The former Queensland premier Campbell Newman has taken a swipe at his former treasurer Tim Nicholls after the now opposition leader sought to disown the Liberal National party’s “mistakes of the past”.
In a Queensland Media Club speech on Tuesday Nicholls apologised to Queensland voters for a Newman government that “let them down”.
He said that in the “urgency” of Newman government moves – which included large public service cuts and a push to privatise state port and power assets – “we failed to explain and take Queenslanders with us on the journey”.
“I acknowledge that we broke the trust of Queenslanders and for that I am sorry,” he said. “My style is different. I wasn’t in charge last time.”
Newman, who was bundled out of his own seat when the LNP lost government in 2015, shot back on Twitter, accusing Nicholls of evading responsibility for driving the unpopular privatisation campaign and public service cuts.
He followed up by further mocking Nicholls’ attempt to distance himself from the LNP government decisions, and challenging him to spell out how his policies were different.
Nicholls did not respond.
But the Queensland treasurer, Curtis Pitt, was happy to back Newman, tweeting that Nicholls was pretending the “failed LNP Govt wasn’t his fault”.
“Either he was a Treasurer with no influence or has amnesia,” Pitt said
Nicholls, who has been under pressure amid the threat of losing conservative voters to an increasingly popular One Nation, dismissed Pauline Hanson’s party as one that would fall apart through “thought bubbles and uncosted promises”.
He repeated his line that the LNP would “not form a coalition with One Nation”, but declined to answer a follow-up question about accepting its support to form a minority government.
Nicholls said he would “draw the line right here and now between us and them”.
“One Nation might be good at spelling out the problems but those problems require more than a thought bubble to fix them,” he said. “Thought bubbles and uncosted promises won’t create a single extra job, protect our most vulnerable or build a better future for our state. They talk and disintegrate. That is their record.”
But Nicholls also suggested One Nation’s success at the polls would come at the LNP’s cost and translate into Labor’s return to government in an election due by early 2018.
“The gravest risk to our prosperity is in voting for a minor party … because they will return a do-nothing Labor government,” he said. “How do we know this? It happened in 1998 and 2001.”
The Victorian-born son of a car salesman who was “part of the first great wave of migration to Queensland by southerners”, Nicholls said he was “ready to lead” a state government.
He accused the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, of being a “fluffy figurehead” apt to “freeze at the precipice of progress, ordering more than 150 reviews, taskforces and inquiries – that’s more than six every month – since coming to office”.
“Two years into her premiership, Queenslanders would just like to see Annastacia Palaszczuk do something. Anything.” He added: “The trains don’t run on time, our roads are congested, hospital budgets are blowing out, drug and violent crime is snowballing.”
But Nicholls said the “greatest risk confronting Queenslanders today is job security”, stressing that LNP governments were better economic managers.
He said the LNP offered “a team with a clear, six-point economic plan for jobs, jobs and jobs”.
But Nicholls only referred to six sectors he said were “the drivers of the state economy – tourism, resources, agriculture, construction and manufacturing, education, and services, science and technology”. “We’ll have more to say about these policies very soon,” he said.
The opposition leader said the LNP pledged to “safeguard the Great Barrier Reef for future generations” by forging an alliance of likeminded groups to protect this “natural wonder”.
But in a plan for regional Queensland branded the LNP’s “new deal”, Nicholls has pledged moves that critics say runs counter to this promise.
These include supporting a new “economically viable coal-fired power station in north Queensland”, scrapping Labor’s “irresponsible” 2030 renewable energy target of 50%, and opposing tree-clearing restrictions that were a key promise to Unesco in Australia’s reef conservation plan.