In a year like 2020, all the pomp and ceremony at the start of a new parliament seems like a waste of time. Sure, the swearing-in is important to new MPs, and helps build a sense of place; okay, electing a Speaker and having the Speaker present to the Governor is something that needs to happen; and, obviously, the Governor arriving at Parliament House to a 19-gun salute from Kangaroo Point is totes fancy.
But the stage has already been set for a crucial four weeks of Queensland politics. Outside the Legislative Assembly, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced the easing of border restrictions for travel from NSW and probably Victoria from December 1. Debate around this issue has been raging all year, and the combatants certainly wouldn’t wait to doff their hats to the distant bastions of the monarchy.
Palaszczuk is right to feel confident about Labor’s third term, and to regard the election win as a clear mandate for herself and her team. Her Cabinet reshuffle and bureaucracy changes came with authority and a clear intent – to pivot the government to face future challenges, whether that be the 2024 election or long-term economic transformation. This is perhaps overdue.
But Palaszczuk needs to still keep herself, and her team, grounded. The electorate remains anxious and frustrated, at the end of a long year, and change is the new norm. Palaszczuk’s ongoing stoush with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, for example – including reminding Queenslanders to stay home if awaiting COVID-19 test results, when it became clear Berejiklian had not – is cheeky to the point of being unnecessarily risky. Palaszczuk’s tone had noticeably changed today (perhaps another pivot?) but cross-border families reunited for Christmas will still have a lot to talk about.
The most important event in the next four weeks is the Budget on December 1. Treasurer Cameron Dick has flagged more borrowings, in addition to the money borrowed to pay for Labor election commitments, but that won’t be – can’t be – the whole shebang. The issue around timing is no longer that this Budget was delayed, but rather whether Dick and Treasury accurately forecast the tough times to come in 2021 and have a plan (other than the one Dick and others have carried into photo shots for months). This will not only challenge Dick and Under Treasurer Rachel Hunter, in their first proper outing, but the Cabinet Budget Review Committee. And the scrutiny of Budget Estimates Committee hearings will follow before anyone can take a holiday.
Queensland might be in its first four year term but the diminished LNP cannot afford to get off to a slow start. If the election showed anything, it was that a polished performance on the hustings – Deb Frecklington did well in that aspect – counts for little if you haven’t built brand awareness and proved your intentions beforehand.
New leader David Crisafulli has hit the ground running, and yesterday reiterated the next four years would be about the economy, which is true. How he differentiates his new-look team from the former Newman Government, and presents himself in face-to-face debates with Palaszczuk, is important. But what is most important is that the LNP puts in the hard work, gets across the detail, and reconnects with the electorate. More than ever, Queenslanders want someone to hear their concerns – and if the Crisafulli Opposition can hear them first, and respond, then the political dynamic will shift. Nothing breeds confidence like knowing what you’re doing.
Just as the Budget will be the first test of the government, Budget Estimates (and any formal Budget reply) will be the first test of the Opposition. For both sides, this is a chance to demonstrate your priorities, your competency, your tenacity. It also gives the Opposition rare access to the bureaucrats, although it is important to note that Mike Kaiser, one of two recent private sector hires by Palaszczuk, will not start until January. Estimates can be a restricted affair, not as free-flowing as it should be, but there is nothing to stop the Opposition making that a transparency concern. Again, there is a big difference between lame political point-scoring and well-researched and relevant scrutiny. Only time will tell.
There is one key change at Parliament House this week that is worth celebrating: the COVID-19 restrictions have been eased so as to no longer require a roster system for MPs, particularly cross-benchers, in the Legislative Assembly.
All 93 MPs will be there. For the good of Queensland, and the next four years, they can’t just be there to keep up appearances, they need to actually show up.Jump to next article