Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk during a visit to the Downer train building facility in Maryborough. Picture: Dan Peled/NCA Newswire
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk during a visit to the Downer train building facility in Maryborough. Picture: Dan Peled/NCA Newswire

‘Accidental Premier’s’ incredible rise

Annastacia Palaszczuk was never supposed to be Premier.

After her 2017 election victory, in which Queensland Labor went from minority government to gaining enough seats to govern in its own right, former Premier Peter Beattie declared that the leader - known as "Stacia" to her friends and family - "can no longer be called the 'accidental Premier'".

"Annastacia Palaszczuk will become the first woman in Australian history to win government from opposition and then lead her government to re-election," Mr Beattie wrote in The Australian. "Another first for Queensland."

Ms Palaszczuk, who succeeded her long-time Labor MP father Henry Palaszczuk in his seat of Inala in 2006, had gained the "accidental" tag after sweeping into office three years earlier on the back of the historic implosion of Campbell Newman's one-term Liberal government.

The former Lord Mayor of Brisbane had routed Anna Bligh's government in a 2012 bloodbath that saw Labor lose 44 seats, reducing the party to a rump of just seven MPs in one of the worst state government defeats in Australia's history.

Ms Palaszczuk was handed the unenviable job of interim opposition leader - "a space-filler" whose job was to "keep the seat warm until a few more numbers were added to the ranks in 2015 and someone capable could take over", as news.com.au journalist and former Queensland Labor advisor Shannon Molloy put it.

At the time, News Corp's national political editor Malcolm Farr noted that Ms Palaszczuk had a "name most voters will not be able to spell" and would be leading a "party most Queenslanders tried to destroy".

"On Saturday what we saw was absolutely horrific, and a lot of communities have lost some very, very good people," Ms Palaszczuk said after the loss. "And I'm under no illusion of the task ahead, of the rebuild that we need to do and the fact that we need to restore people's faith in the Queensland Labor Party."

Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. Picture: Annette Dew
Former Queensland Premier Campbell Newman. Picture: Annette Dew

 

She would later attribute the wipe-out to the Bligh government's decision to sell off state assets, despite promising not to do so during the 2009 election. "There were other issues, but that is the single point where we lost faith with the community," she said. "For that I apologise."

Most at the time, including the ALP, believed they would be in the wilderness for years.

But the Newman government apparently learned nothing from Labor's loss. A series of hugely controversial decisions - including the sacking of 14,000 public servants and, funnily enough, a push to privatise state assets - infuriated the Queensland public.

The former Australian Army Major, widely viewed as out-of-touch, saw his popularity go into free-fall.

Polling conducted in July 2014 suggested nearly 270,000 voters had abandoned the LNP since the 2012 election, "a figure equivalent to the entire population of the Sunshine Coast", as The Sunday Mail noted.

The worst fears of the Coalition were soon realised, with Mr Newman going on to suffer an equally dramatic shellacking as he had inflicted on Ms Bligh at the January 2015 election.

A week earlier, he had been targeted by aggressive graffiti in his electorate, with a campaign trailer spray-painted to read, "ASHGROVE HATES U." It was true - Mr Newman lost Ashgrove, marking only the second time since Federation that a sitting Queensland Premier has been booted from their own seat.

"My political career is over," he conceded late on election night.

An internal party review later blamed the result on the "overwhelming election win of 2012" leading to "hubris and a false sense of security".

And so Ms Palaszczuk found herself suddenly leading not seven MPs, but the country's third-largest economy, after managing to form a minority government with the support of lone independent Peter Wellington.

Many political observers over the past few months have noted that the best thing state governments have going for them is completely useless opposition.

Despite few achievements to speak of during the first Palaszczuk government, Labor won re-election in 2017 largely thanks to an ineffectual LNP led Tim Nicholls.

Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA Newswire
Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington. Picture: Sarah Marshall/NCA Newswire

 

He was replaced by his deputy, Deb Frecklington, the party's first female leader.

"Queenslanders have spoken and as a party we must listen, regroup and rebuild faith in the LNP as the only conservative party that can actually deliver for Queenslanders across the state," she said at the time.

With the Queensland election less than two weeks away, Ms Palaszczuk appears to be on track to make history again, again.

Labor currently leads the LNP by 52 per cent to 48 per cent, according to The Courier-Mail's latest YouGov Poll of 2000 Sunshine State residents.

Ms Palaszczuk's tough border stance, while attacked by her political rivals, has proven popular with Queenslanders - 57 per cent now approve of her handling of the COVID-19 crisis, compared with 29 per cent in February.

Dissatisfaction with Ms Frecklington has risen to 32 per cent, while she trails as preferred Premier 22 per cent to 48 per cent.

The Premier has been accused of exploiting the coronavirus border closures for political gain - polling has suggested the tough stance is popular among Queenslanders.

Last month it was revealed her department had spent more than half a million dollars on polling to gauge "sentiment" over the tough coronavirus restrictions ahead of the state election.

"It's not evidence-based. It's simply I think off the back of her election," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said earlier this month. "She wants to look tough for Queensland residents. This is a silly game you shouldn't be playing. She's playing with people's lives."

Ironically, Ms Palaszczuk has previously claimed that she wanted to bring consensus politics to state and federal relations.

"I honestly believe we work best when we all work together … when governments work together you get the best outcomes for people," she told The Australian in a rare sit-down interview in 2018.

"What is missing in this nation is the ability for a national leader to sit down with premiers and work with them on what they see as the priorities for the state. It is always combative, it is always us and them."


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