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Careful what you wish for: White-anting may ensure LNP leader is unelectable

Opinion

The Queensland LNP’s internal dysfunction over parliamentary leader Deb Frecklington’s ‘unelectable’ status could become a self-fulfilling prophecy, writes Dennis Atkins

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After the Jackie Trad house-buying caper first became public in the middle of last year, a wise old hand in the Labor Party said the scandal had the potential to destroy three political careers.

The careers this usually canny observer nominated were Trad’s, that of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and LNP leader Deb Frecklington.

Trad’s career lingered on until last month when she resigned as deputy premier and treasurer following new information about a seemingly unrelated controversy over the appointment of a new principal for a school in Dutton Park.

However, the writing was on the wall from the time the purchase of the house in March, 2019 became known. The house was situated near the new Cross River Rail project, overseen in Cabinet by Trad.

Palaszczuk’s future was on the line because she dug in behind Trad and looked like sticking with her all the way to this October’s state election.

Frecklington joined the trio because she had failed to exploit what was a gift of a political issue. The LNP leader played what was barely a minor supporting role to the media – and some inside the Labor Party – in putting pressure on Trad over the house purchase and the appointment of the Dutton Park school principal.

Now that Trad’s gone (although some in the ALP say the former minister believes she can win back her South Brisbane seat and return to Cabinet after the election), the tumbrels are being eyed off for Frecklinton.

The future of the LNP leader has been under a cloud despite the Palaszczuk Government experiencing the lowest poll ratings since it was first elected in 2015.

The fact the Premier has continued to outperform Frecklington as the preferred premier and has the approval of a far bigger number of Queensland voters has given Labor hope in its quest to win the election.

As this column has pointed out, these starkly contrasting ratings have opened the opportunity for Palaszczuk and Labor to run a campaign based on a choice of leadership.

At the same time, these results have caused doubt about Frecklington’s ability to add anything to the LNP’s election chances.

“She’s a drag on the party’s vote – she’s not adding one vote in anything she does,” says one LNP strategist and Frecklington critic.

This internal dissent about Frecklington leapt into the public square with some targeted briefing on internal LNP polling, which, like published opinion surveys, said voters preferred Palaszczuk in both performance and potential.

This is an old song that’s been played in political music halls for as long as ballots have been cast.

Those leading the campaign for Frecklington’s downfall are outside the LNP party room. Their alternative candidate – Gold Coast MP David Crisafulli – seems to have read the mood of the parliamentary party room and said on Monday he would not challenge his leader.

It looks like the parliamentary party, under Frecklington’s lead, has decided the fall guy should be lay party president (and Clive Palmer employee) David Hutchinson.

Frecklington might survive and her boast that she’s going nowhere might prove true. However, enormous damage has been done and the only winner looks like being Palaszczuk when votes are cast on October 31.

The intervention of these LNP-branded “faceless men” has meant Palaszczuk might end up winning regardless of what happens.

If Frecklington prevails – and that’s the most likely outcome at the moment – the damage stemming from internal leadership dysfunction could seal the LNP’s fate anyway. Her purported status as unelectable could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If her white-anting helpers get their way, their intervention might come to nought. Again the internal leadership crisis won’t necessarily go away. In fact, bringing down a leader often causes further infighting and backstabbing, especially if it was all orchestrated from outside the parliamentary party.

Toppling a leader four-and-a-half months before an election risks the residual bitterness festering, causing ongoing tension and backstabbing.

This means the one woman standing out of the three politicians whose demise was predicted at the top of this column is the Premier. She only survives if she wins the election and that might be the most predictable outcome of this week of sound and fury.

Meanwhile, our political prognosticator will need to revisit his predictive powers.

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