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Polls apart - why the state election will be fought on two very different fronts

Opinion

Strong public support for Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s border policy doesn’t mean next month’s election is in the bag for Labor, writes Dennis Atkins

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Applications for postal votes opened this week, but the Queensland election campaign proper is still weeks away from an official kick-off. This hasn’t stopped the protagonists from starting hostilities.

Maybe it was the fact we’ve just had the final three sitting days before the Parliament is going to be dissolved on October 6, three weeks from today.

Or maybe it was the animal instincts of the politicians. After all, it’s what they do. They can’t help themselves.

The political pile on Annastacia Palaszczuk copped last week – a chorus line of Morrison Government ministers backed by some big business billionaires and the usual media suspects – was as unedifying as it was orchestrated and political.

As two of Palaszczuk’s Labor colleagues, Mark McGowan from Western Australia and Andrew Barr from the ACT, pointed out these attacks are only against leaders wearing ALP colours and, in the case of Queensland, with an election on the horizon.

McGowan, who usually keeps to his western roost where he rules almost without opposition, was firm and direct. “Tasmania and South Australia have borders, I don’t see them being attacked,” he said. “They have put in place all sorts of rules to prevent people coming into their states … I just urge everyone at a national level to pull back on partisan attacks. You can’t just attack Labor states and ignore the Liberal states.”

An interesting aside highlights that McGowan and Palaszczuk have almost daily conversations about the politics and policy of this tumultuous year. This might well help the Queensland Premier in the weeks to come.

In Canberra, Barr echoed McGowan’s point as he started his own election campaign for a poll in which voting will run over 19 days from September 28 until October 17, because of the pandemic.

There’s no doubt some of the problems with Queensland’s border policies could and should have been handled better. The assessment and response unit established more than a week ago was way overdue and there needed to be a more flexible set of guidelines to handle what are cases clearly in need of compassion and a light touch.

However, the firm clinical advice from a notoriously – and appropriately – risk-averse Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young has been clear throughout the year of the virus.

Young leaves no room for error. She told travel industry executives full flights from Sydney to Ballina in northern New South Wales could present an unacceptable risk for southeast Queensland.

When Young says she wants two 14-day cycles of no new cases on the books before she’ll ease the brakes, she means it.

Palaszczuk has stuck resolutely to accepting and acting on Young’s advice throughout the pandemic, often at great political cost and risk.

She’s told close colleagues it’s a cost she’s prepared to carry but she is continuing to attract widespread community support for her stand.

Despite the nay-saying of some media outlets playing to their dwindling, shouty base, the public is staying firmly in Palaszczuk’s corner.

It’s hard to find anyone in metropolitan, provincial or regional Queensland who says the border restrictions should be eased anytime soon – outside of the rent-seekers and their loudhailer-wielding backers.

As we saw in InQueensland yesterday, former LNP health minister and current Goondiwindi mayor Lawrence Springborg said he couldn’t detect any groundswell of opposition to what the Palaszczuk Government was doing.

Tellingly, he said problems were being fixed as they arose. “There were some anomalies that we needed to sort out and they were sorted quickly,” Springborg said.

Of course, strong support for Palaszczuk doesn’t mean the election is a done deal. Far from it.

Even Scott Morrison’s towering personal opinion poll ratings (which have taken a small but significant dent in recent weeks as politics has again raged) have not pulled the Liberal-National Coalition above a 50-50 split with Labor.

In Queensland, the state ALP started this year behind and has lagged in the primary vote all through the pandemic months. The latest series of polls from sources of varying reliability put Labor’s base support on about 33 per cent while the LNP is about five points ahead on something around 38 per cent.

This shows a potent rise in support for the LNP and a slump in the ALP’s numbers. If the election was this coming weekend and not in seven weeks, that kind of vote would see Labor out of office and Deb Frecklington as the new premier.

Election campaigns tend to focus the minds of the participants and the voters. There is going to be an intense contest that will split in two – broadly, one election will be held in the southeast of the state and another will play out along the coast, in the provinces and regions.

Apart from Labor being in a losing position right now, the other things we know from current and recent polling is that the vote is polarising between the LNP and the ALP, as we saw in the fascinating OmniPoll survey of four seats outside Brisbane.

This poll – which surveyed 2000 voters in Ipswich, Mackay, Keppel and Thuringowa, is the most interesting and meaningful we’ve seen this year. It should be studied and digested by all involved. It tells us a lot about that second, outside the southeast, contest.

We will return to this poll and all it tells us later when we can go deep into its findings.

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