Veteran Peter Beattie bolsters Rudd’s poll chances

Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie will be Labor Party's candidate for the seat of Forde in the September 7 federal election. -- FILE PHOTO: SPH
Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie will be Labor Party's candidate for the seat of Forde in the September 7 federal election. -- FILE PHOTO: SPH

Canny politicians, like seasoned magicians, are always able to pull a rabbit out of the hat at a crucial juncture.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's surprise announcement on August 8 that former Queensland premier Peter Beattie will be the Labor Party (ALP) candidate for the seat of Forde is a potential game-changer for the government's prospects in the September 7 federal election.

While opinion polls still place the Liberal Party, under Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, ahead of Labor, the unexpected recruitment of Mr Beattie could help narrow that gap.

It is the first tilt at a federal seat for Mr Beattie, 60, but the three-time Queensland premier brings serious political credibility and a national profile to a relatively lightweight Labor government under Mr Rudd, who returned as Prime Minister after his second leadership challenge against Ms Julia Gillard on June 26.

By agreeing to contest the seat of Forde in his home state, the man who never lost a state election in his nine years at the Queensland helm will be a genuine Labor talisman.

The seat is currently held by the Liberal National Party (LNP).

The announcement marks an unexpected return to politics for Mr Beattie, who resigned as state premier in 2007 and whose wife once threatened that she would summon an undertaker to deal with him if he ever countenanced a return to the political fray.

The Rudd-Beattie alliance is also surprising because the fellow Queenslanders have never seen eye-to-eye in any substantial fashion.

Being seasoned politicians, however, each surely realises that the partnership could be mutually beneficial.

Mr Beattie revealed that it was the Prime Minister himself who called him in the United States to make the offer. Once both men had agreed to put their very public differences behind them, it was left to the ALP to decide on a suitable seat for the new candidate.

The Australian media reported that as soon as Mr Beattie returned to the country, he moved into a house owned by his brother in the Forde electorate, a marginal seat south of the Queensland capital of Brisbane.

If elected, however, he could be deluged by calls from real estate agents. He promised that he would buy a home in the area and move in immediately because “I believe in being part of the electorate”.

After being replaced by Mr Beattie, the endorsed Labor candidate Des Hardman, a hospital radiographer, released a statement that said: “When I started this campaign 12 months ago, I said that my main concern was ensuring a Labor victory in Forde and to ensure a Labor government was returned. I am standing aside as a candidate in the interest of ensuring a Labor victory.”

It is hoped that Mr Beattie's surprise return to the political fray will bolster Labor both at state and federal level. The party has lost significant ground in state politics while on a federal level it has surrendered key seats in both Queensland and neighbouring New South Wales.

His return also heralds a more serious level of engagement for Labor in the election campaign, just weeks after the party's candidacy was dead in the water.

Mr Abbott, campaigning in the southern state of Tasmania, dismissed Mr Beattie as “another flim-flam man who hit people with record debt and deficit, who’s just going to add to the leadership intstability inside the Labor Party.”

dmcmahon@sph.com.sg