On the climb back: Don’t count this leader out just yet

Annastacia Palaszczuk goes to Mackay this weekend to tell her party’s conference about her plans to win the 2024 election. Dennis Atkins thinks she should go back to the future.

Jun 01, 2023, updated Jun 01, 2023
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.(AAP Image/Darren England)

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.(AAP Image/Darren England)

The spin cycle of political news feels faster than ever but it’s really just the same old stuff, overdressed and overhyped.

On Monday West Australian Premier Mark McGowan threw up a stop what you’re doing mid-afternoon resignation which really did stop people from looking at their phones. Oh, that’s right, they were looking at their phones.

In one on-line guessing game, just one person out of 400 who’d signed on named McGowan as the next Australian political leader to walk away from office.

Who might be next? Could it be Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff, knocked from one side of the Parliament to the other over the deeply unpopular plan to construct a $750 million sports stadium at Hobart’s Macquarie Point?

Maybe Victoria’s Daniel Andrews, a politician who has been read the last rites as often as he’s been elected? Or Queensland’s Annastacia Palaszczuk’s, another premier who occupies a proud place in the gallery of those who must be damned and doomed?

Probably neither of those, leaving Rockliff as the one eyeing the exit. Andrews is always touted as someone who has tipped to have told “confidants” he’s getting out sometime between now and the next election due in three and a half years.

He shows no signs of budging and appears as the kind of politician who would telegraph his departure prior to the election preceding such an event.

Palaszczuk is not going anywhere. She is three years older than Andrews, but younger than McGowan. The trio sit at 50 or not far on the upside, but all appear to still have plenty to offer.

One way or another we’ll see McGowan making a contribution – don’t be surprised if there’s pressure from federal Labor to sign him up for a spot in the national parliament. It would go a long way to redressing any probable negative political impact of the premier leaving the WA scene.

In Queensland, you can write the script about Palaszczuk’s future quicker and slicker than a Chat GPT-4 program:

Here are the featured themes: “McGowan is a true Labor hero, going out on top and leaving a legacy that weaves controversy with achievement.

“Palaszczuk should follow McGowan’s lead and consider her future, accept that her best days are behind her and make way for the next generation of leadership, be it the state’s youngest minister Meaghan Scanlon or new health minister Shannon Fentiman.

“Palaszczuk would honour her government and party by moving on, providing renewal and fresh skills.”

Look out for this coming to a media site near you.

Politics is no different to just about anywhere else. There’s always a counter narrative, another side of the coin, a different set of actors and parts.

The Palaszczuk counter-factual is easy to find and carries plenty of common sense with the bonus it’s closer to reality. The premier is not going anywhere, certainly not before the next election.

She believes she remains the best chance for Labor to win that contest for the simple reason she is. Sure, she has collected enough baggage to fill a couple of containers in a long haul jetliner’s fuselage.

Also, there’s a laundry list of issues for which she and her ministers are supposed to shoulder blame and provide instant solutions to problems that bedevil administrations around the globe and have dogged Queensland governments for decades.

However, Palaszczuk remains the most recognised and highly regarded politician in the state.

In early 2020 she came back from the edge of the electoral abyss – rising from a cannot-win place in February to a position of dominance just three to six months later.

Her handling of the pandemic – as controversial as it was with business elites and out of state media voices – forged the bond she had kindled with voters and there’s enough spark to get some of those flames to burn again.

Palaszczuk was blessed with a very poor LNP – organisationally and in policy development – in 2020 and not much has changed.

David Crisafulli might be hard working but he hasn’t become a household name. Walk down any street with his photo and count the blank stares.

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Anecdotally, he’s not seen as a leader and while people associate him with complaints about the Palaszczuk government they don’t necessarily join the dots.

Palaszczuk has shown she realises she has work to do. The ministerial reshuffle should have been more adventurous – perhaps getting some new faces from the backbench and some fresh policy directions.

This said, the higher profile promotions for Scanlan and Fentiman were at least a good start.

The former is articulate and keen to take on new ideas while the ex-attorney general is offering the freshest face for health in many years.

If the political and policy quagmire of that portfolio swamp can’t be traversed in the coming 12 to 18 months, there’s little chance of anything being done.

Incumbency presents the risk of an improvised explosive device on any morning when the sun comes up.

If Palaszczuk wants to kick start the climb back, remaking herself as she did in 2020, she could start with her speech to this weekend’s state Labor conference in Mackay.

She goes into this gathering – and fronts the 2023/24 budget presentation in a fortnight – with a potential election warchest boosted by more than $13billion in earnings from last year’s controversial hike in coal royalties.

Treasurer Cameron Dick says most of this money will be used to pay down debt – easing the persistent interest burden – but there should be enough in the policy locker to fire off at least one or two show-stopping marquee proposals.

Maybe some genuine new ideas to confront homelessness and the broader housing crisis or some targeted plans for productivity boosting infrastructure.

Queensland might face a dog-chasing-its-tail problem of an economy running at full capacity not able to take any further fuel, but voters might respond to a serious ambition to tackle what are all too obvious problems.

A government commitment to recruit a new public sector workforce to build homes, help struggling firms facing supply constraints and do those jobs the old public works and housing departments were so good at should be reimagined in this new century.

Few could point to what there is to lose.


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