We should have realised when Peter Beattie handed over the Premier’s reins in Queensland to Anna Bligh just how crook things had become.
It is the established Labor Party way to turn to a woman only when the men have let things get out of control. They gave Joan Kirner the poison chalice in Victoria after the State Government was nearly sent broke under John Cain. In Western Australia Carmen Lawrence inherited the mess discovered by a Royal Commission that sailed into the messy wake of the Brian Burke led corruption.
But in normal circumstances the overwhelming majority of men in a Labor Party Caucus tend to choose one of their own. That Clare Martin was given the job as Opposition Leader in the Northern Territory in 1999 was really no different. The men of Labor might not have been trying to rescue a government about to be thrown out, but their attempt to preserve a disastrously small rump in the parliament was just as desperate. The gratitude of Ms Martin’s male colleagues for her amazing victory at the 2001 election was shown by their incessant backbiting and sniping, which encouraged her to finally resign as Chief Minister when there was a decent majority after a second wonderful win. Rosemary Follett, chosen to be Chief Minister in the very first, and very minority, ACT Government, is the only woman Labor has given the leadership nod to in anything approaching normal circumstances.
For those of us outside of Brisbane with but a passing knowledge of, and interest in, Queensland politics, the retirement of Peter Beattie as Premier appeared almost a routine action of a sensible politician who knew that in a proper democracy nine years at the top was enough. If his advocacy of a woman to succeed him was a little surprising, it also seemed a quite admirable departure from the established masculine domination. Only recently has the underlying corruption that the Beattie years kept largely hidden emerged to put the Anna Bligh appointment in the more orthodox Labor Party tradition: when in trouble, go for the feminine touch.