Could Anna Bligh be the next doomed leader?
Queensland Premier Anna Bligh's bad polls could make her the latest casualty in Australian politics. Photo: Glen Hunt
It hasn't been a great week to be an incumbent in politics.
First Malcolm Turnbull lost the federal Liberal leadership by one vote, then Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid reminded NSW voters they run the government, ousting premier Nathan Rees. Another dire poll for Queensland Premier Anna Bligh now has some predicting she could be the next head to roll.
The latest Galaxy poll revealed more than half of Queensland voters think Bligh should step aside as Premier. She is considered the worst leader of the state in 20 years. The LNP continues to lead the ALP 54-46 on a two party preferred basis, and Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek is trailing Bligh by just one point in the preferred premier stakes.
It's a shame for Bligh, who is actually one of the more principled and forward thinking political leaders of our time. She just appears to have lost her way this year, listening more to those around her than trusting her own political instincts, a trap she told me years ago she was prone to falling into. She's also leader at the fag end of a long Labor reign, so voters are as much sick of Labor as they are of Bligh.
But Bligh is not about to be bundled out of office Nathan Rees-style. For starters, there are no sinister Tripodi/Obeid figures lurking in her caucus to orchestrate a leadership change.
Although she was groomed for the job by her predecessor Peter Beattie, Bligh's March election win in her own right means she is no longer beholden to any party figure for her mandate to govern.
She still retains enormous goodwill among her caucus colleagues, especially from those who owe their seat in parliament or around the cabinet table to her. As yet there is no appetite for a messy leadership spill.
Similarly, the young state secretary Anthony Chisholm is no powerbroker like his former NSW counterpart Mark Arbib. And Bligh is said to retain the support of one of the state's right-wing heavyweights, Bill Ludwig.
Unlike Turnbull or Rees, Bligh has also proven she can win elections. She's the only female premier to be popularly elected in her own right in Australia, and arguably a key reason Labor scraped over the line for a fifth term in Queensland.
But there is no doubt that Bligh needs to arrest the decline in her support - fast. Even though Labor doesn't have to go to the polls again until 2012, senior party figures warn that if the Government's fortunes continue to wane in the new year, momentum will rapidly build within caucus for a leadership change.
"A lot of backbenchers in very marginal seats are going to be gone," one source said. "No one wants to support the captain of the Titanic."
One glimmer of hope for Bligh is a slight easing in voter hostility towards the asset sales - the chief cause of her nosedive in popularity. Only 79 per cent now oppose the $16-billion mass privatisation, compared with 84 per cent in the last poll. It may be that the $1.9 million Government PR campaign is starting to pay off, nullifying fierce union and economist criticisms of the sell-off. If Queensland's economy starts showing signs it is emerging from the GFC, Bligh's fortunes might improve in tandem. But Treasurer Andrew Fraser yesterday ruled out any scaling back of the reviled asset sell-off, claiming it was necessary to restore the state's balance sheet.
Some pundits suggest the electorate's loss of faith with Bligh is absolute, and nothing will convince them to support her again. And although Kevin Rudd has maintained his public support of Bligh to date, he won't hesitate to cut her loose if he thinks the Queensland ALP's travails will hurt federal Labor's election campaign late next year.
Cosima Marriner is Queensland correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.