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The brutal truth about a campaign built on fear and falsehoods

Opinion

Annastacia Palaszczuk is committed, and Deb Frecklington is motivated, but neither side is honest about the past let alone the future.

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This should have been an election campaign about the brutal truth – Queensland has so far survived the pandemic relatively unscathed, but the hangover from the recession has yet to hit. The next four years will require a different style of government, with hard-headed diplomacy to make tough decisions, a heart-felt relationship with the electorate, and an acknowledgement that some people will not get through unscathed. And, yet, the campaign we were given was laden with bald-faced lies, base politics and meaningless platitudes, the most obvious being that the leader loves Queenslanders. So what? Mosquitos love Queenslanders too.

No, this was a campaign built around fear, and the false premise of the next government being able to do business as usual. One side warned that the other had a poor record and only their side could be trusted to get things back to normal. The other side warned exactly the same thing. Neither wanted to be seen to rock the boat, even though Queenslanders know deep down the waves are coming.

Labor went aggressive early, associating LNP leader Deb Frecklington with the too-fast, too-hard cuts of the Newman government. Frecklington has never really admitted the mistakes of the LNP’s first stint in government (as seen by the voters who kicked them out) and this allowed Labor to undermine her with unsubstantiated and unverifiable claims about planned job cuts. Admittedly, there was more truth to their unrelenting attack ads than Clive Palmer’s mischievous warnings of a death tax, but the intent was just the same.

The LNP went personal, associating Labor with fallen deputy premier Jackie Trad, making her out as the bogeyman and her replacement, Steven Miles, as somewhat of a jester. Members of the Morrison and Berejiklian governments chimed in, Treasurer Cameron Dick kept score on a second set of books, and everything went messy.

Like Labor, the LNP warned of a repeat of past misdeeds – that unemployment would remain high, debt would blow out, and integrity would remain a concern – and the other side did not deserve four years in government. To be fair, the pandemic and recession gave Labor the perfect excuse for not reining in debt, allowing the government to borrow more and the LNP to promise some of the same. The devil is in the detail.

But let’s be honest: neither side, neither leader, has been through what Queensland is about to go through. And after weeks of well-funded, stage-managed, adman theatrics, voters are no closer to knowing how they plan to do it. A smattering of policies and projects is not enough, nor the same old political lines. People really need evidence of values, ethics and principles at work – and the negative campaign does not bode well.

At no time has Palaszczuk or Frecklington outlined how the government itself, and the role of premier, and perhaps the parliament, will have to change to meet the challenges of the next four years. Remember, Queensland is in the disaster phase now, and the recovery phase will require something other than fixing what has been broken. We can’t return to 2019, and beneath all the politics Queensland is already changing for good. Disparities will emerge between industries, between regions, between age groups and demographics, at a time when the states have limited budget flexibility and uncertain revenue streams.

Palaszczuk’s daily reminders of how bad COVID-19 is overseas keep Queensland in the disaster phase. But in her attempts to remain positive and focussed for Queensland, Palaszczuk has perhaps underplayed the looming economic storm.

Rightly or wrongly, Palaszczuk went to the election on a pedestal – she might be adored by many, but she still looks isolated at times. She expects loyalty for how Labor has handled the pandemic, yet hubris sometimes gets in the way of humility. She will fight other states, and the feds, even though these lines have become blurred for Queenslanders. Too often, she insists she is doing things for our own good, when the greater good changes by the day.

Frecklington, meanwhile, cynically changed her stance on COVID-19 to be closer to Palaszczuk, although possibly articulates it better. She has persevered with a broad economic plan despite the claims of Newman government baggage and usual LNP infighting. She identified Labor weaknesses. In her first campaign, Frecklington has grown into the role of leader, and appeared more upbeat than Palaszczuk, and yet some voters still don’t know who she is.

But Frecklington somehow made it to election day without having a character-building fight with her own side of politics. That is a real sign of weakness, and again left doubts over how she would handle the challenges of the next four years.

The minor parties have been cast as pariahs, and in response taken on more of a disruptive role. Even if uncertain times favour the major parties, the prospect of a hung parliament and minority government scenario is very real. Again, Queenslanders have no idea how Palaszczuk or Frecklington would handle this, their first real test post-election.

With Labor retaining power, it must show humility, embrace diplomacy and be honest about the good and the bad encountered next term. It also needs to make the tough economic decisions it has long avoided.

The electorate is frustrated, it is disenchanted, and it is scared. It deserved more than the campaign it just had, but maybe the votes will deliver a just outcome.

Good luck, Queensland.

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