Comment

Is Tim Mander the one to lead the LNP?

John Harrison

Tim Mander came within two votes of beating Lawrence Springborg in the post-Newman leadership contest in February last year. The vote was 23/20.

This February (or March) there will be another LNP leadership ballot following Springborg's poor approval ratings in the polls.

Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tim Mander has struggled to get traction against Minister Kate Jones, but ...
Shadow Minister for Education and Training Tim Mander has struggled to get traction against Minister Kate Jones, but remains a formidable contender for the LNP leadership. Photo: Bradley Kanaris

The contenders will be the current deputy, John-Paul Langbroek, and probably Tim Nicholls, Ian Walker, Scott Emerson, and Mander. Fiona Simpson, strangely excluded from the Newman ministry in 2012, has insufficient support to make it as leader.

The conventional wisdom is that Mander's lack of public profile makes him unelectable as leader. As education and training shadow minister, he has not shone against the ALP's Ashgrove giant killer, Kate Jones.

Who in the LNP can boast more hours on TV than Tim Mander?
Who in the LNP can boast more hours on TV than Tim Mander? 

However, Mander is probably the only candidate among the constellation of urban Liberals listed above with the credentials to appeal in regional Queensland, particularly in the provincial cities such as Cairns, Townsville, Bundaberg where the LNP lost the last election. Why?

First, Mander is a former high priest of provincial Queensland's most popular folk religion – rugby league. Twenty years of being a rugby league ref, hated, as Mander says, by 50 per cent of the crowd every game, gives him "name recognition", which is important as electoral contests become more presidential. Which of his party room opponents can claim as many hours on TV?

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Secondly, Mander's evangelical Christianity also appeals in regional Queensland. Often unrecognised by the urban political commentariat, there remains in Queensland outside the great south-east an ingrained and residual piety that crosses denominational boundaries. It includes everyone from Roman Catholics, with their 19th-century Irish Catholic and 20th-century Italian roots, to contemporary Pentecostals. This underlying rural religiosity was a key part of Joh Bjelke-Petersen's political appeal, and we saw a glimpse of it in the support for Kevin Rudd in Queensland provincial seats in 2007.  It is ebbing away with the passing of time; it is not easily tracked by opinion polls, but it still exists.

Thirdly, Mander's roots are in Labor: "my family was as Labor as they come," he announced in his first speech to Parliament. This works to his advantage in that he knows the values and aspirations that drive the constituency of his political opponents. Educated in state schools, he joined the LNP only two years before his election, and he is not contaminated by membership of the old boy network.

Finally, back in the great south-east, Mander has currency among the urban wets in the LNP, and indeed among all political progressives, for his approach to Indigenous issues. Again in his first speech to Parliament, he said, "I am embarrassed to say that it has only been in recent years that I have fully appreciated the challenges associated with being an Aboriginal Australian".

"Over the last few years a small group of Aboriginal elders have educated me about the dislocation the majority of First Australians feel".

A late convert is better than being unconverted.  

John Harrison is director of journalism at the University of Queensland.

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