On Saturday Queenslanders go to the polls. However for many people, myself included, the election is already over. I pre-polled last week, realising I would be too busy working covering the election to have time to vote. My feelings were similar to many campaign workers and even some candidates I spoke to. Pre-polling means losing out on the sausages but also means avoiding long queues. In the bone-headed absence of internet voting, it is an increasingly popular option to the time poor.
I live in Lutwyche, an unwanted suburb the Electoral Commission shuffled between the electorates of Clayfield, Brisbane and Stafford in recent years. Currently we reside in the seat of Clayfield, held by the LNP’s Tim Nicholls. Nicholls took the seat from Labor in 2006 and despite an unfavourable re-distribution two years later (thanks to us plebs moving in from Stafford) he has increased his majority at every subsequent election. There will be a correction this time round, but Nicholls should escape the carnage of many other Brisbane seats. With Ashgrove likely to fall, Nicholls is tipped to be Premier if the LNP still fall over the line in victory. I don’t share that belief.
I met Nicholls when he addressed an LNP meeting in the Lockyer Valley last year and he impressed as a master of his Treasury brief. He is a good operator but perhaps too suave and too urban for some tastes within the party. The LNP is still less than a decade old and remains a marriage of convenience between the old ruling class of the rural Nationals and the city bridesmaid of the Liberals. Nicholls is a true blue Liberal and deputy leader of the party prior to the merger. That didn’t matter in the Newman landslide of 2012. Suddenly the parliament was awash with urban Liberals. The old Nationals were butchered in the cabinet allocation with only one minister from west of the great divide. That minister was Lawrence Springborg.
Springborg seems to have been around for ever as the youngest person ever to be elected to Queensland parliament in 1989. Indeed he will become Father of the House in the new parliament on the retirement of Howard Hobbs. Yet when he celebrates his birthday next month, he will be just 47. Springborg’s parliamentary career coincided with Labor hegemony and despite a long reign as opposition leader, his time at the top of the Nationals and then the LNP ended in three election defeats in 2004, 2006 and 2009. Springborg was written off as a bumbler and yesterday’s man but began his rehabilitation when he took on the difficult health portfolio in the Newman government of 2012.
Springborg was given the task of bringing enormous health expenditure under control. He deflected criticism for sackings by appointing hospital and health boards who did the dirty work. Slowly but surely Springborg got health back on track. He succeeded in getting it off the front page as he dealt with a litany of problems including payroll issues, dodgy doctors, and congested waiting rooms.
Springborg is far from charismatic. Yet he comes across like Nicholls as a master of his brief and has a dogged and determined air of an experienced operator who knows how to get things done. Significantly, Labor has not denied Springborg has been successful in his portfolio but says his success was based on money he got from the Labor Federal Government. This is partially true, and if Springborg is health minister in the new term he will have a tougher ride thanks to Abbott Government cutbacks.
But I don’t think he will be health minister, I think he will be Premier. The distribution of seats in the new parliament will be vastly different than is now. There will be less LNP MPs from the south-east and more from country and regional areas. I believe these MPs, many of them ex-Nationals, will remember 2012 and vote for Springborg in the party room ahead of Nicholls (though Fiona Simpson is a possible compromise candidate). Whoever it is, will also likely face a new opposition leader. Annastacia Palaszczuk has done a fine job in making Labor electable again but has an image problem as a preferred leader. Cameron Dick or Stirling Hinchliffe will surely swoop if Labor fall short of government.