Q’ld.

    Lawrence quite rightly believes voters are not interested in
    his appalling leadership skills , the continual in fighting and the lack of policy substance.

    No , voters simply having been waiting decades for the privilege to vote for a combined Party called the “UCP”
    Anna will be so worried now

  29. John VK said

    In Queensland the problem of incumbency has damaged severely the conservative side of politics. Beattie out Johed the Nats and that’s some trick. I don’t know how Bligh will go but at this point in time I am slightly underwhelmed, not on a sheila type issue because I vote our local National and she’s not a bloke just a good local member imo.

    Charisma or the word leadership seems to be missing. Queensland likes strong leaders. It is a defining characteristic. They didn’t have an alternative for a long time and it looks to continue. So basically I agree with Poss’s broad thrust.

    The problem for me is they want state leadership but seem to advertise local, pretend activists. Take the dams, that is a state issue, so to placate mostly green areas and a couple of rurals they try to block it state and federal.

    So no leadership no state focus and nothing but division and they lose.

    They need a modern Joh with a mandate to lead the state and the rest to fall in behind. It’s what Labor did here at state and and then federally. Beattie and Rudd modern Joh’s, may make mistakes but clearly the boss.

    They offer nothing to vote for except slogans.

  30. Queenslander said


    I just love this guy! Those niche national party people won’t be pleased!

  31. John VK said


    Like Brandis is the one to advise on rebuild after last year’s flogging. Keep it separate, he says, yeah and they couldn’t even get a lib leader at state level and used a coin toss. The good Lib and Nat senate team from Queensland watched Labor sweep to power with a Queensland base. But not their fault, pesky voters, cctv and against water for the SE this was a re election strategy.

    The nationals need a state focus. Merger or not. There has to be a boss and a state focus. The libs need to weed out the factional trouble makers and look at the big picture.

    But it wont be anytime soon.

  32. Ron said

    Absolutely John VK.
    Rudd’s luck was to be born north of the tweed

  33. dylwah said

    was it only yesterday you condemned the bulletin poss, i hope i never get on your bad side. http://business.theage.com.au/the-bulletin-shuts-down/20080124-1nub.html

  34. Ian said

    If you are disciplined enough to merge, you’re already disciplined enough not to run candidates against each other and agree on who the next Premier will be and the major policy prescriptions for your upcoming coalition government.

    And if you aren’t disciplined and agreeable enough to do these things already, well, the probability is that any merger is not going to be particularily successful.

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