Hands up if you’ve ever led the LNP – and why this guy beats the others hands down

Here’s a dinner party fact: there are 19 living former state Nationals, Liberals, Nationals/Liberals Coalition and LNP leaders in Queensland. This makes David Crisafulli the 20th in this group – at the moment he’s looking like state politics’ most improved player, says Dennis Atkins.

Jul 19, 2022, updated Jul 19, 2022
Queensland Opposition leader David Crisafulli.(AAP Image/Jono Searle)

Queensland Opposition leader David Crisafulli.(AAP Image/Jono Searle)

David Crisafulli is a member of a Queensland political club that probably doesn’t meet but if it did they’d need a big room to gather at the Brisbane or Queensland clubs.

The 43-year-old LNP Opposition leader and Member for the Gold Coast seat of Broadwater is the latest conservative politician to be included among the 19 surviving non-Labor major party leaders in Queensland state politics.

That’s right. There’s just under 20 of these politicians, starting with Terry White, the Liberal who stood up to Joh Bjelke-Petersen after serving for three months as leader in late 1983 before breaking the coalition with the Nationals.

The list of living Liberals winds its way through Angus Innes, Denver Beanland, Joan Sheldon, David Watson, Bob Quinn, Bruce Flegg and Mark McArdle. McArdle was the last Liberal leader, serving from late 2007 until July 2008 when the newly formed LNP wiped out the separate parties.

In Nationals ranks there are six surviving leaders – the last of the stand-alone premiers, Russell Cooper, his predecessor Mike Ahern and the others, Rob Borbidge, Mike Horan, Lawrence Springborg and Jeff Seeney (the transition leader like McArdle).

Those holding the top job after the LNP merger are the inaugural leader Lawrence Springborg, John-Paul Langbroek, Campbell Newman, Tim Nicholls and most recently defeated Deb Frecklington.

The honour roll doesn’t highlight the persistence of Springborg who managed to be leader four times over 13 years from when he rolled Mike Horan in the party room in 2003 until he made a brief comeback after Campbell Newman was swept from office in 2015, as dramatically as he had arrived three years before.

It’s a fascinating way to chart Queensland political history, made all the more emphatic in what it represents when you realise of all those 20 living conservative political leaders just one – Campbell Newman – won power in a popular election during the 40 years covered by these lifetimes.

Just four were premiers with the three beside Newman not being elected popularly. Ahern and Cooper took the top job in party ballots, the first against Bjelke-Petersen and the other in the next, quick fire change.

Rob Borbidge was sworn in as Premier after Wayne Goss lost office following a by-election in early 1996 which his Labor Party won resulting in a 44-44 hung Parliament. The independent Liz Cunningham from Gladstone switched from Goss and favoured the Nationals leader.

So, apart from the freak event of 2012 when Newman achieved a 14.5 percent swing, taking 44 seats from Labor, the conservative parties in Queensland haven’t won a state election on the popular vote since 1986.

No wonder Crisafulli tells his colleagues to cool their enthusiasm and realise they have a mountain to climb.

Regardless, they are climbing that mountain one navigation tool at a time.

You can watch them do it – they incorporate GPS, compass, altimeter, map contours, triangulation, bearings and visual sightings. They are probably using drones too.

They have been clearly focussing on what’s ahead, how to make mistakes and what to learn from them when they occur.

It’s been one of the remarkable stories of Queensland politics this year – the determined, clear-eyed, single-mindedness of Crisafulli to get in shape for the last half of this political term.

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At the last state election when the LNP, under Frecklington’s leadership, went backwards in south-east Queensland, didn’t manage any gains around Townsville and Cairns despite distinct advantages on economic and public safety and could only manage to pick up a seat from a disaffected member who’d flipped over to One Nation.

First, things did not look much better with Crisafulli. He appeared as a boy on a man’s errand and his refusal to even take a stand on voluntary assisted dying was a weakness lit up in bright neon. By the end of last year there was no definition or direction.

However, at some point between going to the Christmas parties and getting back from the beach, the LNP leader was doing more than a lot right and he hasn’t stopped learning and trying.

He does manage the first, second and third rules of being an Opposition leader: getting up earlier than the other side and going to bed later.

Crisafulli is always on the radio, the TV news, in social media and pushing ideas and commentary elsewhere. From what’s being said around town he is also a relentless worker of corporate boardrooms, getting to know people, talking to them about how he sees things and listening to what business is complaining about (that’s quite a list made longer by the inept and poorly handled June state budget).

According to feedback from MPs who talk to voters, Crisafulli is getting noticed. People might not remember everything (or anything) he says but they do recognise him and recall he’s having a go. They like that and they like the idea of someone trying to shine a light on a government that’s often failing to meet expectations and community ambitions.

The government might not be in a fatal position but Labor has certainly lost ground since the October, 2020 election and the management of the Covid pandemic has become more difficult and not automatically rewarded – even if it’s handled well.

Other issues are in the community’s line of sight and earshot. Cost of living in a time of raging inflation is persistent pain for elected officials, crime and public order cannot be underestimated, health is not going to be solved by throwing money in the air, education has more problems than there are simple answers and environmental and climate challenges are as surprising and stubborn as anyone might think.

In these circumstances, someone like Crisafulli might shine. The times, as they say, might suit him.


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