Polls may be grim, but latest numbers give Labor the edge in one key area

As Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk focusses on the state’s economic recovery, it seems voters might be prepared to let her do that for another term.

Jun 08, 2020, updated Jun 08, 2020
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Treasurer Jackie Trad ahead of the last Queensland Budget. (Source: Jackie Trad, Facebook)

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Treasurer Jackie Trad ahead of the last Queensland Budget. (Source: Jackie Trad, Facebook)

It’s not the only question for voters ahead of the October 31 election but it is a pretty big one. Which side of politics should be entrusted with the job of ensuring Queensland’s post-pandemic economic recovery?

The answer lay underneath the weekend’s tabloid headlines, and the contrast of a Premier doing better in the polls while her party did worse. And it is an answer the Liberal National Party need to change if its rising poll numbers are to be converted into seats.

The YouGov Poll of more than 1000 Queenslanders, conducted exclusively for The Courier-Mail, found 39 per cent trusted the Palaszczuk Government to manage the economic recovery but, given the choice, only 28 per cent would trust an LNP government led by Deb Frecklington.

Answering that question requires a combination of hindsight and foresight that even the best analysts and pundits are struggling with at the moment. If a third of people were undecided, that’s certainly a valid answer, not simply a reflection of those yet to make up their minds.

Of course, part of the Government’s support will simply reflect the benefits of incumbency. Palaszczuk is, after all, leading Queensland through a crisis, when people tend to bunker down and avoid any further disruption. But, remember, this poll comes after weeks of negative press coverage over the impact of the border closures and the public service pay freeze, amid rising unemployment levels and business closures. For Labor, 39 per cent is as good as a pass mark in difficult times.

The bigger issue is how far a would-be LNP government currently trails Labor on this question. Traditionally, managing the economy was a conservative strength, while service delivery was perceived to be best handled by Labor. And the Palaszczuk era has certainly been marred by concerns of debt levels and rising public service numbers making for an unsustainable budget. Yet there is an all-important grey area between economy and service delivery, where budget mismanagement has to impact on services or household budgets (for example, tax levels, lack of business support) to turn votes.

This week was meant to be the start of budget estimates committee hearings, allowing Opposition members the chance to grill the government on the finer points of an election year budget. But, of course, there was no budget, so there can be no estimates, no chance for the LNP to capitalise on Labor’s mistakes. Parliament itself is still on a go-slow.

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The LNP will have to prepare for the election without a proper budget to contrast. It will continue to highlight state debt levels stretching like a rubber band, the public service ballooning like a, well, balloon. But these issues only become a problem for people when there is a snap-back, or loud burst; that stinging tax or sudden lack of coverage. Many, inside and outside politics, have accused Labor of over-extending but have yet to make the case that it comes at the detriment of Queenslanders. And, for the LNP, it seems some people still remember the stinging emptiness of the Newman government’s first budget.

Fewer Queenslanders, according to another question in the poll, think the state is heading in the wrong direction. The pandemic messaging, it seems, has voters staying the course. This should worry the LNP as much as the question on economic credentials.

The only consolation for Frecklington and her team is the fact there is almost five months left for the Palaszczuk Government to lose public trust (and five months in 2020 time feels like a decade).

But is that enough time for the LNP to go from a critical Opposition to a forward-looking, alternate government that has learnt from the mistakes of the Newman era? There is less opportunity to do so, but in politics if you can’t create an opportunity you just have to be ready for an opportunity presenting itself.

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