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Scott Morrison, the coal convoy and black art of winning Qld voters

Opinion

He might have learned to “play” Queensland at the last federal election, but the Prime Minister has no Bob Brown to galvanise the country’s north this time around, writes Madonna King

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Scott Morrison is playing Queensland in Queensland, and it might just work for the Coalition as it did back in 2019 when Bob Brown brought his Greens convoy through the State.

Morrison, ever the marketer, even played the line “a convoy against coal jobs’’ in reminding locals of ex-Senator Brown’s campaign trip in the lead-up to the last federal election – and that’s exactly how many Queenslanders, particularly outside the state’s south-east, saw it.

Coal has been sold as synonymous with jobs. And while both parties are singing different climate change hymns at the national level to that at the local level, where jobs are at risk, the Coalition is winning when it comes to spinning its message.

And ‘spin’ is exactly what we’ve seen feature in the prime minister’s visit to Queensland this week.

Scott Morrison is playing on the differences in the country-city divide and magnifying them in a bid to sandbag the swag of Liberal and National party seats that got him across the line last time.

It’s cheap. Unscrupulous even. It’s brash. But it could just do the trick for a party whose record of providing for regional and remote areas is poor – to say the least.

Just look at any social measure as a barometer to how the Coalition has governed in regional and rural areas, in recent years. On every measure, rural Australia is being left behind.

People don’t live as long. School outcomes are not as good. Hospitals are not as accessible. A visit to a medical specialist can take hours of driving. Instead of asking our politicians about the cash rate, what about seeing if they can guess how long it takes a regional Queensland family to access a teen psychologist?

Employment opportunities are limited, outside of the mining sector. Roads are second-rate, and many have been demanding repair for years.

And, despite the political protestations, no real long-term plan exists to grow regional and rural Queensland, and many of those towns and cities – like Cairns – that have suffered so much at the hands of Covid-19.

A promise of 450,000 more jobs in the regions is spectacular news – but it’s another promise and we’ve heard plenty of those. If the Coalition saw that as such a big issue, why is it taking an election campaign, and the threat of losing office, to make that promise?

Scott Morrison’s Queensland play is to sound like a Queenslander; to show voters he is one of them. Labor, and Anthony Albanese, was not.

That lot – Labor – “looked down’’ on regional people. The Green-Left saw themselves as “more virtuous’’ than hard-working country folk.

That wasn’t the country he wanted to lead!

Except he does, and judgement of his record, not his promises, leaves a lot of room for improvement.

This is not an endorsement of Labor. The reason Scott Morrison’s strategy might work is that Anthony Albanese, however genial, is seen as something of an outsider.

And that is no doubt part of the reason why the party is not confident of picking up any or many of those seats, outside Brisbane, which are now held by the Coalition.

Pick up a phone to a local mayor or a farmer or a hard-working teacher in rural Queensland and they don’t care that the Labor leader has had a haircut, or is wearing new glasses, or that he’s a trimmed down version of his 2020 self.

They want to know that their children will be okay; and that they’ll stop coming second, to the city.

They want the jobs that are now being promised. They want access to health in a way that doesn’t discriminate based on geography. They want the same educational opportunities as their city cousins.

They don’t care for Scott Morrison’s spin. Or what Anthony Albanese might be wearing. They’ll see through both of those things, in the same way they saw through Bob Brown and his ridiculous 2019 stunt.

Labor learnt, back then, how rural and regional Queensland can make or break a victory. It should revisit that lesson. And the Coalition should be on notice that a 1000 empty words is unlikely to erase three years of inattention.

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