Friday, 16 March 2012

Graham Richardson | Labor on the nose | LNP in a canter

LNP's rough end of the pineapple

                                  Illustration by Eric Lobbecke. Source: The Australian

There appears little doubt that the Liberal National Party will win the Queensland election on Saturday week. That is the only thing about the election result about which I have no doubt. I have no real handle on who will be the next premier.

Campbell Newman has ably led his team and will see it through to a historic and important victory. From the moment he became LNP leader (albeit in exceptional circumstances) his party jumped to the lead in the polls and stayed there.

Given the great leadership shown by Premier Anna Bligh during the flood and cyclone crises of the past 12 months this was no small achievement. That having been said, does it cut much ice with the electors of Ashgrove? At the moment the answer would appear to be no.

Three weeks ago I wandered around the Ashgrove electorate doing a story for 7 News. At the time there seemed to be a big shift to Newman. He appeared to be well in front of his opponent, local member Kate Jones. I went back this week and could not believe the change. If a week is a long time in politics, then three weeks must seem like an eternity for Newman. Two polls have put Jones in front and Labor's private polling is showing similar results.

Jones has been running a very clever campaign. She is in every sense a local and has been painting Newman as the arrogant outsider who always assumed he would win by putting his name on the ballot paper. She has 300 locals working for her. They come from all walks of life and she even has a contingent from the local chamber of commerce.

Yes, there are a few nasty, evil union officials working for her on the ground, but only a few. Jones insists only a handful of the 300 are actual party members. I don't find this too much of a stretch as so much has been written on the decline in local branch membership on both sides of politics. You won't find too many references to the Labor Party or Bligh in her campaign material. While Jones can rightly claim she has run twice as the Labor candidate and that therefore "everyone knows" she is a Labor member, the fact remains that the "Keep Kate" campaign is proof Labor knows how damaged its brand really is. The ALP is never mentioned.

The Keep Kate signs are in every third house along some streets. When I arrived in the carpark of the main shopping centre in Ashgrove a few mornings ago, I was staggered by the numbers of Keep Kate stickers on the cars. For good measure, as I left, I saw a woman putting one on her car. This was not staged for my benefit. There were no cameras rolling and the woman didn't know I was watching her.

Since she resigned from the ministry to take on Newman full-time, Jones has door-knocked 11,000 homes. Against this Newman has used the product of a 1000 forests to bombard the letterboxes of Ashgrove with a pamphlet on everything and anything.

Methinks the punters are fed up with junk they no longer bother to read. As leader, Newman is expected to help out candidates the length and breadth of this vast state. He can't be there every day or anything like it, but Jones is.

Day in and day out, her local campaign relentlessly rolls on.

There also has been another relentless feature of this campaign. Newman's integrity has been questioned by a ruthless personal attack from Labor -- Bligh and Treasurer Andrew Fraser just won't stop. They do not seemed to have pinged Newman either on an illegality or even an impropriety, but the attacks seem to be working. Newman himself admitted that by announcing last Sunday that he and his wife would divorce themselves from all of their businesses and investments if he were elected on March 24.

In my view he was poorly advised. It won't make Labor ease its attacks and it simply raises a suspicion in the minds of voters that something must be wrong.I asked Newman and his deputy Tim Nicholls what the LNP would do if the party wins and Newman loses. Both offer pathetic waffle when pushed on this.

The line that the LNP has to win seats such as Ashgrove to win the election is arithmetically ridiculous. A 4 per cent swing is required for the victory and it takes 7.1 per cent to win Ashgrove. The fact is the LNP is desperate not to answer a question that every Queenslander is entitled to have answered.

Would Lawrence Springborg be the premier, since Newman has been adamant that he will go into private business and refuse to be parachuted into a safe seat that a loyal martyr might sacrifice? If the old Nationals have the numbers in an LNP caucus that would be a real possibility. Those Nats don't like Nicholls and may well stick with Springborg, whom the Queensland electorate has rejected time and time again.

No doubt to avoid this hopeless and vote-losing scenario is something the LNP is desperate to avoid. It will throw a million bucks at Ashgrove in the last weeks to make sure its man wins. Will it be enough? It's probably too close to call but at this point Jones has the momentum. She is on a roll -- and Newman isn't. Can he scrape home or is the end nigh?

Graham Richardson is political commentator for the Seven Network, and hosts Richo on Sky News at 8pm Wednesdays.
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