Why an LNP backbencher crossing the floor is nothing for Labor to gloat over

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Colin Boyce is the sort of old-style Queensland National you don’t hear about much these days.

In his 2018 maiden speech to Parliament, the LNP backbencher — a farmer and qualified boilermaker — reminisced about the good old days when big tractors pulled up the scrub on his parents’ brigalow ballot block.

“The wheel has turned and now we have proposed government regulation which will inhibit agricultural development,” he said.

A man speaking in Queensland Parliament
Colin Boyce voted against a bill to appoint a special commissioner for mine rehabilitation.(ABC News)

Mr Boyce’s decision on Tuesday to cross the floor and defy his party’s wishes on a mine rehabilitation bill was consistent with his long-held beliefs.

But it did cause a stir in parliamentary circles — such a break in party discipline is rare and Labor was mischievously suggesting it a was sign of problems with Deb Frecklington’s leadership of the LNP.

Labor should be careful not to gloat too much.

A divide facing both major parties

Giving free rein to backbenchers is one way of dealing with issues that divide the city and country, with the LNP hoping to capitalise on Labor’s apparent softer support in the regions.

The bill in question proposed to appoint a special commissioner to oversee mine rehabilitation.

Labor has called it a major reform, and the LNP supported it.

Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington speaks during a press conference at Parliament House in Brisbane.
Deb Frecklington and the LNP face the dilemma of trying to appeal to voters at both ends of the political divide.(AAP: Dan Peled)

But Mr Boyce, whose electorate of Callide covers farming and mining communities from the Western Downs to the outskirts of Gladstone, considered it yet another example of what he told ABC radio was “eco-Marxist ideology coming out of George Street”.

“They’ve attached agriculture to this; the commissioner can be turned into a political hit man for any government which has crazy political ideals,” Mr Boyce said.

Not only was he expressing his well-established view that there should be less government intervention, he was also playing to his political base.

Although Callide is a traditionally safe LNP seat, at the last election in 2017 two conservative minor parties — Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) — attracted a staggering 39 per cent of the primary vote between them.

Those two parties joined Mr Boyce in voting against the bill, and the ABC understands KAP is now unlikely to contest Callide in the October election.

The LNP faces similar battles in the north trying to win back Whitsunday and Hinchinbrook, and defending Burdekin.

It is in stark contrast to the LNP’s campaign in the state’s South East — the inner Brisbane seat of Maiwar is at the other extreme, where the LNP candidate is asking voters about their thoughts on renewable energy in an attempt to win the seat back from the Greens.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks at a media conference.
Labor Party rules prohibit MPs crossing the floor.(ABC News: Allyson Horn)

Labor faces similar dilemmas, trying to hold the line against a green assault in South Brisbane and defending three seats in Townsville against an LNP law-and-order campaign.

Annastacia Palaszczuk and Deb Frecklington can’t appeal to everyone — the Queensland electorate is too diverse and complex.

One Labor MP recently bemoaned the fact that the party can’t let a regional backbencher have more leeway when speaking about issues facing their electorate — crossing the floor is prohibited under party rules.

“Had I been in the Labor Party and crossed the floor, I’d probably be at the bottom of the Brisbane River by now,” Mr Boyce told the ABC yesterday with his trademark hyperbole.

“For me it was the Alamo — make a stand, fix bayonets and over the top.”

The Member for Callide has no doubt annoyed some of his colleagues with a break in party ranks so close to a state election, but Mr Boyce steered clear of any criticism of his leader and pledged his complete support.

If the LNP can manage this, it could well work to their advantage.


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