The timing could not have been more exquisite.
While PM Rudd was introducing his brand new Forde candidate, former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, as God’s gift to the world – apart from himself – the good people of the outer southern Brisbane electorate were receiving letters from Rudd singing the praises of Des Hardman, the abruptly dumped ALP local hero.
The electorate had already been plastered with huge billboards featuring happy snaps of Rudd and Hardman proclaiming, “Des Hardman - Kevin Rudd’s Candidate in Forde.”
Hardman was erased from ALP history as quickly as possible; his website vanished and a brief statement in Hardman’s name was released by the ALP announcing he wouldn’t be standing after all. The statement, never explained just why he was quitting, never mentioned Beattie and didn’t contain any words of praise or even comfort from Rudd – and just to be safe, the State ALP Secretary, Anthony Chisholm, and not Hardman, was listed for any further comment. Presumably this cynical brutality is part of Kev’s “new way.”
Forde is an interesting seat – created only in 1984, it has had five Members; three Liberals and two Labor. The sitting MP, Liberal Bert van Manen – a truly local man who has a reputation for hard work – holds the seat he first won in 2010 by a slim margin of 1.7%.
The fact is that despite all of the imagined lift in support Labor expected in Queensland from the recycling of Rudd as PM, their own polling showed that they wouldn’t even win this classical marginal seat. Rudd’s “popularity” existed only in his own mind.
The big question in Queensland is just why Rudd’s popularity is so dismal at the start of the campaign. Back in January, a State-wide poll by The Courier Mail/Galaxy asked the then hypothetical question about voting intentions if Rudd was leading Labor – the ALP vote surged from 34% to 47%, giving it a two-party preferred advantage over the Coalition of 53% to 47%.
Yet the poll on the weekend showed Labor’s Queensland vote, now Rudd is back, is only 34% - the same as PM Gillard’s in February. An astounding 13% of the vote once hypothetically Rudd’s has defected now The Great Man is really back.
On the ground, LNP polling reflects this – as does internal ALP research: hence the plea to Beattie to come to the aid of the party.
Beattie, whose bitter loathing for Rudd has been well documented over many years, was in his plush New York apartment when Rudd called begging him to stand. It must have been a delicious moment for Beattie who, being a man of his word, said back in 2010 that his wife would murder him if he ever suggested a return to politics.
If Rudd genuinely thought he had even the slightest chance of winning not just Forde but other Coalition seats in his home State, he wouldn’t have given Beattie a second thought – and Beattie knows it.
Beattie, who has graciously said that he would live in Forde if he was elected and who generously added that he would also serve a full term, has moved into his brother’s house in the electorate. It’s a very long way from New York and a considerable way from his home in the trendy inner Brisbane suburbs.
The former Premier has also said that he would be quite happy sitting on the backbench of a re-elected Rudd Government which is probably a good thing because that is exactly where a re-elected Rudd would leave him. But when the former NSW ALP Premier, who was also parachuted in, is swanning around the world as Foreign Minister, nobody believes that Beattie would be a happy little camper on the backbench.
The electors of Forde, at least so far, appear to have been rather underwhelmed by Beattie – a Reachtel poll just after his candidature was announced had him on as two-party preferred 46% to van Manen’s 54%. The local newspaper, the Albert and Logan News randomly asked 150 Forde locals who they would support and 42 said the sitting Liberal, 32 for Beattie, 60 undecided and the rest for others.
It’s hard to break the habits of a lifetime, especially when you are a self-admitted “media tart” so when Beattie appeared at the local Ormeau Show over the weekend, he piously intoned, “I’m keen at the Ormeau Show not to have the media around. One of the issues is because of my profile. I want to show I’m fair dinkum.”
Fortunately, there was a large media attendance there to record him being humble and modest again. Probably just a co-incidence.
One of the key messages in the ALP campaign in Queensland is the claim that the State LNP government has been sacking public servants wholesale and that this has had terrible implications for the job market. We are asked to believe that Abbott will be Campbell Newman writ large.
But the facts just don’t support that allegation – in July, Queensland’s unemployment actually dropped from 6.3% to 5.9%. There goes another furphy.
When Rudd introduced Beattie as his Forde candidate – headlined by The Courier Mail as Bring In The Clown – they could well have been doing a chorus of Mac Davis’ little toetapper – “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way…”