Palaszczuk will make history in 2021 while LNP just wants to make headway

After leading Queensland Labor to a third straight election win, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is set to become the federation’s longest-serving woman in power, writes Sean Parnell.

Jan 15, 2021, updated Jan 15, 2021
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. (Photo: ABC)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. (Photo: ABC)

Palaszczuk does not face any challenges from within and, barring the unthinkable, will in May break the record set by former Northern Territory chief minister Clare Martin.

This puts her ongoing stoush with New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian in a different light. Palaszczuk has also been in charge longer than Scott Morrison has been prime minister and, if she sees out the term, will pass Peter Beattie’s record and become Labor’s longest-serving premier since World War II.

Not bad for someone lumped with the job of opposition leader after the Liberal National Party swept to power under Campbell Newman. As the late Tim Mulherin told her on the diminished Labor benches, they “would need skin thicker than rhinos to get through”. The one unanswered question of the Palaszczuk era is whether surviving the ups and downs of politics is enough, or whether creating lasting, positive change becomes her legacy.

If anything, Palaszczuk has now validated Labor’s past victories and, with a stronger parliamentary position, and the first fixed four-year term, provided her government with the opportunity to make its mark. Only time will tell if the Palaszczuk government has the people, the money, and smarts to take bold steps to build a better Queensland.

The pandemic will provide ongoing, if somewhat unpredictable, challenges for governments everywhere. In Queensland, that will include the distribution of any vaccines, and handling the new threat of locking down the UK variant of COVID-19. Success breeds success, but the opposite is also true.

The state budget has been in free fall, and the government will need to come up with a new plan to deal with its debt. That work is already starting, and the delayed blueprint for euthanasia laws – Palaszczuk has already broken her promise to introduce draft legislation in February – means the government can pay more attention to the finances for the first quarter.

In that time, Queensland’s future infrastructure requirements will be on the agenda. The Cross River Rail project will move to the tunnelling phase, and the Opposition will no doubt be digging into its $5.4 billion price tag. Three levels of government will also need to agree on the type, and cost, of major projects to support south-east Queensland’s bid for the 2032 Olympics and get a head start on the region’s future infrastructure needs. Population growth has slowed, perhaps buying the government more time, but the stakes are high already.

The euthanasia, or voluntary assisted dying, debate will end with a conscious vote, however the issue did not split the Liberal National Party as much as Palaszczuk hoped during the election campaign. It is still likely the laws will pass.

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Public housing, child safety, domestic violence and youth justice will remain simmering social issues deserving of more attention.

LNP leader David Crisafulli will be hoping to have more of the spotlight than his predecessor, Deb Frecklington, in order to put Labor under pressure. His opposition took an early stand on integrity issues but will need to work harder to change the dynamic in Queensland. Labor will also revisit electoral laws, which could prove polarising.

The Greens are building support in the southeast, and Katter’s Australian Party still has a strong following in the north, so expect the underlying “city versus the regions” sensitivities to remain.

By the time Palaszczuk starts breaking records, there will inevitably be questions over her likely successor. Steven Miles and Cameron Dick, from the left and right factions respectively, are the current contenders, but even asking questions about leadership could prove destabilising. As has been shown, time and time again, a lot depends on how Palaszczuk reacts.

Four years is a long time in politics (four weeks is a long time in a pandemic recession) and, for now, Palaszczuk is in the box seat.

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