Campbell Newman

Twirling towards freedom

The Queensland Experiment

When you grow up in Queensland, it’s a given that your experience of politics is going to be a little different to the rest of the country. To my friends and I, politicians like Joh Bjelke-Petersen, Pauline Hanson and later, Bob Katter, were like eccentric aunts and uncles who our parents made fun of, but whose rules we had to follow nonetheless.

I left my hometown for Melbourne just after Anna Bligh became our first female Premier. From my new home, I still couldn’t help but feel a twinge of pride when she oversaw the passing of a same-sex marriage bill, and again when she conducted herself with such aplomb during the 2011 floods. I didn’t have to be ashamed of Queensland politics any longer. Then, when the Labor Party was spectacularly defeated and Campbell Newman began his reign of terror, I was shocked, but also weirdly happy. I figured that Queensland would serve as an experiment, a failed one, about life under a Liberal Party government. Queensland would be a petri dish, where a gross, harmful bacteria bubbled away, and as soon as anybody looked at it closely they would realise it could never be allowed to spread.

The experiment started out well. One of Newman’s first acts of business was to pass the Civil Partnerships and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012, ensuring that same-sex partners are no longer allowed to have a civil union but instead register their relationship, affording them the same rights as stray dogs. Newman then turned his attention from the gays to the arts and axed the Queensland Premier’s Literary Awards. Women were the next agenda, as a prison counselling services for largely illiterate and indigenous female inmates was cut, and then free breast cancer screening services. Oh, and jobs as well. 14,000 public service positions. Having misaligned almost every demographic in the state, I was sure that the national polls would soon start show decline in LNP support. I continued to poke fun at my northern friends, cheerfully telling them that I hoped they had a nice weekend at the book burnings I imagined were now a regular event in King George Square, and went back to watching the polls. How could the Queensland experiment be seen as anything but a warning about an Abbott government?

As David Marr notes in Political Animal, shortly after the 2004 elections in which the LNP unexpectedly won control of the Senate, Howard and Costello reneged on their promise to keep Medicare’s safety-net provisions. Years later, when talking to journalist Peter Hartcher about the “shit sandwich” he was forced to eat as a result of this broken promise, Abbott seemed to reflect on the episode with uncharacteristic insight. “Getting control of the Senate was a curse,” he said. “It allowed us to do things that we would not normally have been able to get away with and I think it tempted us to chance our arm in ways which ultimately did us significant political damage.” It seems doubtful we’ll see such wisdom from Abbott again. In 2011, Tony Windsor recounted that Abbott begged MPs to make him prime minister, saying “'the only thing I wouldn't do is sell my arse ­– but I'd have to give serious thought to it''.

We’re looking at a man who’s willing to pledge anything, potentially being granted unfettered power. It does not bode well for anyone. Vote Someone Else in the Senate, that’d be my tip.

Up north, the Queensland experiment is still bubbling away unchecked. This week, the Newman government announced a major environmental initiative. The state government is giving $40,000 to KFC, so that the second largest food chain in the world can afford to put recycling bins in its stores. Now, even I’ve given up making fun of Queensland politics. It’s not a joke any more.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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