This non-ideological pragmatism made me feel comfortable working as a media adviser for Newman during this time, even though I had no ties to what was then the Liberal Party.
I’ve seen a lot of this “Can Do” philosophy firsthand. Many conversations on a trip to suburban Brisbane were interrupted by a quick call to the council’s call center to arrange, say, the mowing of the grass in a park we had just passed.
This pragmatism also saw Labor Prime Minister Peter Beattie endorse Newman’s re-election to a second term, fresh from reflecting on his rocky relationship with former Labor mayor Jim Soorley on the floor of the Queensland Parliament.
“I think Brisbane is well served by having a Labor majority on the council and a Liberal Lord Mayor,” Beattie said in October 2006.
“I think that’s the best thing for this town, to have a Liberal Lord Mayor we can work with and a Labor majority on council is a great outcome.
“I urge the people of Brisbane to maintain the balance – to keep it exactly as it is.”
But that changed when the newly merged National Liberal Party rolled the dice and chose Newman as leader, despite not being in parliament.
He has entered the big leagues. The party matters at this political level, and Newman has become the biggest cog in the party machine.
He was no longer seen as a political outsider. (Of course, he was never a political outsider — both of his parents served as ministers in federal coalition governments — but perception is everything.)
For many observers, the brutal 2012 election campaign changed Newman. The Labor Party’s intensely personal campaign, which targeted the financial interests of the Newman family, deeply affected the leader of the PNL.
The negative campaign backfired on Labor and Newman was elected with more political clout than any prime minister in living memory.
“He saw [the Labor campaign] so vindictive,” Beattie told me in 2016.
“…He never forgave the Labor Party for that and I think it consumed him so what he did then he wanted revenge and I think he overplayed his hand of all manners.
“Politics has become very mean, it has become excessive.”
Labor insiders quietly admit that they may have gone too far, especially considering the beast he unleashed.
And Prime Minister Campbell Newman was indeed a different beast than Lord Mayor Campbell Newman. While still a shrewd politician, Lord Mayor Newman remained largely above politics in the public eye (Labour councilors would disagree), while Prime Minister Newman fought spot fires everywhere.
Stoushes with the media, stoushes with the justice system, stoushes with the wider community.
Not all voices of opposition were a Labor factory.
The Newman government was a missed opportunity. He did not rule from the middle, instead letting LNP ideologues shrug off politics, moving Queensland further to the right than it was prepared to go.
Admittedly, further to the right than the Campbell Newman Queenslanders thought they knew.
Civil liberties advocates have argued that parts of his legislative agenda were high-handed and that his purge of the civil service, despite telling officials they had ‘nothing to worry about’ ahead of the election, shattered the confidence of many voters.
Perceived threats within government to private businesses and nonprofits of consequences if they employed former Labor political staffers have shown the big end of town just how vindictive the government can be .
Prime Minister Newman spent all his political capital and, in the end, had little to gain from it. He couldn’t – or wouldn’t – rein in the hubris displayed in his supermajority of MPs.
And so it was, exactly 1,043 days after triumphantly declaring victory at the Hilton in Brisbane, that Newman faced an altogether gloomier election night rally across the city at the Convention and Exhibition Centre.
He has not learned the lessons of defeat. No self-reflection; it’s the media’s fault that he lost.
Even now, more than seven years after returning to government, Labor is pointing the finger at Newman-era NLP failures to justify its own performance in office.
Palaszczuk clearly still sees the mileage in anti-Newman sentiment, even though the former prime minister has now distanced himself from the LNP.
These days, Newman has taken on new political allegiances, and he’s almost unrecognizable from the man who wore the mayor’s chains.
As the Liberal Democrat’s leading Senate candidate for Queensland, Newman has set his sights on the far-right fringe of Australian politics.
He is a Sky News regular and has buried the hatchet with Clive Palmer, who once called him a ‘little Hitler’, agreeing to a preferential deal with the mining magnate’s United Australia Party on a mutual opposition platform against COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
Last month he spoke alongside a nation’s leader Pauline Hanson and others at the Red Ensign.
Newman is a cultured man with a keen sense of politics. He should have known what this flag came to represent.
Just another step to the right, and away from what made Campbell Newman one of the most popular politicians in Queensland history.