Although Queensland’s Labor Premier Peter Beattie has suffered a collapse in credibility over the cover-up of child sex abuse by the Family Department, Mr Beattie’s attacks on the Auditor-General and his anti-farm policies, the opposition parties have failed to make any significant impact.
It seems that as long as taxes, interest rates and inflation are all low and there is an adequate social security net for the less fortunate, most people are happy. It is cultural conservatism that counts, especially in Queensland.
Hansonism was essentially cultural conservatism with a flair of red hair, and its success was illustrated in the 1998 state election where almost one in four Queenslanders decided they would vote for One Nation.
But how many mainstream conservatives actually got the message? Former National Party Premier Rob Borbidge certainly didn’t. His remarks after the “Coalition demolition” in the 2001 state election typified the attitude of the established conservative parties towards cultural conservatism.
His central message was that we have to move away from such destructive values and towards a more tolerant agenda.
More recently, the current leader of the party, Lawrence Springborg, decided it was time to get tough on his own party’s candidates who toy with the idea of preferencing One Nation ahead of Labor or any other party.
Party President Terry Bolger backed up the parliamentary leader by saying he would be willing to act as the policeman, ready to bust any dissident candidates.
Bolger and Springborg’s stance emanates from a party ruling made in 2001 to appease both a hounding media and quell Senator Ron Boswell’s threats to quit. The ruling was, quite simply, that all state party how to vote cards must put One Nation or not preference them at all. It’s a ruling that doesn’t factor in the possibility of a Nazi, Communist or any other brand of political extremist running for a seat and potentially being preferenced ahead of One Nation.
Previously the decision on preferences has been left to local party branches, reflecting the party’s supposed belief in decentralised grass roots democracy. The party’s preference ruling is not only a complete slap in the face towards such a concept but also a slap in the face for cultural conservatism.
Yet the main reason why the federal Liberal-National Coalition was re-elected later that year was due to its strong stance on protecting our borders from a flood of illegal immigrants.
While Labor and other socialist groupings have claimed that this means the Coalition was elected on false pretences, nothing could be further from the truth.
The public were well aware that the main election issue was border protection and the results showed they believed the Coalition was best placed to manage that issue.
The Queensland Nationals should have seen the 2001 federal election as manna from heaven. As an organisation considered by some as right-wing, an election victory won by adopting such a position should have reinvigorated the party. But it didn’t.
Instead so-called “progressive conservatives” decided it was time to begin a major philosophical change in the party.
The typical catchcry of “modernisation” has been bandied about as some sort of reasoning behind this proposed swing to the left.
Fortunately the swing is only an idea at the moment. There has been no sign of policy positions that could potentially belong to the Democrats or Labor as yet.
Recently, an Anglican priest privately confided in this author his concerns regarding the perceived shift in the Queensland National Party.
He said that while Christians vote on moral issues, if a morals-championing party was divided, such as the Nationals are perceived to be, then their focus will turn to social justice issues and on that count Labor wins hands down.
His concern is not unfounded. The Queensland National Party split almost evenly on the issue of the destruction of human embryos for stem cell research.
Most notable is the fact that among those in favour of embryonic stem cell research were both the Leader and Deputy Leader of the party.
But will this “progressive”, “modern” brand of the National Party wash with voters? Odds are that it may be a bonus for the Nationals on the Gold Coast and for the Liberals who are running only in metropolitan areas. But for the Nationals’ regional and rural candidates it is going to be a hard slog.
After what will be another humiliating defeat for the Queensland Coalition next year, the Nationals will have to realign themselves once again. Even now party insiders’ eyes are on promising shadow health minister Fiona Simpson to pick up the ball. Her task will not be an enviable one.