Early this week David Crisafulli was in that familiar tight spot in which Opposition leaders frequently find themselves. He wanted to score a point against Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government for allowing rugby league teams to call Queensland home while the current Sydney lockdown plays out.
However, his tightrope walk had to be mindful of greater public support for league games. People like to watch footy even though you can fire a claim of hypocrisy against the government for letting these teams in while people are denied an opportunity to visit ill or dying loved ones.
It’s the same refrain we heard through 2020 with plenty of shots aimed at the Premier, especially around the staging of the Aussie Rules grand final at the Gabba.
Palaszczuk won the people’s vote – not just at the election but also in footy world. She’ll win it again as the league grand final round rolls around.
They don’t call it bread and circuses for nothing.
So Crisafulli, trying so very hard to make a point, win a run on the nightly news and make a lasting impact, had a go. Listening to him was painful. He sounded weak, trying to walk both sides of the street and not offend anyone.
It’s a trap for Opposition leaders and Crisafulli, now eight and a half months into his turn at the worst job in politics, is struggling. He is not a terrible politician and he tries very hard.
However, he looks like a boy on a man’s errand.
Two things stand out like a Clive Palmer billboard. Crisafulli doesn’t just have a lack of gravitas when it comes to delivering a message. He barely moves the gravitas meter.
Second, if Crisafulli and the LNP haven’t figured out the public opinion equation on tough minded Covid policies and apparent hypocritical consequences by now, they shouldn’t be in the political game.
The guy who kept the Biloela family locked up on Christmas Island, now defence minister Peter Dutton, could give them some advice about the flint eyed view a majority of Queenslanders have about these matters.
Politics is seldom for the faint-hearted. Now those hearts can be very hard indeed – just look at the levels of public support for keeping Australians in India wanting to escape a brutal virus crisis.
Crisafulli is looking at marking his first year as Opposition leader with a fail on his report card You probably shouldn’t expect anything else. He’s not just up against a wily political operator who owes much of her success to being underestimated constantly.
Crisafulli also faces what is as much a curse for the LNP as it is a possible enduring gift for the ALP: the state’s first four-year fixed term.
What would otherwise be just over 1000 days when his performance will be judged by not just the public but also by his colleagues, is now just under 1500. The public and the politicians can be very hard markers.
There’s a few LNP front bench spokesmen (for they are mostly men) who have ambition, talent or both Deputy leader David Janetzki and former leadership figures Tim Mander, Tim Nicholls and John-Paul Langbroek have great self-regard. Others not so well known but seen as having some talent and potential include Sam O’Connor from the Gold Coast and Brent Mickelberg from the Sunshine Coast.
While these characters will be out to make an impact with their colleagues, there is another player about to make a return appearance on the state political stage. Lawrence Springborg, a farmer from the Southern Downs, has a few firsts in his kitbag of achievements, starting with an unlikely entry to state politics in the epoch-making 1989 election.
While National Party MPs were falling like 10 pins in the landslide that saw Wayne Goss start a Labor hegemony that lasted for all but five of the ensuing 32 years, Springborg arrived at Parliament House aged just 21, still the youngest newly elected Queensland MP.
Over the following decades Springborg served as leader of either the Nationals or the LNP four times as well as having two periods in ministries. He has been busy and, mostly, a very successful politician.
Now he passes his time driving a tractor on one of the family farms about 65km east of Goondiwindi, near the small town of Yelarbon. Springborg is Mayor of Goondiwindi, the local government region in those parts and remains overwhelmingly popular.
However, by the end of this month he may be the new president of the LNP, after winning what’s likely to be a contest with incumbent Cynthia Hardy from Toowoomba.
Springborg, just 53 years old after a three decade stretch in active politics, has the business of statecraft and elections in his blood. He’s stuck with it.
The question that hangs over a still young Springborg is whether he’s just lending a hand to protect and foster the merged Liberal and National Party he brought to life 13 years ago.
Or could a reappearance on the state political stage reignite the itch for Springborg?
Might he be tempted to have another go, as he did in 2003, 2008 and again in 2015? A faltering Crisafulli might be enough to set thoughts running. That might be enough to set Springborg running yet again.
There’s a relatively easy pathway for Springborg should that itch flare up. His old, ultra-safe LNP seat of Southern Downs is held by second term MP James Lister who managed a 51 percent primary vote last October (courtesy of a collapse of those further right parties like One Nation).
The corridor whispers at the end of Brisbane’s Alice Street suggest Lister is not that popular among his branch members and could be in trouble if there was a serious move against him.
Could Springborg be watching this with his usual sharp, weather-eye?
Don’t rule it out. This is Queensland after all.
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