Peter Dutton’s bid for the Liberal leadership ultimately failed
Peter Dutton’s bid for the Liberal leadership ultimately failed

That awkward moment you bring down a PM

"NO ONE," Tony Abbott infamously mused in 2013, "however smart, however well-educated, however experienced… is the suppository of all wisdom."

And that was certainly proven to be the case in Canberra last week when Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and his fellow coup plotters were blind-sided and rear ended by Scott Morrison.

Dutton, the smart, educated and experienced politician who made his fortune in the childcare game, came off looking like he just couldn't count.

Even the night before the second Liberal leadership ballot, Dutton was spotted with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann tucking into the fare at the capital's famed Chinese eatery Portia's Place rather than locking in the necessary numbers.

There have been hail-Mary claims that the conservative ginger group within the Liberal party room achieved its aims by getting rid of Malcolm Turnbull, dragging energy policy away from the climate-change enthusiasts and halting the drift towards the Left.

Yet the bunkum that Dutton was some kind of altruistic Trojan horse compelled to act against maleficent forces won't dent the pervading public view that he was the wrecker who never got the prize.

LNP Queensland president Gary Spence (left) with then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull at the LNP state convention in July
LNP Queensland president Gary Spence (left) with then prime minister Malcolm Turnbull at the LNP state convention in July

However the Member for Dickson was not the only smart, educated and experienced Queenslander to emerge from the leadership imbroglio looking like their wisdom had been misplaced.

LNP president Gary Spence played a high-profile, if inadvertent, role in the whole affair that has only served to enliven his detractors.

At the end of last week, Spence resorted to sending out a mass email to LNP members justifying his insurrection in the goings-on in Canberra.

"This week I took a stand on the position of prime minister in order to protect the best interests of the LNP and also those of every Queenslander," it read.

"As your party president, it is my responsibility to fight for the values of our party, and to see those values translated into solid, deliverable policies that benefit the youth, families, workers, business owners and retirees in Queensland."

The Dutton mutiny appeared to gain momentum before the first ballot, with reports Spence was heavying Liberal National MPs who sit in the Liberal party room to support their fellow Queenslander.

Peter Dutton returns to Brisbane after losing his leadership challenge
Peter Dutton returns to Brisbane after losing his leadership challenge

Those close to Spence say he expressed an opinion over "a couple of calls", and no wholesale campaign was run out of the LNP's Spring Hill bunker.

But still the damage was done.

"He's a nice enough guy," one significant LNP figure said, adding he was not as politically experienced as some.

Spence is an immensely successful businessman, having grown engineering firm Brown Consulting into an international behemoth before it was bought out.

However his involvement in politics has been relatively brief by the intergenerational standards of the Queensland conservative parties.

He became Liberal Party president just before the merger with the Nationals in 2008, and assumed the LNP's top job when Bruce McIver called it quits three years ago.

Member for Leichhardt Warren Entsch, who has clashed publicly with Spence in the past, has taken aim at the role the president played.

And others point out that no party official from any of the other states had managed to find themselves in the public spotlight for the role they played behind the scenes.


LNP state president Gary Spence
LNP state president Gary Spence


Yet the LNP had much to lose under Turnbull.

Queensland has a record for swinging big at elections, and the spectre of Pauline Hanson's One Nation looms large at the next federal poll.

With eight seats on margins of less than 6 per cent and Queensland the state most turned off by Turnbull, the stakes were enormous.

Just look at the recent Longman by-election, where the LNP couldn't even scrounge up 30 per cent of the primary vote.

For a party trying to keep the seats it has, the Longman result was diabolical.

However critics also blame Spence and LNP headquarters for being ill-prepared for that contest.

For months speculation mounted about Labor incumbent Susan Lamb's eligibility on citizenship grounds.

Yet when Lamb was finally forced out, the LNP had no prospective candidates ready and had to try and restart the political career of one-term Newman government MP Trevor Ruthenberg.

However even those critical of the LNP hierarchy scoff at the conspiracy theory that Dutton worked in cahoots with them.

"He thinks the place is full of fools," one figure said.

And there's no better corroboration of that claim than the fact Dutton has hired former Liberal state director Geoff Greene to help him win his seat, despite Greene' chequered relationship with the LNP, which includes a threat to sue the party.

It is not unusual for the LNP head office and its parliamentary wings to be at loggerheads.

Some state figures are still seething at Spence for inflaming the issue of Labor's property developer donation ban by attempting to take the matter to the High Court.

While the principle might be right, there is nothing but political pain in defending developer donations.

"To make matters worse, the party is picking up the tab for the legal costs," an insider says.

Yet while some of the usual suspects have harrumphed over Spence's ill-fated intervention into Dutton's coup, he is liked throughout the branches, and few would be prepared to commit the time he does to the unpaid role.

"He's no Bob Sparkes," one Liberal National MP said, referring to the venerated former Queensland Nationals president.

"It is all very well to get rid of him," says another figure, "but who else do we bring in?"

Spence has shown in the past he won't slink away at criticism.

He's likely to tell those with their wise counsel where they can stick it.