Crisafulli’s LNP needs all guns blazing not the gang who couldn’t shoot straight

Seldom has a political team faced a goal that’s as open as that confronting David Crisafulli and the LNP. Dennis Atkins wonders if they are up to scoring big.

Oct 30, 2023, updated Oct 30, 2023
Queensland Opposition Leader David Crisafulli. (AAP Image/Jono Searle)

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

During a discussion about the US Republican presidential primary, a commentator drew on a saying from former New York State governor Mario Cuomo who observed “only in cowboy movies do you get to shoot backwards”.

So if you’re going to be a target in a political fight, get out early and shoot first.

This is going to be rule number one in next year’s Queensland political contest – a battle which began this past week regardless of what anyone thought.

Liberal leader David Crisafulli – the guy who shuns the front-runner label but that’s what he is – should design a campaign in which the first third of the last 12 months is spent in the field, political guns blazing.

The Palaszczuk Government has softened itself up for the assault, managing to waste and whittle away any political advantage it had on key metrics and issues following victory three years ago.

The government has a poorly perceived record on the vital issue of health and hospitals, is woefully behind on youth crime, is seemingly doing little or nothing on the cost of living and the leadership of Annastacia Palaszczuk is as weak as it’s even been with her net satisfaction level (those having a positive view of her qualities subtracted from those with a negative opinion) as bad it ever was for LNP super-failure Campbell Newman.

If you’re the LNP and giving or taking harsh political advice, it’s time to follow an old Vietnamese battle proverb (often quoted by legendary US political consultant James Carville) that holds if “you have a drowning opponent, throw them an anvil”.

The summer period – into and out of Christmas followed by the weeks into the new year – should be fertile ground for either the LNP or Labor to get into the field and seek to diminish the standing and durability of the other side.

The success of Peter Dutton and the No campaign in the recent referendum – when a march was stolen on Yes and Anthony Albanese during a summer break without alternative pitches – should not be lost on either the LNP nor Labor.

By next February, the phase two should begin for Crisafulli and the LNP. The critical task is to move from opposing to proposing – from being “all negative all the time” to suggesting real alternatives to tackle the state’s problems, beyond boilerplate slogans.

Crisafulli shows signs of understanding this. He started the “final year” kick off week by saying he would appoint Australia’s first “home ownership” minister.

This was fine as far as it went but that wasn’t actually very far at all. It served to highlight a key weakness in the LNP’s policy smarts. The four dot points in the plan Crisafulli released were at best very, very shallow.

There was a “review” of first home ownership scheme thresholds, the “prioritising” of tax relief and “examining” duties and concessions and more “prioritising” for opening up land release.

This looks to voters like a team set to hit the ground reviewing, prioritising and examining.

The “first ever minister for home ownership” is in fact an add on job for the man who would be Treasurer David Janetzki – someone whose dance card will most certainly be in demand.

If there is going to be more detail – on home ownership and other key issues – from the LNP brains trust, it should be provided next year to give the public some hope the Opposition is ready to govern with credible and workable ideas.

After more than a decade of Labor falling short of public expectations and aspirations, the LNP might think they don’t have to do much to garner support. They have another think coming.

Mention of the shadow treasurer highlights another point – the near invisibility of Crisafulli’s “team”. Janetzki himself is so quiet in the economic debate he appears to have taken a vow of silence. He probably wouldn’t be recognised in the streets around Brisbane’s hollowed out CBD.

The only voices beyond the LNP leader who are heard are the 41-year-old Sunshine Coast bulldog politician Jarrod Bleijie and his 61-year-old Gold Coast colleague Ros Bates.

Bleijie loves to throw rhetorical grenades at Labor. He’s as tenacious and he is shameless while Bates, who is quietly but determinedly ambitious, has had a bit of a makeover remarked on by her LNP colleagues.

While having a couple of hard workers on your team is good, it alone will not provide the needed heft in the hard yakka needed to win an election. Housing and public works spokesman Tim Mander has a relative profile but that’s only down to his still simmering leadership ambition.

A trio of former leaders – Tim Nicholls, John-Paul Langbroek and Deb Frecklington – have front bench potions but none has set the policy or political world alight,

Crisafulli should use the lead up to the new year to set out in simple sentences what the coming 12 months means and why everyone is going to have to find their shoulders and connect them to a nearby wheel.

One glaring weakness in the LNP’s tactical make-up is any robust approach to public sector reform and the basket of issues usually corralled under the banner of “integrity”.

The Palaszczuk Government has managed to escape with doing the bare minimum in responding to the review of integrity failures highlighted by former tertiary education administrator and expert Professor Peter Coaldrake.

His “Let the Sunshine In” report released in June was very critical on all levels but is at its most damning when you read between the lines.

The Queensland public service is in as bad shape as it was in the last years of the Nationals-led Bjelke-Petersen administration that collapsed after 32 years of conservative rule.

A lack of imagination, creativity and ingenuity hide a genuine fear of bullying and intimidation. There has seldom been a public sector so desperately in need of reform. The only state where calcification is as bad or worse is Victoria.

There is a shadow minister for integrity in government but not much beyond creating plenty of opportunity.

A cynic might conclude the LNP doesn’t want to be prescriptive about what they might do in office, affording them maximum opportunity to reinvent the poor management and accountability practices we’ve seen in this state since the mid-1990s, in one form or another.

In just the last decade, Newman promised reform and failed to do anything and some good intentions at the beginning of the first Palaszczuk government were discarded in favour of expediency and patronage.

Few Oppositions have faced such a political goal that’s as open as that David Crisafulli faces right now. But as we have seen in many world class football matches, managing to score can be out of reach if you don’t do the work to get your skills and game plan in order.

Nothing beats being match fit.

(A column on the role of the Greens party next year was in the schedule to follow this but it will have to wait a week. I am attending Bill Hayden’s state funeral this coming Friday and I shall reflect on that solemn event and look back at the life and legacy of Queensland’s greatest national leader next week.)

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