Lessons for both sides in LNP election review
TUCKED away in the middle of the Borbidge-Sheldon review into the Newman government’s defeat is an innocuous looking sentence that neatly explains not only why the LiberalNational Party was elected in 2012 but also why it was defeated just three years later. On page 7, former Nationals premier Rob Borbidge and his Liberal treasurer Joan Sheldon wrote that “the central campaign committee did not do enough to explain to the public that unpopular decisions were needed to fix Labor’s mess and the ‘can do’ approach was needed”. They are simple words that mask a profound sentiment.
In 2012, Queensland voters angrily dispatched a dysfunctional Bligh Labor government that had overseen a succession of costly blunders and a deceitfully smuggled policy of asset privatisation. Worse still, the Bligh government, coming on the heels of a tired and image-obsessed Beattie administration, finished its days fretting more about its own electoral survival than the welfare of Queenslanders. In leaving us with record debt, a collapsing health system, job-strangling bureaucratic red tape and a deteriorating law and order problem, Labor left Campbell Newman and the LNP with a monster political mess.
But like all messes, our looming economic disaster would hardly have been improved by a new government sitting on its hands. Messes are best cleaned quickly with action and elbow grease and not political spin. Sensibly, the Borbidge-Sheldon review – while critical of some aspects of Mr Newman’s leadership – acknowledged that job creation in Queensland led the nation amid a ballooning LNG industry and Mr Newman’s war on red tape.
The re-introduction of hospital boards returned reason to Queensland Health and slashed a shamefully long surgery waiting list. Crime fell by between 2 and 10 per cent, and outlaw motorcycle gangs were smashed. And millions of dollars were also saved in interest payments alone after sweeping public sector reforms.
But, as Mr Borbidge and Ms Sheldon rightly point out, the best-intended reforms mean little if the need for tough decisions is not adequately explained to voters wary of political spin. From initial consultation to final feedback, it’s a no-brainer that voters like to be addressed openly and honestly and walked slowly through the rough patches of any policy-making process.
For all that, the Borbidge-Sheldon review is a fair and frank assessment of Queensland’s past three years.
And it should remind both sides of politics that no matter the margin, they are only one election away from victory or defeat. A key lesson then for the LNP is to ensure its house is in order well ahead of the next election. Labor also should heed the review’s lessons and resist reading it with smug satisfaction, knowing the problems that brought down the Newman government could so easily damage Ms Palaszczuk’s.
Labor also should not read it as a rationale for its own pig-headed “deNewmanisation” campaign to repeal virtually every piece of LNP legislation simply because of the Newman brand.
Labor must surely know that at the core of voters’ rejection of the LNP was the contentious policy of asset leases. Other than from a few noisy groups, there was no deep rejection of the antibikie laws – the LNP retained each of its 10 Gold Coast seats – or any resentment over the slashing of business red tape.
It’s therefore bizarre that the Palaszczuk Government persists with its “Undo Can-Do” plan, reversing policy decisions just because Mr Newman had made them.
Voters might reject governments for doing too much too soon. But they will also punish those who do too little.
To date, Ms Palaszczuk – who opinion polls suggest is increasingly popular with voters – has spent the bulk of the past three months shoring up her numbers in Parliament. But, with arguably the most critical Budget in a decade just weeks away, personality and popularity is not enough.
Voters demand and deserve good policy. Now that the Borbidge-Sheldon review has explained the past, let’s see what Labor is set to do for us in the immediate future.