The chooks come home to roost

Anyone who thinks that new Queensland premier, Campbell Newman, did not rise yesterday and kick the living daylights out of his dog (always assuming he does have a dog and also lacks the sensitivities of an animal lover) does not appreciate his current frustration.

He would have just been made aware of the resignation from his Liberal National Party (LNP) of a senior member of his parliamentary team who has ratted and joined forces with the renegade Katter’s Australian Party.  And, if you don’t know who they are, think of a bunch of rednecks with weird ideas who think they’re normal and the rest of us are all strange.

Ray Hopper jumped ship because he says ‘the bush’ is being neglected by the LNP. His prima facie beef is that there are no Ministers representing electorates west of the spine of Queensland, the Great Dividing Range. This much is true and, again prima facie, suggests a distortion of priorities. Yet, as always, things may not be quite what they seem.

The subtext of Hopper’s resignation is that the LNP is fracturing along its faultlines: the party is an amalgam of the former Liberal and National parties who merged four years ago.  Hopper would have us believe the city-centric Liberals are ganging-up on the rural-oriented Nationals.

His thesis may well be accurate. There are certainly sufficient tensions within the LNP to give it credence. Yet, equally, Hopper and several similarly disenchanted parliamentary colleagues are smarting that they missed-out on the spoils of office since the LNP gained government just over half a year ago. He and his colleagues all fancied themselves as Ministers with all the attendant perks, power and privilege that go with high office.

There are few people so disaffected as those who believe their true abilities have been slighted by lesser individuals. Unable to cope with reality, they blame everyone else for their loss of self-esteem. Not much can be done about it and this game has a way to run yet.

What is interesting is the impact it will have on premier Campbell Newman.

He rose to prominence as Lord Mayor of the Queensland capital Brisbane, a major city and one of the larger local government areas in the world. Yet the catapult from city hall to state government is a wild ride. Put it this way: Newman managed a budget of some $3 billion in Brisbane. The Queensland equivalent is $43 billion.  A far bigger challenge encompassing far more problems, many of them intractable.

Add to this Newman’s inexperience at the state level. He created parliamentary history by assuming the state premiership without having served in the parliament previously. An unorthodox and unprecedented situation.

The size of the victory achieved by Newman and the LNP was also unprecedented. It gave him a massive backbench of mostly egotistical representatives and far too few baubles to keep them all happy. Disaffection was predetermined.

Another vital element of this volatile mix was the LNP’s inexperience in government. A predecessor party had served little more than two years out of the past twenty. This new government is regrettably unfamiliar with governing. Many of its key advisers, including in the Premier’s Office, lack direct experience in running a government. It is a very costly deficiency.

The result has been a series of minor scandals that have cost two ministers their jobs and another couple barely keeping their heads above water.

The major challenge for Newman is to assert his authority. He is not shy in demonstrating his dominance but that is not what is needed now. He needs to exhibit real political smarts and they have not been on show so far in his term.

The government is not in crisis but is drifting ever closer to the edge of a very deep drop. Newman needs a circuit-breaker but seems unable to create one. This is a defining period for him and he is not inspiring confidence. His troops will become seriously restless if they do not see their leader able to cope with the challenges better than he has been.

Latest polls indicate Queenslanders are feeling similarly uneasy. This is a make-or-break time for a government that initially looked set to serve several consecutive terms.