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When political capital is so valuable, burning it on little things can bring you down

Opinion

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s remarkable rapport with the people of Queensland has underpinned her political success, but recent events suggest her radar has stopped working, writes Madonna King

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Six months ago, Annastacia’s Palaszczuk’s political capital was prodigious.

While pockets of unrest threatened to dent her electoral popularity at the polls, her luck or uncanny ability to keep COVID away saw voters write her into the history books.

She was delivered a third term in office, became the longest-serving Australian female head of government and the first female party leader to win three elections in Australia.

That ‘vote of thanks’, delivered at the last ballot, could even make the Member for Inala the longest-serving labor premier in Queensland since World War 2.

And that’s why it is so darn difficult to understand why she is throwing that enormous capital – the goodwill, trust and influence she has – around like confetti.

This week will prove costly, no matter what happens from here because it is a telling example of how she’s lost – or forgotten – the political trait that turned an ‘accidental’ premier into a third-term leader.

The hallmark voters talked about ad nauseam, in the wake of an embarrassing loss by her predecessor Campbell Newman, was her ability to listen.

She heard what voters were saying. She wasn’t above them; she was one of them. She visited them, on their properties and in the hospitals where they worked and the schools where they taught and the aged care homes, where they had retired.

And she was good at it. Listening and learning. Understanding the people who put her in office.

The decision this week to put the girlfriends and wives of football players from another state, above the families of those who voted for her, showed she has lost that earthy approach – or that she is listening to the wrong people.

But it also showed that she can’t see that. If she had, the flight of league families would never, ever have taken off headed for Queensland.

It is incredulous that the army of advisors she employs couldn’t see the optics of what the rest of Queensland saw this week either.

Well-paid celebrity sports stars on a chartered flight being given red carpet rooms that should have belonged to those who called Annastacia Palaszczuk’s state their home.

Queenslanders, like the surgeon who needed to see patients – but was denied entry.

Parents, like the mother who had flown interstate to see her sick daughter – and then was barred from re-entry into her home state.

Children, like the university student who had packed up her home, and was heading for the airport, when she was told the gate to Queensland had been slammed shut.

These are not ignorant anti-vaxxers or anti-Labor stooges; these are real people, with real stories, trying to make their way through a pandemic that is taking a toll on all of us.

How could any politician, with any understanding of how this pandemic is playing out in homes, then support the families of non-resident rugby league players over those who live here?

“I don’t know, but she’s certainly giving (Opposition Leader David) Crisafulli a spot on the news every night.’’

That comment comes from one of Annastacia Palaszczuk’s colleagues, who says, and has shown, he supports her.

The mammoth backlash across parties and electorates and ages and genders should be the jolt the premier needs to remodel how she engages with those she serves.

But it continues to beg the question on how she is coming to decisions like this; decisions some in her own party say she would never have countenanced two years ago.

(No-one believes that the chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young is making decisions like locking out Queenslanders over interstate footballers in isolation.)

Is it because others in the premier’s office are guiding these decisions?

Is it because she wants a national stage to take on Scott Morrison, ahead of a federal election?

Is it because Annastacia Palaszczuk believes she has political capital to burn?

She doesn’t. Campbell Newman showed political capital can go up in smoke in months. So did Scott Morrison. And Gladys Berejiklian. And Bill Shorten.

With voters playing Santa, most leaders begin their stint with a stocking brimming with capital. And slowly, over time, it is used up through bad decisions, ignorance and arrogance.

Voters refilled Annastacia Palaszczuk’s stocking in October last year. But she shouldn’t think they don’t have the power to empty it quickly, too.

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