The dramatic plunge in the Queensland government’s popularity is unprecedented for a newly elected government with such a mandate, says one of the state’s leading political scientists.
Dr Paul Williams, a senior lecturer in politics and journalism with Griffith University, who has studied Australian politics over the past three decades, said he was “hard pressed” to think of any government, state or federal, where the honeymoon period had soured so quickly.
Dr Williams said the unpopularity of the Campbell Newman government’s public service austerity measures and to a lesser extent the same issues with his coalition counterparts in Victoria and New South Wales had put federal Labor back in the game.
His comments followed the resignation from the party of one of the LNP’s biggest backers, Queensland’s richest man, Clive Palmer, who launched a blistering attack on the state government on Friday.
Labelling Mr Newman "Caesar", Mr Palmer previously one of the premier’s biggest supporters, said he had quit the party "due to an arrogant disregard for accountability which has made the LNP organisation redundant" and opined that the rights of citizens "were never so much in danger as they are at the current time".
"I just want to say to you now that the current government is much worse than anything that was around at the time of the Fitzgerald inquiry," he told reporters.
However when pressed or evidence, he offered none, explaining that it was just the "environment" which surrounded the government.
The LNP has attempted to shrug off Mr Palmer’s attack, while deputy premier, Jeff Seeney, who has had a fractious relationship with the mining billionaire in recent months, characterised Mr Palmer as suffering from sour grapes following a decision regarding the Galilee basin rail corridor which did not go his way.
But Dr Williams said Mr Palmer’s resignation and latest outburst, while in the short term embarrassing for Mr Newman and his parliamentary team, could have a wider impact with the “ordinary grassroots people” within the LNP, who sympathise with the larger issue that Mr Palmer was alluding to.
"I think for those people who are disillusioned with the first six months of the Newman Government, this will strike a chord with them, maybe especially in people who voted for the LNP," he said.
While Dr Williams said there was "virtually zero chance" of the LNP losing office in 2015, and the state Labor party should "count themselves lucky" if they returned to office in three parliaments' time, he added that Mr Newman’s future as premier was less certain.
On a federal level, he said, the race for The Lodge had become much closer.
Mr Newman holds the inner-west seat of Ashgrove by 5.5 per cent.
"I have heard this around the traps as well, that Federal Labor is feeling a lot better about Queensland federal seats and Tony Abbott's camp is worried about the Newman factor.
"And it is not just Queensland, they are worried about the [Barry] O’Farrell factor and the [Ted] Baillieu factor in Victoria. All three governments have had public sector cutbacks," Dr Williams said.
"They are worried about the impact the state’s austerity measures will have on the federal coalition votes, to the point where a few months ago, Labor didn’t think they would win any seats in Queensland and they even thought they could lose Kevin Rudd’s seat of Griffith.
"But the latest feeling I can gather, what people are telling me, is that not only are they confident of holding all their seats, but they might pick one up and that is the seat of Brisbane.''
Brisbane is currently held by the LNP’s Teresa Gambaro, who won the inner-metropolitan seat with a swing of 5.73 per cent in 2010.
LNP Party President Bruce McIver, meanwhile, rejected suggestions that the party had problems on ABC’s 7:30 report, saying he "fully supported Campbell Newman and his team".
“We have a very good government and we are excited by some of the things that have already happened and also his plans, here today [Friday] at the state executive he has outlined some of his further plans and we are excited for them.”
Mr McIver said the party was focused on its members and supporters and maintaining integrity.
“It is more important for us to have our integrity and accountability. That is what this party has been built on for the past four years, brand LNP has high integrity under my leadership and will continue to do so.
“The membership of this party will continue to drive this party and have since day one and will continue to do so.”
He told the program Mr Palmer’s attacks on Mr Newman and the government were “unacceptable”.
“That is why we chose to suspend his membership at the beginning of the process and we had to go forward from there and it culminated last night [Thursday] with him resigning from the party.”
Speaking to Fairfax Media yesterday, Mr Palmer said he believed that while Mr Newman "has the support of the ministers he appointed", he didn’t think the situation was "as clear cut" when it came to the support of the political party.
"I think the situation is there would have been a lot of [federal] seats won if Mr Newman’s policies had been more in line with what the community values,” Mr Palmer said.
"I don’t think [the federal coalition] will win as many seats as they would have.
"But a week is a long time in politics. We will just have to wait and see."
Dr Williams said he believed the coalition "will still probably win” the federal election, although at this stage he didn’t believe it would be by a landslide.
“There is a lot of uncertainty and all you can really say is federal Labor are back in the game, where not so long ago they were completely out of it,” he said.
And the public turnaround in opinion in such a short time has created part of that back lash, he said.
“Even Gough Whitlam had a great first year; 1973 was a great year for him and it soured in 1974, but Mr Newman hasn’t even had a year,” Dr Williams said.
“Rob Borbidge is the only other one [to suffer a turnaround in public opinion] but he didn’t win a majority, he won office, almost by accident.
“John Howard had a big swing back in 1998, but he had a decent 1996-97 before that.
“Malcolm Fraser had a honeymoon period. I can’t think of another government where it soured so quickly.”
Dr Williams said as the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Mr Newman was "virtually the President," and as a popularly elected leader with no real opposition he "ran Brisbane City Council like a tight ship".
However, the Westminster system in state and federal politics changed the playing ground.
“Basically that is part of the problem,” he said.
“They chose a leader who had a strong personality, but was used to no real opposition and it sort of blew back in their faces a little in terms of his lack of experience, but he was brought to the job thinking he could run Queensland like City Hall, which you can’t.
“It is too early to say if the experiment has failed. There is no doubt it has hit obstacles. Has the Newman gamble paid off? In terms of wining a landslide, of course it has. In terms of putting his stamp on the face of government, yes it has. In terms of confidence amongst the Queensland people, maybe not.
“We have rarely seen so many critics come out of the woodwork so soon.
“It has been incredibly fast moving. If you had said back in June that in November we would be talking about the Newman government being accident prone and in trouble, I would have said that is preposterous but here we are.”