Leadership settled ... until the next poll

EVENTS in the Queensland LNP over the past week remind me of a couple of old aphorisms.

One is Albert Einstein's oft-repeated quote that insanity is repeating the same action over and over, but expecting a different result. The other is that well-worn joke where a passer-by asks a man why he's banging his head against the wall. "Because it feels so good when I stop," he said.

Watching the LNP grapple with - in fact, handle quite badly - its most recent leadership crisis, I can only wonder why so many insist on repeating the same leadership errors, yet still expect different opinion poll results. Don't they know how good it will feel when they stop banging their heads against the leadership wall?

Yes, the LNP leads Labor on primary votes - 38 to 32 per cent - but the all-important
after-preference vote is far closer, with the LNP leading 52 to 48 per cent. On those figures, Frecklington's best hope is to cobble together a ramshackle coalition with One Nation and Katter's Australian Party. Goodbye sound economic management and hello flat-earth politics.

But even that might be a pipe dream. For one, YouGov found Labor leading the LNP by 11 points on post-pandemic economic management. How humiliating for a Conservative side of politics - almost always trusted as superior economic managers - to trail a government presiding over ballooning state debt and recalcitrant unemployment.

For another, internal LNP polling points to the Opposition losing where it matters most - in marginal seats. Given there are six districts ripe for plucking on margins under 2 per cent, to lose here is to lose the election.

But the most telling of LNP's woes lie - as they so often do in today's image-heavy digital environment - in the party's still poor leadership polls, despite 2½ years of Frecklington's "laser-like focus".

With Frecklington's personal approval three points under water - and Palaszczuk's 16 points above - the most alarming figure for the LNP is the 21-point gap between Palaszczuk and Frecklington as preferred premier.

Yes, Tony Abbott won in 2013 despite poor preferred PM polls. But his Opposition also fared much better on economic credibility.

And for all those who doubt Australian public opinion polls after the 2019 debacle, YouGov's updated methodology - entirely online panelling "using additional variables for weighting such as education and more sophisticated regional segments" - is solidly reliable.

But it's just not the raw numbers testifying to an LNP leader who's just not ready for the top job. It's also her blunt political antennae and clumsy communication. Yes, Frecklington this week did hold a media conference where some say she appeared her strongest yet.

But she also looked bitter and petulant. For one, Labor - the democratically elected party of government - is not the "enemy" she so casually describes. Labor is merely the LNP's electoral rival. Our "enemies" are the terrorists and totalitarians hellbent on destroying our liberal democracy. Let's avoid this stupid tribalism.

For another, rather than laugh off leadership rumblings as Labor mischief-making, Frecklington broke a cardinal political rule - she aired her own party's private dirty linen in public.

By accusing her own organisational colleagues of bullying, Frecklington just threw a 1000-watt spotlight on the very internal divisions that turn off swinging voters. And by mentioning gender, she seemed to admit her side of politics does have a "woman problem".

It was also an unconvincing reference. As a former senior member of the LNP state executive told me this week: "Frecklington conveniently ignores that it was the LNP organisational wing that stepped in (before the Currumbin by-election) and vetoed sitting member Jann Stuckey's preferred candidate (a man), with the organisational wing insisting on running a woman - Laura Gerber."

Moreover, the member said: "Deb does not have a laser-like focus to hold government to account. At best, she sounds like the captain of a high school debating team with practised lines, but no agility. All she's missing are the palm cards." Ouch.

The point really depressing LNP stalwarts is the paradox that Deb's biggest - perhaps only - powerbase is inside an LNP party room comprised of 38 MPs, only five of whom represent Greater Brisbane where almost half of Queensland's voters live.

Outside this room, very few in the LNP State Executive, the business community or among swinging voters support an Opposition leader now likely to sentence her party to four more years in Opposition.

Yes, the LNP's leadership question does now appear settled. Until the next opinion poll.

Dr Paul Williams is a senior lecturer at Griffith University



Originally published as Leadership settled ... until the next poll