Sunday, 25 March 2012

Political Symmetry

There’s something about Queensland politics that favours symmetry.

If you care to go back to 1916, you’ll note that T J Ryan, the Queensland Labor Premier was in no-holds-barred conflict with Billy Hughes, Prime Minister, over many things, including conscription.

This was the era of the famous Warwick Egg Incident, although much of what was going on at the time was a reflection of personality politics between Ryan and Hughes.

Move forward to 1975, and we see a similar state-federal conflict between Whitlam and Bjelke-Petersen. Except that the party allegiances were reversed, the situation was uncannily similar – two politicians with large egos fighting tooth and nail. The replacement of Bert Milliner with Albert Field by Bjelke-Petersen was just one of the more bizarre events during this period.

After the Labor split in Queensland in 1957, the Coalition was in power until 1989. This period of 32 years saw entrenched corruption take hold in the police force, leading to the Fitzgerald Inquiry and the demise of conservative government.

Again, move ahead to the present era, and we see a Labor government of more than 20 years reduced to a political rump after corruption and incompetence took hold. The pattern is the same as what occurred in the late eighties, only the politics are reversed.

Why does this happen in Queensland?

In the first place, the lack of an upper house means that the shock absorbing effect of such a chamber is absent. Queensland politics, will, I believe, continue to lurch from one extreme to the other as a result. Strong personalities with untrammelled power will always have a tendency to overreach. It has happened too often in Queensland to be a coincidence.

In addition, Queensland is essentially regional in culture. This means that there is always competition between competing regional interests. Usually it’s the bush versus the South East corner. When the two interests get together and get organised through the formation of a political alliance (in this case the amalgamated LNP) a great deal of political power results. It’s taken the conservative side of politics a long time to wake up to this salient fact, and now that they have, they are reaping the rewards.

The old saying – “All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely” is specifically applicable in Queensland. Understand that, understand symmetry, and you begin to understand our politics.

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