Friday, January 13, 2012

Mud Wrestling

There were some momentous outcomes from the floods that drowned much of Queensland a year ago. Think of Brisbane’s Mud Army, Baked Relief, the impact of social media, the ABC’s role as an emergency broadcaster… and the many personal stories of survival. For those weeks in January 2011, the people of Queensland pulled together as never before, and performed miracles. This week, we’ve looked back, we’ve mourned, we’ve celebrated our recovery and we’ve looked forward, but we haven’t done that together.
The ‘face’ of the food disaster was undoubtedly Premier Anna Bligh. Her presence on our televisions was steady and reassuring, informative and sensitive. Her sustained efforts during the flood peak showed her strength and her love for her state.  Queenslanders warmed to her compassion and control, and we saw a huge bump in her polling numbers. Conspicuous in his absence at the time was the Leader of the Opposition, John-Paul Langbroek. Later, he explained that he had been putting his time and energy into helping with the cleanup. Fair enough.
What about Brisbane City Council? I recall seeing Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale on the television, but I don’t recall Brisbane’s Lord Mayor, Campbell Newman,having a major profile during the flood disaster, although he was certainly talking to media. A quick Google search revealed comments in newspapers, on ABC, B105 and 4BC and elsewhere during the week 10-17 January 2011. He was visible, but he wasn’t seen to be sitting in the driver’s seat. Anna was already there.
Lord Mayor Campbell Newman resigned from Council in April, to contest the state seat of Ashgrove. He is also the Leader of the Liberal National Party, despite not being a parliamentarian. If the LNP wins the next state election, and if Mr Newman wins the seat of Ashgrove, he will be the next Premier of Queensland. Recent polling indicates his support may be sliding, but not enough to cast serious doubt on his chances.
Meanwhile, the new Lord Mayor of Brisbane is Graham Quirk, currently serving his 27th year on Brisbane City Council. Yesterday, he hosted a cruise on the Brisbane River for a hand-picked group of flood survivors, volunteers and a few dignitaries. Undoubtedly, he was the right person to do it, and yet it felt a little off-kilter. The two leading figures during Brisbane’s floods were both absent, and there was no public  function of any kind in the city. This was a decision made by Brisbane City Council who apparently decided that it would have been inappropriate to a have a public event to remember the floods, lest it seem like a celebration.
NineMSN reported that Mr Newman was invited to the reception, but declined, choosing instead to hold a Shadow Cabinet Meeting in Ashgrove. Strange decision: it would have been entirely appropriate for him to be on the ferry with Lord Mayor Quirk.

Aside from his class excursion to Ashgrove, Mr Newman spent yesterday pretending to call a state election. “Today marks the start of the state campaign, whether the premier has confirmed it or not," Mr Newman told reporters in Ashgrove.  Well it sounds ballsy; it’s just not correct.
This morning, he’s gone a step further and has stated that March 24th is the three year mark since Anna Bligh’s government was sworn in, and that the election must be held before then, or time will run out. There's even a "countdown clock"... but it's counting down to the wrong date.
Queensland electoral law requires that the next state election can be held on any Saturday, up to and including, but no later than 16th June 2012. That date is based on a convoluted calculation involving  the issuing of writs, the closing of the electoral roll and the maximum length of an election campaign. Unless Mr Newman is planning some sort of media stunt to mark the 3rd Anniversary of the current government, March 24 has no special significance.
My guess is that all his talk about an election being held on March 24 will only guarantee that the election will not be held on March 24. The unofficial campaign has been rumbling along in Ashgrove for months now; all Mr Newman’s talk of election campaigns starting is nothing more than Newman trying to look like a Premier.
And the real Premier? Where was she on the anniversary of the Brisbane Flood of 2011? I did see her announcing that there would be some kind of statue or monument commissioned to honour the Mud Army, and I hear that she jumped in a tinny and had a look at some of the areas that were underwater a year ago. Where she wasn’t, was on the ferry with Lord Mayor Quirk.
That struck me as bizarre, so I nosed around, and it appears that she wasn’t invited. Yep, the Lord Mayor of Brisbane did not invite the Premier of Queensland to the one-and-only official event to mark the first anniversary of the Queensland  floods. A council spokesman told NineMSN that “representatives from several state government agencies had been invited, but the premier’s office did not contact the council about the event.”
Hang on – is it protocol for the Premier to have to request an invitation to an official council reception of this nature? That doesn’t sound right.
I suppose there could be many reasons why Mr Quirk would have left Ms Bligh off the invitation list. Perhaps he thought…um…maybe…it could have been...um... No, I can’t think of a single reason why the Lord Mayor would deliberately not invite the Premier to yesterday’s reception, other than the obvious one: political partisanship. He’s LNP, his predecessor and former boss is now Ms Bligh’s opposition. Maybe that’s enough of a reason. I’d call it a deliberate snub.
As to yesterday’s events, it’s certainly not the way I would have done it. I would’ve had a massive public reception, maybe at Suncorp Stadium or at South Bank, and I would have invited Ms Bligh and Mr Langbroek, Mr Newman, all of the MPs (both state and federal), representing seats in and around Brisbane, the PM, the Opposition Leader, the vice-royals, and the remarkable people who lead the recovery effort. I would have had a sincere and solemn service to remember all that was lost – thankfully no lives were lost in Brisbane as a result of the flood – and I’d follow it with a massive one-off festival, with satellite festivals in suburban hubs.  The focus would be on celebrating Brisbane’s resurgence and refocussing on what is still to be done. I’d hold it this weekend, the first anniversary of the Mud Army self-mobilising, and I’d make it as low-cost and family-friendly as possible.
No politics and no politicking. The people of Brisbane – flood survivors and recovery workers alike – deserve an opportunity to mark this anniversary. Perhaps our city council misjudged the mood.

Update: If you search Dirty Politics in Google Images, the first uncaptioned photo image - and the first image on Page 2 - is of Campbell Newman. He appears before such luminaries as the head of the Delhi Commonwealth Games Committe and most of the Republican presidential hopefuls.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous for fear of retribution.January 13, 2012 at 10:51 PM

    You're probably not going to want to hear this but Anna's famous every hour on the hour TV updates surrounded by head nodding cronies like the Police commissioner, the head of the SES, the Minister and a signer to convey the message to those who must have up until Anna's heroic takeover of TV not ever got a word from the contraption, was a publicity stunt of epic proportions that actually went wrong in very short order after flood waters subsided and the community began to realise that it was the government itself that made a major contribution to the levels of the flooding and increased the number of homes affected and the level of innundation by a huge amount.

    Worse, a couple of months after the cleanup was done in many cases at bargain basement prices by free willing workers saving greedy insurance companies millions, and the government as well millions more, the rest of the world was still wondering if any of Queensland was left on the continent of Australia. Many seeing Anna's heroic TV appearances assuming our state was washed out to sea of smashed beyond repair, and tourists just stopped coming, so was the panic raised by Bligh's electioneering TV stunt.

    As an advertising writer, I could see how her spin department would have not been able to resist the opportunity, but while she was imploring those in the North to stay safe as a cyclone swept toward shore, to those people most not having power or TV reception to even see, let alone place their deaf relative in front of so they could watch the signer and understand they were in danger.

    Unfortunately the rest of the world got her message, and tourism has been almost killed off as a result.

    Interestingly, Bligh still has a very large sum left from the previous Cyclone 5or6 years before, and many of the people affected in that one still haven't been paid the money that generous people donated for their assistance, and we're seeing that duplicated with last years collection money being held back still.

    Was Anna the hero she proclaimed herself to be? No she took the opportunity to parade and scaremonger and get probably what has been the most free election campaign in our nation's history, at probably the highest cost too.

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  2. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it, even though I don't agree. Please keep reading. :)

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