Lessons from Queensland - Breaking Politics, 2 February

The first Breaking Politics show of the year was a big one, as Andrew Laming and I thrashed out the lessons parties should be taking from the weekend's remarkable result in Queensland. Here's the transcript:





SUBJECT/S: Abbott Government leadership ructions; Queensland election; Labor’s positive plan for 2015

CHRIS HAMMER: We're joined now in the studio by Andrew Leigh, the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Member for Fraser here in the ACT, and Andrew Laming, a Queensland federal Liberal MP from the seat of Bowman. Good morning to you both. Andrew Laming, to you first: the Queensland election result, how much do you think that was affected by federal issues and federal politics?

ANDREW LAMING, MEMBER FOR BOWMAN: Well Chris, you'll be surprised to hear me say: very little. The reason was Campbell Newman was such a towering figure, and overwhelmingly this result was all about whether you liked him or not, his tone and his style. Obviously asset sales became a significant issue due to a really big union campaign. So while we may have national thoughts about the relative leaders, Tony Abbott didn't play a big role in Queensland. Certainly he didn't come up during the campaign, and secondly people were firmly focused on Campbell Newman's three years in government.

CHRIS HAMMER: Ok, so in that case the federal government doesn't have to change anything, does it? Because that was just all Queensland?

LAMING: Well there are still important portents from the Queensland election. First of all, we've seen that significant social policy changes or restructures aren't going to be bought easily by the electorate in the name of fixing Labor's debt. There's general agreement, I think, that we need to do that. But in Queensland for the first time we've actually got a Queensland Labor government having to wear the debt of the Labor predecessor just three years earlier. That's historically quite a new thing post-John Howard, to see Labor sorting out Labor debt. It'll be very interesting viewing. 

HAMMER: Given what's happened in Queensland and what happened in Victoria in November – two first-term governments kicked out of office – do you now fear that the federal government could be a one-term government? Is that a real fear?

LAMING: Look, it's not a direct correlation but clearly Australians are not going to hold onto governments simply because they've only had one term. I mean, two very different situations here: the Victorian state government was just plain terrible, whereas Campbell Newman was, if anything, just too ambitious. Australians, and Queenslanders certainly, like governments that are seen but not heard. They don't want governments making massive structural reforms unless they're absolutely convinced of them. Clearly, both at the state and federal level we haven't achieved that. That narrative hasn't been right. I've said this before: on Budget Night last year I had to go and check, as a medical specialist, to see if Medicare was truly unsustainable because no-one had been saying it prior to the budget. That wasn't the right language to get budget changes through. 

HAMMER: Ok, so what has the federal government got wrong and what does it need to get right?

LAMING: Well it firstly needs to be pointed out that we're having this discussion two years out from an election. That's when you want to have the discussion. Not, as Labor did, three months out. Secondly, we obviously have great economic credentials, voters know that and they'll always vote for a Coalition government when the economy is at stake. But ultimately, Coalition governments are voted out when they get their social policy in a muddle. They've got to get their social policy right to stay elected. They're not at the moment. The mistake we have made is to presume that Australians will brook massive social policy changes simply because of a Labor government's failures in a previous term. In Queensland that simply did not wash.

HAMMER: Who would you prefer to take you to the next election – Tony Abbott or someone else? Or do you have an open mind about that?

LAMING: You'll be disappointed when I say, Chris, that we've got a number of people that are extraordinary leaders from the front, and that's a great position that we have that Labor doesn't. But secondly, I haven't spoken to a single one of them. It's my concern purely and simply that we do some basic things in 2015: we have to get the social policy right because that's what keeps Coalition governments in government. We need to ditch the knighthoods and the Imperial Honours system - that simply needs to go