Nervous LNP looks to party elder to save Queensland seats

Amy Remeikis
·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP</span>
Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

The father of the Liberal National party, Lawrence Springborg, is being courted to step in and save it, while James McGrath and Amanda Stoker have entered the final two weeks of their Senate spot battle, with the Coalition working to reverse a recent downturn in its Queensland fortunes.

Stoker, who is understood to have the backing of prime minister Scott Morrison and was recently elevated to an assistant ministry, has emerged as the front runner in the fight, while McGrath, a popular figure with branch members fights to hold on to the position he has held since 2013.

The senate preselection vote has been called for 1 May, where just one of them will be guaranteed a return to the parliament after the next election.

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Both could return if the LNP manages to maintain a primary vote with a four in front of it – something it achieved at the last federal election. But a recent drop in federal support, combined with a state election loss which saw the LNP go backwards, has the Coalition worried and looking for a saviour to turn things around.

It’s looking to Springborg – the youngest person elected to the Queensland parliament when he won his southern downs seat at age 21 in 1989 – who was also the architect of the official marriage of the Liberal and National parties in Queensland, turning what had been a coalition into one party in 2008. Scott Morrison is understood to be in support of the move.

“I am giving it some degree of consideration,” Springborg told the Guardian.

The LNP has been contacted for comment.

Springborg led the LNP opposition three times but never won an election. He retired from state politics at the 2017 election and in 2020 was elected as mayor of Goondiwindi in the southern downs.

But the LNP executive has remained in conflict with its parliamentary arm since the one-term Newman government. Springborg was removed as one of three party trustees within the state executive in 2020 as internal friction grew.

The October state election loss, and continued ructions between the state executive and parliamentary teams has current president Cynthia Hardy’s tenure under threat, with federal coalition figures wanting someone to ‘right the ship’.

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While the LNP holds all but seven of Queensland’s 30 seats, a recent slump in the polls has the Coalition nervous, with the loss of just two seats at the next election enough to send it into minority government.

Newspoll has recorded a 5.4% drop in the Coalition’s two-party vote over the last three months, which complicates the McGrath/Stoker competition to return to the Senate. Matt Canavan, as a Nationals aligned LNP member has automatically secured the number two spot, leaving McGrath and Stoker fighting to win the support of LNP members for the number one position – the only guaranteed way of returning to the Senate.

Winning three senate quotas is not unheard of – it’s how Gerard Rennick was elected – but it is uncommon, and if the recent drop in support is maintained, the chances of three LNP senators being elected at the next election is slim.

Labor has been working to reverse its disastrous showing at the last election through individual electorate campaigns, as it works to capitalise on the state Labor government’s popularity and recent election win.

Anthony Albanese has also turned Labor’s focus to Queensland, announcing Matt Burnett, a popular central Queensland mayor, as the party’s candidate in Flynn, a seat it is strongly targeting. As part of a change in campaign tactics, the party is not personally attacking current MP Ken O’Dowd, who maintains a personal popularity, with Albanese recently declaring “O’Dowd isn’t a bad bloke, but he’s part of a bad Government”.

Indigenous and community health worker Donisha Duff was announced as Labor’s candidate for Andrew Laming’s seat of Bowman on Friday, which Labor is hoping to take from the LNP, who have held it for 17 years given Laming’s recent disendorsement. Labor would need to win a further eight seats above what it already holds to win government, while the government can not afford to lose more than two.

The latest a house and half senate election can be held is 22 May.