Shut the gate: It seems the Premier was one step ahead of us all along

Under fire for her stance on keeping Queensland borders closed, it seems Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was backing a winner all along, writes Dennis Atkins

Jun 02, 2020, updated Jun 02, 2020
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has returned to work with a long list of things to do. (Photo: AAP Image/Darren England)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has returned to work with a long list of things to do. (Photo: AAP Image/Darren England)

A week ago I suggested Annastacia Palaszczuk may have written a political suicide note for her Government by suggesting Queensland’s state borders would remain closed possibly well into spring.

Well, I think I got that call wrong. The assumption upon which it was based also appears to have been dead wrong.

The first seeds of doubt came from Blackwater in Central Queensland, where Nathan Turner was found dead last Wednesday afternoon. Described as having a “complicated” health history, the local 30-year-old was infected by COVID-19 according to a single post mortem test.

It’s still unclear if he ever actually contracted the virus, especially with an autopsy reporting Turner did not have the disease.

What followed the original diagnosis was a stern warning from health officials that people in and around Blackwater should be tested for the virus as soon as possible because of the mystery surrounding Turner’s death.

Soon vehicles were lined up into the distance at the fever clinic in Blackwater and at the BITS medical centre at Boyne Island in Gladstone. This drove home the point that even though Queensland has been extraordinarily successful in suppressing the spread of the virus – with increasingly long runs of days without new infections – there remains a deep worry and fear about catching the virus, especially outside southeast Queensland.

Polls show two in five Australians rate contracting the virus as their top concern and as many as three-quarters of those surveyed thought they might contract the disease.

It began to look like those saying there was popular support for the Palaszczuk Government’s border closure were right and my gut feeling there would be an overriding concern about the economic impact on tourism was dead wrong.

By the weekend, there was some firm data to back up this contrary view. A poll conducted for the Canberra-based Australia Institute showed overwhelming support for keeping borders closed – a position backed by almost four in five people in Queensland.

According to the poll – which surveyed 1005 Australians on Wednesday and Thursday last week – more than three-quarters of Australians (77 per cent) support state border closures, including two in five strongly backing closures, and just 18 per cent opposing bans on interstate travel.

Queensland reflected the national position, with 78 per cent of Queenslanders surveyed saying the borders should stay shut and a mere 14 per cent supporting any opening up.

The pollsters tested support for the Palaszczuk Government’s firm stand outside Queensland and found general, although varied, backing.

Seven out of 10 Australians think Queensland is doing the right thing, with 30 per cent strongly supporting border closures here. Just under one in four are opposed to what the Palaszczuk Government is doing.

This support for keeping Queensland’s borders closed was highest in Western Australia (77 per cent) and locally, where 76 per cent of Queenslanders were behind the Palaszczuk position.

The poll is broken down into voting intentions and shows the backing for border closures runs across party lines, including three in four Coalition voters giving the policy a tick and 70 per cent of those who identify as supporting One Nation.

Labor and Greens voters provide the strongest base of support, recording 83 and 81 per cent respectively.

The poll was released over the weekend but failed to attract any mainstream media coverage despite the border issue being a hot topic throughout last week and beyond. Perhaps it was ignored because it didn’t fit the “open the borders” narrative being promoted in many media outlets.

None of this would have been any surprise to the Premier and Queensland Labor, which had tested the Government’s stand, finding overall backing similar to that recorded by the Australia Institute and even stronger levels of support in regional parts of the state.

Palaszczuk has stuck to her border policy but she has introduced some nuance and flexibility that has extracted her from the tight corner in which she looked like she might become stuck.

The word September was nowhere to be heard on Sunday when the Premier announced the latest easing of restrictions, which began this week. Instead, Palaszczuk went back to the original roadmap, released three weeks ago, which contained an end-of-June review of border closures and a July 10 date for any possible change.

She emphasised the potential for change by saying an end-of-June review would give businesses two weeks to prepare for any early opening.

Meanwhile, Queensland’s chief health officer Jeannette Young appears to have moved on the advice for closures, saying things will be looked at again in light of evolving virus epidemiology across the country. Again, this shift was ignored by most media, although InQueensland’s Sean Parnell noted it on Monday.

All of this suggests Palaszczuk was on much safer ground than she appeared and has also shown enough political agility to escape from what might have been an intolerable and avoidable position. She’s again demonstrated she has the ability to stay well ahead of an LNP Opposition that is fighting a battle that’s been over for more than a week.

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