LNP eyes return to old leadership formula with Crisafulli at helm

David Crisafulli wants to lead the Opposition from the Gold Coast, as the Liberal National Party tries to represent both city and bush.

Nov 03, 2020, updated Nov 03, 2020
Opposition leader David Crisafulli. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

Opposition leader David Crisafulli. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Peled)

The resignation of Nanango MP Deb Frecklington as opposition leader, and Everton MP leader Tim Mander as deputy, may again lead to the party’s top positions switching back to an urban leader and regional deputy. Flicking that switch has been a hallmark of post-election changes for the LNP.

When the LNP first came into being, through a merger of the Liberals and Nationals, southern Queensland MP Lawrence Springborg was the inaugural leader with Sunshine Coast MP Mark McArdle as his deputy. One of the reasons the LNP was deemed necessary was that the former Coalition had always been led by the Nationals, which frustrated the ambitious urban Liberals who failed to win enough seats to change government. There were also three-cornered contests, policy differences, and sometimes competing constituencies, which allowed Labor to thrive in the optional preferential voting system at the time.

But the LNP was unsuccessful at its first election, and members then switched the leadership to put an urban politician first, in Gold Coast MP John-Paul Langbroek, with Springborg staying on as his deputy. The Gold Coast had also given Queensland its most recent Nationals premier in Rob Borbidge.

That covered similar ground as the leadership frontrunners now putting their hand up for the LNP after the weekend election loss: Crisafulli is the Member for Broadwater, who has the added bonus of having previously represented Mundingburra in Townsville, with Toowoomba South MP David Janetzki now the frontrunner for deputy. They also represent areas with the strongest conservative base.

Of course, the first experiment with a Gold Coast leader and southern Queensland deputy of the LNP never made it to an election: Langbroek and Springborg made way for a Brisbane-based leader, former lord mayor Campbell Newman, who took an experienced, regionally-based ex-Nationals leader, Jeff Seeney, as his deputy. Newman and Seeney led the LNP to its first election win, by a landslide – only to be swept out by Annastacia Palaszcuk and the Labor Party after a single term.

McArdle, who retired at the weekend, made reference to Frecklington and previous leaders in his valedictory speech – but not Newman or Seeney. He said Springborg “would have made an excellent premier”.

“The other person I want to make comment about is John-Paul Langbroek,” McArdle said at the time.

“I sat thinking about John-Paul last night and the words that kept going over and over in my mind were ‘what if’, ‘what if’, ‘what if’. Those in the know understand what I am talking about.”

Crisafulli today released a statement to say that he would be asking his LNP colleagues for their support “and sharing with them my plan for rebuilding”.

“I nominate as someone who can offer the discipline to hold the government to account and the energy to start the four-year task of preparing the LNP for government in 2024,” Crisafulli said.

Frecklington’s deputy, Tim Mander, this morning followed her in resigning, declining to contest the leadership or even seek to retain his old job. Mander, the opposition treasury spokesman, bore the brunt of Labor’s scare campaign about possible budget and job cuts, even after handing down relatively mild policy costings in the final days of the campaign.

“I wish the new leadership team all the very best,” Mander said in a statement, after spending election night on a TV panel trying to explain the result.

“Now is the time for stability and unity and I will serve in any capacity asked of me.”

Crisafulli said Frecklington and Mander “can be proud of their work ethic and long days trying to secure victory for the LNP”.

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“Politics can be cruel and we are all hurting following Saturday’s election result,” said Crisafulli, who previously lost the seat of Mundingburra before moving to the Gold Coast and his current seat of Broadwater.

So far, Janetzki, who is entering his second term in parliament, is the front-runner for the deputy’s position. He is 42, and Crisafulli 41, among the youngest on an otherwise veteran team of LNP members.

Labor, meanwhile, is looking for further renewal from the relative comfort of government, with three new Cabinet ministers to be announced as part of a reshuffle expected in the coming days. That will allow Palaszczuk to form a new-look front bench, and help mitigate any public perception of an old and tired government (even if she inevitably faces leadership speculation herself before the term is out).

As the last parliamentary sittings came to a close, experienced Palaszczuk government ministers Kate Jones (Cooper) and Anthony Lynham (Stafford) announced they would not be seeking another term, and nor would minister Coralee O’Rourke (Mundingburra). The loss of Jones, in particular, was seen as a major problem that Labor would need to overcome in order to be competitive in either government or opposition.

The usual argy bargy of Labor preselections and Palaszczuk’s intervention led to speculation those seats could potentially be at risk. However the weekend election resulted in Labor returning the trifecta: Jonty Bush in Cooper, Jimmy Sullivan in Stafford and Les Walker in Mundingburra. New members in former LNP seats put the result beyond doubt, securing a third term for the Palaszczuk government, while also denying the opposition the chance to renew the ranks ahead of the 2024 election.

Former deputy Liberal leader McArdle’s seat of Caloundra fell to Labor, as did the LNP seats of Pumicestone and Hervey Bay. This was partly due to the older voters in those electorates seemingly backing Labor’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, however it gives Labor four years to prove itself worthy of holding the seats long-term.

Palaszczuk was apparently in Hervey Bay today for an event with likely local Labor MP Adrian Tantari but kept it low-key.

In one positive for the opposition, young Gold Coast MP Laura Gerber is expected to hold the seat of Currumbin, which she kept in LNP hands following a by-election earlier this year. At Palaszczuk’s request, former surfing champ Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew dropped in to the Burleigh contest, however the LNP held the seat.

The LNP appears set to back its youngest members to take the opposition in a new direction and will hope that fresh-faced candidates appeal to voters in 2024, when several long-serving members are again expected to retire. Labor, meanwhile, will seek to capitalise on the mix of youth and experience in its larger team, which will give the party a buffer going into the next election.

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