THE ghost of Joh Bjelke Petersen looms large in this election campaign, especially north of the Tweed River.
Watching this week’s National Press Club debate between Bob Katter and Clive Palmer felt like the two larger-than-life Queensland identities were conducting a seance in order to channel the spirit of the late peanut farmer from Kingaroy.
Both Palmer and Katter have strong ties to the Bjelke-Petersen legacy; Katter was a minister in the 1980s Queensland government and regularly claims Sir Joh anointed him as his successor, while Palmer directed several state campaigns and was one of several key figures behind the Joh for Canberra push.
In some respects, both Katter’s Australian Party and the Palmer United Party use the ill-fated Joh for Canberra push as a worthwhile model to be refashioned for the 2013 election campaign.
There are some interesting similarities.
In January 1987, the Queensland premier had been in power for nearly two decades.
He was convinced by influential friends in business to switch to federal politics, with many National Party members dissatisfied with the performance of leader Ian Sinclair.
Bumper stickers were produced and the campaign gained widespread attention, largely due to the novelty factor of the blustering Sir Joh.
While the Joh for Canberra push lasted only six months, it caused real damage to the federal Coalition.
Then opposition leader John Howard had to make a last-minute trip to Brisbane in the middle of the 1987 federal election campaign in order to quell Sir Joh’s mischief-making.
Sinclair’s authority was undermined and he never gained full control of the National Party again. Both Katter and Palmer were enthusiastic supporters of the 1987 push.
They have been inspired by its ability to capture attention but should also be mindful of how the campaign imploded.
The two have been shaped differently by the events of 1987 and there are some key differences in their respective philosophies.
Katter and his wide Akubra hat represents that particular brand of social conservatism that defines far north Queensland.
Palmer, on the other hand, represents the “white shoe” entrepreneurs who flourished in the 1970s and ’80s under Sir Joh.
Large-scale development, radical taxation reform and a touch of Queensland-style showbiz.
The question remains — will Katter or Palmer have any impact at a federal level?
Katter will retain his lower house seat and country music star James Blundell is likely to pick up a Senate spot.
He’ll have no impact in Wannon or Corangamite (Katter isn’t running a candidate in either seat) and his Senate chances in Victoria are slim.
To give Katter credit, he has bothered to campaign in the Western District, heading to Warrnambool and Colac for separate events earlier this year.
The same can’t be said for Palmer. While he’s running candidates in nearly every lower house seat he has failed to develop a core constituency outside of Queensland.
The lack of a Wannon candidate from the south-west highlights that fact.
Sunshine State politics may provide some much-needed colour to the 2013 election campaign but the ghost of Sir Joh’s demise continues to haunt.
n Alex Sinnott is WIN Television’s political journalist.