Queensland LNP supporters look on as LNP candidate for Longman Trevor Ruthenberg concedes defeat. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England
Queensland LNP supporters look on as LNP candidate for Longman Trevor Ruthenberg concedes defeat. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England

Queensland still alien to the LNP

QUEENSLANDERS are to a southern-centric Turnbull Government what men are to women.

In fact, the reference should be entitled, Queenslanders are from Mars, and everyone else is from Venus.

Just like the bestseller examining the differences between men and women, the Super Saturday by-elections have underscored what continues to happen in Canberra - even though they try, they just don't get us.

And just like the sexes, each state "is acclimated to its own planet's society and customs, but not to those of the other".

For some reason Queenslanders are a mystery to Sydneysiders and Melburnians, who dominate the Turnbull Cabinet.

Queensland LNP supporters look on as LNP candidate for Longman Trevor Ruthenberg concedes defeat. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England
Queensland LNP supporters look on as LNP candidate for Longman Trevor Ruthenberg concedes defeat. Picture: AAP Image/Darren England

Too many times in Canberra I have heard the term, "f**kin' Queenslanders". Queensland Coalition MPs often rage against the machine, don't blindly march in line, and, over time, have become more demanding. Queenslanders are a pain in Turnbull's proverbial.

Treasurer Scott Morrison pretends he gets us because he's driven on our roads a few times, and Marise Payne, well she's the Defence Minister, but I doubt that Queenslanders outside the Australian Defence Force know who she is.

Too many times Queensland MPs are told by the Government what Queenslanders want via focus groups and market research. Here's a tip, start using your MPs as a gauge - they live here.

Some want new coal-fired power stations, laws to shoot crocs, they want lazy Aussies to pick fruit rotting on vines, and to push new migrants out of cities. Sound too right-wing? Well, Queensland is a conservative state. And on some of these issues there is not much difference between Labor and Coalition voters.

There's a lot of spin from southerners about what the results in Longman mean. But here's some history from someone who actually lives in the state.

 

 

THE REAL DEAL ABOUT LONGMAN

Every Coalition prime minister has held Longman since its creation 22 years ago - except Malcolm Turnbull.

On Saturday night, the Government recorded its lowest primary vote and two-party-preferred vote in history.

While very good government spinners will talk down the 4 per cent swing against the LNP as just being a transactional cost of a by-election, that is on top of an 8 per cent swing against the LNP just two years ago.

Since Turnbull became PM, that's a 12 per cent swing, and it will make a lot of people in the Coalition nervous, especially given that Longman is not a regional seat.

Incumbent Wyatt Roy marginally lost Longman to Susan Lamb in 2016. He was punted for three reasons. He was punished by some voters for supporting the coup against Tony Abbott. He was regarded as the MP for Twitter, a young whipper snapper who would bamboozle the electorate about innovation, a policy more geared to a city seat. And thirdly, One Nation voters preferenced against him, enabling Lamb to win off the back of Pauline Hanson supporters.

Turnbull has had some extraordinary policy wins and is the best person to lead the Coalition, but there also needs to be a Queensland whisperer in the PM's office, and that of Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack. Only a Queenslander could truly explain the mystery that is Bob Katter, One Nation and what Queenslanders really want.

 

 

PICK A BETTER CANDIDATE

Blind Freddy could see a by-election was looming, but the LNP seemed to be caught out. And the best they could come up with was Trevor Ruthenberg, a former state MP.

Ruthenberg was said to have a great work ethic, and even after the medal saga, he still fronted up every day, willing to take his medicine.

But you didn't have to be a genius to know that he was going to be haunted by the ghost of Campbell Newman. Newman is as popular as a double-dipper in a Seinfeld episode, and it took Labor and the unions about two minutes to start printing corflutes with Newman and Ruthenberg together.

In some seats, Newman still enrages voters - and some of those voters are in Longman.

In the past few years, what has become clear is a movement towards the female voice. Whether it is about equality or because some believe women are more trustworthy, it would have been wise for the LNP to find a female to run.

While there is an element that Longman was a typical by-election, and that a government has not won a seat off an opposition in almost 100 years, it would be foolish not to learn lessons, some of which are now trends.

 

Former One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts arrives at a polling booth in the Longman electorate on Saturday with a cardboard cutout of Senator Pauline Hanson. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled
Former One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts arrives at a polling booth in the Longman electorate on Saturday with a cardboard cutout of Senator Pauline Hanson. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Peled

 

STOP BEING HALF PREGNANT WITH HANSON

There are two pressing issues at play for the Government. It needs Pauline Hanson's vote in the Senate, but the political phoenix is cannibalising their vote in Queensland. But it's even worse than that.

The LNP is bleeding votes to One Nation voters, whose preferences are often flowing through to Labor. It's time to take the gloves off in general, and with Hanson.

The Coalition fight like a bunch of hand-wringing pacifists, not like junkyard dogs growling at intruders coming near their territory.

Labor and the unions run exceptional campaigns. They are agile and innovative. The Government doesn't want to get its hands too dirty. There's no doubt some voters don't like politicians getting in the gutter but the problem is, they respond to it, aka Mediscare.

The hardest the Coalition went was on Labor's Sam Dastyari and links to a Chinese donor.

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton bangs the drums, but if he's not doing it, it's rare that anyone else will. Back in the Howard government, they would roll out three or four MPs. Now, everyone seems to want to be above it all.

The Coalition will not keep the 21 of 30 seats in Queensland if it does not start forming and aggressively articulating policies that resonate with voters.

The biggest challenge for the Government is that there is not one issue that unifies Queensland voters. In WA, it was the GST. The Government needs to try to find the closest issue to that.

 

FORGE AHEAD WITH COMPANY TAX CUTS

Conversations are being held now internally within the Coalition about scrapping company tax cuts - putting it to a vote and watching it go down to die a natural death.

That is shortsighted and history shows that governments and prime ministers who state the country cannot do without something then dump a signature policy are severely punished at a general election.

The case in point was Kevin Rudd and the "great moral challenge of our time" - climate change.

He dumped his signature Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and voters turned on him.

There will be a battle now in the party room and Cabinet about the art of the possible and what is good for the country. Mathias Cormann will not go down without a fight. These tax cuts are his policy baby. He is so widely respected within the Government, they will give him one last shot to negotiate an outcome, but then there will be pressure for him to put it to a vote.

Even then, Labor will still be able to use its attack, "Do you want better hospitals or better banks?" It means Cormann will have to devise a seat-by-seat strategy, especially in Queensland, to convince voters why the country needs a company tax cut.

 

 

STOP UNDERESTIMATING BILL SHORTEN/RAISE SOME PROPER MONEY

There has been a lot of walking back from words since the by-election result. Malcolm Turnbull said it had become a contest between himself and Bill Shorten.

Well, Shorten won, comprehensively. Purists will point to the result in Braddon, where Labor suffered a swing against it, but with the small number of seats up for grabs, the Apple Isle does not count.

Queensland is where it counts.

Even within Labor some say Shorten is the "luckiest bastard alive", but too often in politics, you make your own luck.

It also helps that Shorten has a grassroots movement on tap, which has serious coin to sandbag seats.

Labor spent about $450,000 on advertising in Longman alone in the last week of the campaign. They had more campaign material.

In the upcoming election, Labor will not be able to drop that amount of money in every seat, but they do have money to burn.

If there's an election in March, the Coalition federal secretariat and Turnbull need to start bringing in the coin.

Elections can be bought. And Malcolm Turnbull needs to make a significant down payment to keep his Queensland seats.