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Labor's still kicking goals on pandemic, but 55 days is a long time to hold your breath


Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk needs to sharpen her message about health success to ensure the truth doesn’t become a hostage to the virus ahead of the October 31 poll, writes Dennis Atkins

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You could count on two hands the number of people wearing masks in the 15,000-plus crowd watching the Brisbane Lions defeat Collingwood at the Gabba last Friday night, according to some of those present.

Not only that, when that large but still restricted crowd left the Gabba there wasn’t any social distancing in sight. It was a happy, mingling, hugging and backslapping mob spilling out into the streets.

It’s a sign of the relative freedom we’re enjoying in Brisbane and Queensland because of the success the Government and health authorities continue to have with staying on top of the virus.

We have gone through long periods of zero community transmission – a streak broken after a couple of miscreants abused relaxed borders at the end of July.

The long tail from that breakout is still lingering but so far has been contained to relatively isolated and known instances. New cases are invariably found in people already in isolation or on alert.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk must say a small prayer just before receiving her daily numbers update after breakfast. If it stays at the current rate of one or two known-source additional infections, she knows it’s manageable.

However, as the Gabba crowd shows, complacency is abroad. It needs to be watched and the message needs to be repeated until the messengers start to choke on the repetition.

As well as those 15,000 at the Gabba, there were thousands who took advantage of the brilliant early spring weather and headed north and south out of Brisbane for a visit to the Sunshine or Gold coasts.

As one traveller north observed, everyone looks at what’s happening in Victoria and around the world, worries about another lockdown and is enjoying freedom while there’s some to be had.

Around the inner-Brisbane suburbs and further out at the weekend, restaurants were packed – although again there appeared varying degrees of COVID-safe behaviour and some venues are not following to the letter the plans demanded by Queensland Health.

There are three to four pages with itemised checklists which observant venues place in plain sight and tick off, requirement by requirement. Other venues do not display their COVID-safe plans and you can sense a lackadaisical attitude.

It is not just not good enough. It’s dangerous and authorities need to be more rigorous in checking on whether people and businesses are doing the right thing. When you consider the alternative, it’s not that much to ask.

Meanwhile, on the political and business front, the Palaszczuk Government has had to endure intense pressure with as many as four federal Coalition politicians firing shots at Queensland for its hard border closure.

Armed with the support of almost nine in 10 Queenslanders for her resolute adherence to the advice from chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young, Palaszczuk hasn’t budged but she did tell close colleagues at the end of last week the pressure was almost unbearable.

The attacks on Palaszczuk extended to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s media team sending text messages to Queensland political journalists during the premier’s media appearances, goading reporters for asking softball questions and urging them to catch out the Premier.

With 55 days to go until the election, Palaszczuk remains favourite to win although the decentralised population and the electoral consequences of that make the threading of the needle for Labor more difficult than it would be in other states where a metropolitan-first strategy can provide a more certain path to victory.

The virus remains the number one issue and people are mostly ready to reward Palaszczuk for her handling of the pandemic. There is also general support for managing the economic recovery, albeit at a lower level than that offered on the health front.

This week’s economic stimulus package should provide material for Labor candidates to sell a positive agenda.

Palaszczuk is being urged to sharpen her message to promote what’s being done so that easy-to-conjure attacks can be rebutted.

According to one senior Labor insider “the truth on many issues is still getting its pants on while the lie is off down the highway”.

This adviser points out the small number of exceptions where people are denied or unable to navigate medical exemptions is overshadowed by the large number of people from New South Wales who are accessing and using Queensland hospitals every day.

“People are stunned if you point out 900 residents from northern NSW were given access to hospitals in southeast Queensland last week but it’s true,” said this insider.

At the same time, Palaszczuk is frustrated she is being accused by the Federal Government of not signing up to an agricultural agreement signed by Victoria, South Australia and NSW after the national cabinet despite the Government having inked its own deal across the border for farmers on August 22.

“The Premier needs to outline these facts every time she stands up before the media, repeating them until they sink in,” said a close adviser to the Labor campaign. “Morrison does it every time he fronts a media conference – he always begins with a laundry list of achievements and government plans and schemes. Labor here needs to do the same.”

It’s going to be a long, gridding 55 days and the outcome is still not certain. Everything remains hostage to the virus – and that’s still the story of 2020.

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