It’s a hard reign, but Premier has found confidence to turn disaster into opportunity

Devastating weather events might have given new Premier Steven Miles a purpose-built platform in his first few weeks in office, but it’s a head start he can’t afford to waste, writes Madonna King

Feb 01, 2024, updated Feb 01, 2024
Queensland Premier Steven Miles (centre) is seen during a meeting with State Emergency Service (SES) members involved in this weeks storm recovery, at Murrumba Downs, north of Brisbane, Wednesday, January 31, 2024. AAP Image/Darren England)

Queensland Premier Steven Miles (centre) is seen during a meeting with State Emergency Service (SES) members involved in this weeks storm recovery, at Murrumba Downs, north of Brisbane, Wednesday, January 31, 2024. AAP Image/Darren England)

Natural disasters are always a good friend to political leaders.

They encourage politicians to be real leaders; to roll up their sleeves and help in local communities, to talk to people, and open Treasury pockets for those who most need help.

Anna Bligh, perhaps, is the best example of that. In 2011, she went from one of the least popular state leaders – with a satisfaction rating of 25 percent – to one of its most popular – with a rating of 60 percent – in a matter of weeks.

That was in the wake of weather that broke homes and dreams, and turned people’s lives upside down.

Dressed in jeans on some days and shorts on others, and her face stained with mud, she showed an empathy and a willingness to work that voters hadn’t seen before.

But just as that summer made her, the following year she suffered a landslide defeat – showing the goodwill and advantage delivered by floods and famine can turn just as quickly as the weather bureau’s report.

There is no doubt that Steven Miles, as the new premier, has benefited from our brutal weather, the length and breadth of the state.

Like Bligh, he moved to the epicentre of the devastation, held state disaster briefings in areas affected, and helped in the mammoth clean-up, that will go on for weeks.

It would be easy to attribute his current appeal to climate factors. Or even the honeymoon any new leader enjoys for a short time.

But that perhaps underestimates Miles; a retail politician who might look the same, on paper, as his peers, but carries a lot more confidence.

His early comments around crime in the suburbs showed that, and his expectation that police do more.

So too did this week’s honest statement that part of a police officer’s job might mean they spend hours outside, or inside, overstretched hospitals.

His early focus on a new emissions target, setting up a new delivery authority of the 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games and employing former Liberal Lord Mayor Graham Quirk to rethink Olympic plans all support that.

Quirk has always been popular, and his recommendations will carry enormous weight. But Miles will still see himself, and his government, as the decision-makers – as it should be.

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This makes for an interesting premiership.

Annastacia Palaszczuk never carried that confidence upon her election, and when she did become comfortable in the job, it quickly turned to arrogance. She stopped consulting widely, or seeking the advice of those who might challenge her.

Miles’ confidence means he is unlikely to do that. He doesn’t mind people disagreeing with him, and those who have held meetings with him in recent weeks remark on his enthusiasm to hear different viewpoints.

That will be his challenge going forward. It’s easy to listen at the start; which politician hasn’t embarked on a ‘listening tour’?

But while this week’s bad weather provided the new premier with a platform, to say it’s made his early premiership is to misunderstand him.

Big challenges sit closer than the horizon. A lack of housing that is so bad that strangers are sharing rooms in shifts. A cost of living crisis that is impacting on nutrition and school attendance, holiday plans and car ownership. A crime epidemic that is now filling our Facebook feeds, every single morning.

They are the big challenges in a policy sense. And then there are those political challenges, including the rise of the Greens, and its impact on his party, and a formidable opponent in LNP leader David Crisafulli.

Miles has taken over the ALP leadership and State premiership at one of the trickiest times in recent history.

And to make a dent in those big challenges, and be re-elected in October, he’ll need to draw on every bit of advice on offer – as well as that confidence which has been the hallmark of his first few weeks as leader.

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