Cunningham cautious

by Chris Griffith
Published 19 November 1995 in The Sunday Mail


my face


The game of political chess raging over who will govern Queensland next year is a game that leaves Gladstone Independent member Liz Cunningham cold.

She appears unmoved by the prospect that the Court of Disputed Returns may order a by-election in Mundingburra and Greenslopes, that the Liberals' Frank Tanti might win Mundingburra, and with a tied parliament, that she would choose whether Wayne Goss or Rob Borbidge is Premier.

Mrs Cunningham, meanwhile, is immersed in the world of representing her electors and the bread and butter issues of health, education, dwindling police numbers, and most recently workers' compensation.

"We don't have any specialists in Gladstone. We have a catchment community of 40,000 but no specialists. They left," she said.

"I think it's unfortunate that a lot of time is spent dwelling on probabilities, instead of getting on with reality now and making decisions that benefit the state."

In approaching the Mundingburra scenario, Mrs Cunningham is playing her cards close to her chest, but she has in the past suggested that if the Liberals win Mundingburra, the Coalition would form a working government.

"I don't think it would be right for me to say prior to a Mundingburra by-election what I would or wouldn't do, because I'd be pre-empting that result, and that's not my right let alone my responsibility.

On an issue by issue basis, Mrs Cunningham's natural inclinations are strongly conservative. She favours corporal punishment, truth in sentencing, and would seem at home among Coalition ranks. On the other hand, she represents workers in the former ALP seat who may strongly opposed some Coalition policies, for example Coalition industrial policy. Her choice is not easy.

She said that in a hung parliament, she would act as she indicated when the balance of power issue first arose after the July 15 election.

Then Mrs Cunningham, with media contingent in train, visited the three parliamentary leaders on a fact-finding, information gathering exercise.

"I haven't changed in my methodology. I said the extent of any undertaking, if one was necessary, would be on supply bills, and mischievous bills of no confidence.

She stressed that stable government by either side was possible whatever the outcome of any by-election and that the parliament could run its full three-year term.

However she has left open a thin possibility that she would consider being Speaker in a hung parliament if there were "compelling reasons".

The issue of who is Speaker would be as crucial to the Goss Government's survival in a hung parliament, as would Mrs Cunningham's vote.

Griffith University political scientist Associate Professor John Wanna said the Queensland Parliament had to meet only once a year to satisfy constitutional requirements, and of course to ensure supply.

Should Labor loose Mundingburra, Mr Goss could govern without recalling parliament until May or June, depending on how quickly supply was exhausted.

Professor Wanna said Mr Goss could wait until there was "a window of opportunity" and then call a general election next year after the federal election. Unpopular decisions by a new Howard Government, or a fight in coalition ranks that produces a slump in coalition support could be the trigger.

It is understood State Cabinet has already discussed the government not convening parliament early next year, but Professor Wanna said a state election could occur only if Governor Leneen Forde agreed to it.

He said Labor's first task would be to convince the defiant Jim Fouras to resign as Speaker, and thereby exchange his casting vote for a full vote should Mrs Forde ask parliament to meet, and to pressure Mrs Cunningham into being Speaker.

With Mr Fouras in the chair, Labor would lose a no-confidence motion 43 to 44 without Mrs Cunningham having to commit herself.

Mr Fouras yesterday said his position was the "$64 million question" and he would not declare his hand until after a by-election.

Professor Wanna said Mr Goss would probably convince Mrs Forde to agree to an election if Mrs Cunningham refused to be Speaker, and neither the ALP nor the Coalition supplied a speaker.

Mrs Cunningham said she was elected to represent the community, not to lose her ability to vote freely if she was Speaker.

She said a new state election was wasteful and unnecessary, as the community could spend the millions of dollars it costed more productively.

"I know in the media there was a couple of employer groups saying we need an election to clear the air, we'll that's not true.

"I just thinks it's a personality thing or ego thing that will demand another election."