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100 days to go - long enough to win an election, or to have one stolen away from you

Opinion

The lead-up to the October 31 election will be too short, too long, and too chaotic for anyone to predict, writes Sean Parnell.

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A lot can happen in 100 days. That’s about the time it took to build the Goodwill Bridge structure, before it was hauled up the Brisbane River to be installed. It’s the average gestation period for a lion or a tiger. According to my spam email, I could take control of my life and lose some weight with a strict 100-day plan (mmm, Spam).

In any other year, 100 days in politics would be long enough for one of the major parties to capitulate to the other. If the polls were close, there would still be enough time for a well-funded, expertly crafted, tightly run campaign to clinch victory.

But with the state election falling in 2020, amidst a global pandemic, emergency rule, and economic chaos, the 100 days until polling day is extraordinarily difficult to chart. Voters will shift from their usual patterns, sentiment will likely change by the day, and it is unclear whether Queensland’s defence against COVID-19 will hold up until October 31.

Judging by events of recent weeks, Annastacia Palaszczuk and the ruling Labor Party would seem in a better position than the start of the year, and Deb Frecklington’s Liberal National Party perhaps more of a danger to themselves than the Government. The fortunes of the minor parties would appear unchanged, although the benefits of incumbency, normally enhanced in a crisis, tend to favour the major parties. The National Cabinet arrangement is still in a trial period.

Yet there is no guarantee the incumbency theory will be relevant 100 days from now. Political leaders and parties have, in the past, been boosted by deft handling of crises, especially in Queensland, but nothing of this magnitude in the post-war era. It remains to be seen how long, and under what circumstances, the incumbency theory holds. Politically, what would be the reaction if Queensland, heaven forbid, now experienced COVID-19 outbreaks of Victorian proportions?

There has been a lot of admiration for Palaszczuk and her handling of the crisis, particularly in relation to the border restrictions. But as Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has found, rallying people behind you can be tricky. If things start to deteriorate in Queensland, Palaszczuk could find herself in the wrong position at the wrong time (politically speaking, at least; the Premier will no doubt give it her all).

Barring any integrity scandals, the Palaszczuk Government will be focused, firstly, on the pandemic, secondly on the economic recovery, and thirdly on the return to a pre-virus style of government and service delivery. Linking all three is the budget, and an update due in September, which will likely launch the Labor campaign proper (the trips out of Brisbane, and multi-media accounts of Palaszczuk’s many visits, have already started).

The Opposition, assuming it gets its house in order, will keep chipping away, critiquing the pandemic response, highlighting the looming budget catastrophe, and seizing on public concerns over law and order, child safety and other sensitive service areas. Today, Frecklington is announcing an infrastructure package, looking for a point of difference between the LNP and Labor. The biggest point of difference, however, is that of unity: ever since the LNP came into being, it has tried to enforce the level of discipline usually seen in Labor ranks, only for enforcement to become the problem. Union backgrounds seem to encourage unity, for better or worse, whereas free-market thinking promotes the individual.

If the infection numbers worsen – at the moment, it does feel eerily like the calm before the storm – then everything comes into play for the LNP. In such a scenario, Frecklington would only need to demonstrate that she, and her rag-tag bunch of political journeymen and wannabes from head office, are capable of stepping into the breach. One bad outbreak could affect public perceptions of the whole response, make people question the government’s priorities, and draw attention to areas neglected by Labor. It would not only undermine public confidence but create the environment for disunity to grow.

Having said all that, it is simply impossible to predict how this year, of all years, will play out, politically or otherwise. By the time you finish reading this column, everything will have changed. Again.

There are 170 days until the end of 2020.  Brisbane police officer Dave Alley managed to run around Australia in 169 days, which is about the same period ‘Dance Monkey’ by Tones and I topped the charts. The only certainty we have in 2020 is that anything can happen from here-on in – and it probably will.

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