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Sticking to the script, Premier turns for home with her nose in front

Campaign Diary

Annastacia Palaszczuk is rounding the home turn of this election with two messages and no sign she’ll deviate from them.

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The dominant line for the Premier is the one that’s central to her electoral revival this year – an uncompromising, follow-the-health-advice stand on dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is all about keeping Queensland safe, as a state and a community, and urging voters not to risk what’s been achieved by opting for change.

The subordinate pitch is that Deb Frecklington and the LNP cannot be trusted to manage the economy because they won’t explain how they’ll fund what the opposition insists is a “bold, visionary, ambitious plan”.

That these arguments dominated three-quarters of the voters’ forum hosted by Sky News shows why Palaszczuk and Labor are firming favourites in this contest.

Palaszczuk underscored her pitch with a plea to “stay the course’, saying it was not the time for “change and chaos”. She sold herself as a reliable leader: “What you see is what you get.”

Deb Frecklington went into the forum having been hit by friendly fire after New South Wales Premier Gladys Berijiklian insisted the LNP leader would have “opened the borders months ago”.

She deployed her best defence – that border policies needed to be implemented with “consistency, compassion and commonsense” – but this line has struggled to be heard, like the LNP leader herself.

Likewise, Frecklington’s boilerplate economic pitch was on song, promising that bold, visionary and ambitious plan, but it all sounded a little too vague and way too late. As John Howard was fond of saying, you can’t fatten the pig on market day.

As well as dominating the forum with her tried and tested messages, Palaszczuk backed it with a confidence that allowed her to take the argument right into the LNP’s leader space.

Frecklington hardly fought back. It was a performance that was composed and measured but lacked leadership just when it was needed from someone wanting the top job.

The real failure of this encounter – you could never call it a debate – was the same as the biggest shortcoming in the whole campaign: a lack of a genuine discussion or preparing for the post-COVID future. Cliches and focus group tested blather won the day from both leaders.

The way the leaders handled the forum confirmed the results of the latest election opinion poll – an Ipsos survey in The Australian Financial Review that recorded two out of three voters backing the Premier’s handling of the pandemic and half of all respondents endorsing her economic management.

That two to one endorsement of Palaszczuk was also reflected among the Sky audience: they gave the night to the Premier by 53 to 30 per cent. There were 17 per cent who remained undecided which speaks volumes.

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