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Big-target jobs strategy a gamble that could pay off

Campaign Diary

In a rare strategically sharp move, the LNP rolled out a jobless target just as Queensland was reclaiming the unenviable crown as the leader of the national unemployment pack.

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While handling of the COVID-19 pandemic is the top of mind issue for voters in this election, economic recovery and bringing back lost jobs is a close second. For many people in regional Queensland, the order of these conversation starters is reversed.

Deb Frecklington didn’t have to think too hard to come up with her jobless target gambit. She just reached into election campaigns from a decade and a half ago and mimicked the words of former Labor premier Peter Beattie who first rolled out the 5 per cent unemployment rate aim.

The big difference between now and 2004 hinges on Australia’s economic direction at these two points in time. Sixteen years ago the country was on a fast track to a mining boom while today we are in the early stages of a possibly prolonged recession where the current sorry unemployment rate will at the very least stay stuck at or above its current 6.9 per cent level.

For Queensland, the seasonally adjusted jobless rate for September landed at 7.7 per cent, up from 7.5 per cent in the previous month but down from almost 9 per cent in July. These figures show how volatile and fragile the jobs situation is in this virus-led recession.

Putting the facts and gloomy figures to one side, the politics of this dark day probably favoured the brave, at least in the short term. Frecklington was able to say she was being bold and ambitious by taking a punt on a target, arguing if you didn’t set a mark you weren’t trying.

Labor had a foothold in the argument by saying it was fanciful to set a target in such uncertain economic times as well as reminding people the LNP aimed for a 4 per cent jobless rate only to see dole queues lengthen to 7.2 per cent of the workforce.

That “clear and unambiguous” target set by Campbell Newman three elections ago was to be met over two not just one term – the “wow” fine print of Frecklington’s pledge.

Smacked gobs aside, the LNP found a surefire way into the top of the story of the day. It might be high-risk politics but that’s what election campaigns are all about.

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