Playing political State of Origin

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Hell hath no fury like a Queenslander scorned. And even though Kevin Rudd no doubt thinks Wally is a frequently lost children’s book character instead of a league hero, that doesn’t mean his fellow Sunshine Staters like seeing one of their own stabbed in the back – and by those dastardly Southerners, what’s more.

For the information of those from the AFL states, the “Cane Toads” and “Cockroaches” face off three times a year in State of Origin rugby league matches. And being from NSW, I’ve always been in awe of Queensland’s – what’s the word – not patriotism; statriotism, perhaps? That’s partly because it’s a long time since my state’s had any bragging rights – in recent years, our team has been dubbed the Blues for a very good reason.

But I think the main reason is that our State has such a bizarre name. Whereas those from the north are proud to call themselves Queenslanders, I’ve never heard anyone express pride in being a “New South Welshman”.

Queenslanders’ strong sense of state identity, though, is why Tony Abbott is making such hay out of Kevin Rudd’s dumping, in contradiction to when he recently labelled the ex-PM a “fake Queenslander“. (Check out that link – KRudd may never have looked dorkier than wearing a Maroons journeys with a shirt and tie underneath.) The state is a crucial battleground, so it was no surprise when the Opposition Leader headed to Brisbane on the day the election was called. The state’s Liberal National Party will do its darnedest to keep the focus on what its presidentcalled a “slap in the face for all Queenslanders by Labor”.

Not that Tony’s own hands are spotless, of course. Personally, I’m still mourning the Queenslander that Tony Abbott stabbed in the back – Barnaby Joyce, whose wonderful roller-coaster ride as Finance Minister was terminated shortly after Abbott appointed him.

I’m a little surprised, though, that the Coalition is so eager to play political State of Origin up in Queensland when its own bench has long been exclusively Blue. Tony Abbott, just like John Howard, hails from Sydney. So do Malcolm Turnbull, Brendan Nelson, and even John Hewson, if we cast our minds way back into the distant haze of the pre-Howard Government era.

In fact, the Liberals have only had one leader who wasn’t from Sydney since Andrew Peacock 1990, and that was a certain Alexander Downer. Who is exactly the kind of exception that proves a rule.

What’s more, if Tony Abbott loses, then the presumptive next leader is Malcolm Turnbull, although only according to Malcolm Turnbull. Ask anyone else and they’ll point to Joe Hockey, who is yet again from Sydney. And if you think that’s a stunning lack of diversity, ponder this: all six attended Sydney University, and all except Nelson and Hewson are graduates of its law school.

Now, having attended that fine institution myself, I’m stoked by the Liberals’ strong affinity with my alma mater. Having spent several years in dodgy underground lecture theatres that made Saddam’s rat hole seem luxurious, it’s great to know that at least it’s given me the perfect resumé for the Liberal leadership.

In this era of Presidential-style politics, a leader’s state of origin does matter. Though Queensland is now harder for Labor, it will benefit from Julia Gillard’s association with two states – South Australia, where she grew up and attained that now-famous prefect’s tie, and Victoria, where she moved for university. That’s why she spent several days in Adelaide shortly after becoming leader – to remind them that she was once a local. Well, she was also visiting her parents, but no doubt that was a side benefit – an election campaign is no time for social calls.

The powerful NSW Labor Party put Paul Keating and Mark Latham in the top job, and theirfingerprints are all over the latest switcheroo.

Then again, NSW’s bloodthirsty politics may yet benefit Queensland once again. If Julia Gillard is polling badly just before the election, the Sussex St machine will no doubt knife her too, and bung in Queensland’s very own Wayne Swan.

As a state that’s produced relatively few PMs, it’s understandable that Queensland is mourning its first one in decades. But if the Cane Toads look closely at the alternative, they’ll see nothing but a conga-line of Cockroaches.

This post originally appeared on The Drum.