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Palaszczuk has stopped listening. Will it cost her the election?

Decision 2020

A Premier who built her reputation – and won over many of her detractors – by listening seems to have forgotten how to do that, writes Madonna King

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Annastacia Palaszczuk has forgotten how to listen. And that could prove to be her downfall, come October 31.

Voted in as the state’s accidental premier, her rise to power was on the back of Campbell Newman’s inability to value anyone else’s opinion.

The heartfelt way voters dispensed with his government was a direct response to the way he led. It was his way, or the highway. Consultation didn’t really matter. The view of others was never as good as his own. Voters didn’t really count.

Annastacia Palaszczuk was different. Quieter. Less interested in publicity, and more interested in the job. And in her first couple of years, voters – some who had never rated her – told of her ability to listen.

She was less in our face. She didn’t have to always be front and centre. In the state’s southeast and its big rural and regional areas, it was the leadership attribute that boosted her appeal.

Many countryfolk, used to being seen as second to their city cousins, grew to like her, and support her. Internal polling by the party showed she was its star. Emails would routinely drop into my email from voters, far and wide, describing the state’s new leader as a “listener, not a talker’’ and “more interested in us than she is in herself’’.

Annastacia Palaszczuk was seen as real. She told us how she couldn’t have children, and we felt for her. How she took her nieces to swimming lessons on the weekend, and we marvelled that she was “ordinary” like the rest of us. That she loved the chance to make a cake on a Saturday afternoon. Valued her parents’ opinion.

We could identify with her because she wasn’t one of them. She was one of us.

The biggest gripe was that she listened too much, at the expense of making decisions. But it was her ability to listen that underpinned her leadership, and the broad community support she enjoyed.

Staying “genuine” is not easy for politicians, who often employ huge departments to make them look and sound better and say better things.

They stop listening to voters, and start listening to their image-makers. They stop reading the reports they should, and are sheltered by the army of “advisers” who decide the best course of action. They stop taking questions from the public, unless they are first vetted.

They begin to look different. Sound different. Be different. And that connection to voters is lost.

And therein lies the story of Annastacia Palaszczuk, the state’s 39th Premier.

She’s not alone. We liked Malcolm Turnbull until he became like the rest of them. Kevin Rudd too. And Julia Gillard and John Hewson and an army of others – on both sides of politics – who forgot why they were elected, and became the politician their minders said they should be.

In their cases, it proved costly, and it risks doing the same to Annastacia Palaszczuk and her Labor team at the looming state poll.

The Premier says she never read a report she requested that found her former chief adviser had not followed integrity rules. She repeatedly declines offers to appear on ABC – TV and radio – to answer questions from either journalists or voters. She no longer responds to phone calls. She’s stopped listening.

Now in fairness, she is surrounded by the world’s biggest football team of advisers, who ignore requests, treat those wanting her time with contempt, don’t return phone calls, and who believe their unelected position is as senior as that of the Premier’s.

She might not even know the requests sitting in her office, or the decisions they’ve decided to make on her behalf or hold off making until after October 31, or how bland statements are being vetted, and re-written just in case they provide ammunition during the campaign.

The Government’s win on abortion law reform, and the pending discussions on euthanasia won’t feature in this campaign, because they’re controversial. Every statement will be checked. Public servants have been reminded of that, and some ministers too.

Annastacia Palaszczuk might not even know how much effort is being put into getting that perfectly angled picture of her, to send out on social media. But she should.

Because, come October 31, voters are lodging their view on her, not her advisers. They are determining whether she is the leader they want, or whether her time should expire.

And in a year that has destroyed so many smiles and jobs and futures and certainty, few voters are looking for the poised glossy photograph of their premier.

They want someone to listen to them, to provide a narrative forward that might have warts among the all. They want a leader, like Annastacia Palaszczuk used to be, who heard their story and got back to them, and who consulted far and wide.

They want the person they voted for; not the band of image-makers she now employs to protect her (from the voters who put her there).

They want to know how we will go forward living with COVID-19, how we stem youth suicide, how schooling will change, and what new economics are being worked up. They want to know that their leader reads the reports she commissions, and listens to those who might not always share her view.

They want to hear her views, not read a vetted statement that has passed through a dozen hands that perhaps she has, or has not, read.

They want the Premier to listen, and for them to be heard. And that’s particularly in the north of the state, which often feels ostracised, and where the future of a few of her team members are most at risk.

Voters understand that leaders change, as they grow into a role. But politicians need to understand that voters also hold the ticket, for when they grow out of the role too.

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