Friday, October 30, 2020

Today by Paddy Manning

Queensland votes
COVID dominates the final leaders’ debate

Queensland LNP leader Deb Frecklington and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in the final leadership debate before tomorrow’s Queensland election. Image via ABC News

Tomorrow’s Queensland election will be the first major state test, following the ACT’s stunning poll earlier this month, of whether voters will reward incumbent leaders for their management of COVID-19. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk hammered that message home in the second and final debate with LNP leader Deb Frecklington today. Palaszczuk repeatedly pointed out that Frecklington had constantly called for the Queensland border to be reopened – on 64 occasions, and as late as July 1 – and the premier took a crack at her detractors in the federal government for good measure. “If I had listened to Deb Frecklington, to Scott Morrison, to Josh Frydenberg, to Peter Dutton, to everyone else who was demanding that the borders be reopened, we could have ended up like Victoria,” said Palaszczuk, adding, “Thank God we didn’t.” It is Palaszczuk’s killer punch, or so she hopes. Frecklington’s response – that July 1 was before Victoria’s second wave took off, and that she was a couple of days ahead of the premier in calling for the border to be closed to Victorians – was not convincing. Nor was her attempt to stir the emotions by recalling the case of Canberran Sarah Caisip, who was unable to attend her father’s Brisbane funeral in September. “The vision of Sarah, going to her dad’s funeral – or missing it altogether – with all that gear on … that should never leave the minds of people.” Right. 

There followed a telling exchange with Jonathan Lea from Sky News, who asked Frecklington directly whether she would follow the advice of the chief health officer if elected, because Queenslanders needed to have “more clarity than simply talking about common sense and compassion”. Good question. Frecklington effectively fell into line with the premier, saying that the borders “should not have to be closed for any longer than they need to be” (a statement of the obvious), and confirmed she will follow the chief health officer’s advice. If it comes down to a decision between who will listen harder to the medical advice, then voters do not have much reason to switch, and Palaszczuk might be expected to hang on. 

Labor is narrowly ahead in the polls, and the LNP is a riven mess. Frecklington’s party, if she does lose tomorrow, is likely to implode, and a demerger of the Liberals and Nationals is a possible outcome. The election result is hard to predict, however, with Katter’s Australian Party and the Greens surging on the right and the left, One Nation tanking, and wild cards such as Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and independents such as Claire Richardson in key seats. Richardson’s challenge to ultraconservative LNP incumbent Mark Robinson was compared with Zali Steggall’s successful tilt at Warringah in yesterday’s Guardian Australia

There are some important, non-COVID issues for the Queensland ballot tomorrow. Voters will get a chance to back Palaszczuk’s proposal for a conscience vote on voluntary assisted dying, and there was a rare moment of genuine emotion in today’s debate when the premier told how she had come to the decision despite her Catholic upbringing and Christian values. “During this pandemic I lost my grandmother,” said Palaszczuk, “and it was a very distressing time for me. And, like many other people, I couldn’t go and see her when she passed away. We were limited to two people in that room. She went through incredible pain and, in fact, the day she called me [not] in pain, I couldn’t go … I don’t want anyone to suffer. I don’t want anyone to have to go through that, and I’m saying to Queenslanders: it is a personal matter for a family and the individual and the medical practitioners. It is not for me to make the decision on behalf of them.” 

Frecklington’s best moment came in her opening statement, when she rattled off a long list of Labor scandals, including when the premier herself was found in contempt of parliament. Five times Frecklington brought up former deputy premier Jackie Trad, and then overreached when she needled the premier about whether Trad would return to cabinet at the behest of the unions. “How can Queenslanders trust you, given you are just a puppet for the unions?” Frecklington asked. “How are those property developers going?” Palaszczuk shot back, before trying to rise above it all by invoking the virus: “Honestly, really, Deb Frecklington, to come in and trivialise this issue today, in the midst of a pandemic, when we’re talking about [how] the one thing that Queenslanders want to hear about is the future and jobs, and a safe environment to raise their families, I think it shows very clearly who is fit to be the leader of the state.”

Maybe. Apart from keeping her state all but free of the virus, Palaszczuk’s most appealing characteristic appears to be that she is not Campbell Newman, and the premier was keen to remind the audience of Frecklington’s service in that disastrous government. “The LNP have put a hoax on Queensland,” she said, referring to the ridiculous unfunded announcement of a Pauline Hanson–backed idea, first dreamed up a century ago, to drought-proof the state by turning the rivers inland. “The Bradfield Scheme doesn’t eventuate until 10 or 15 years’ time,” said Palaszczuk. “There’s no funding for the Bruce Highway and the only way the LNP can fund [this] is to cut … The leader of the Opposition was [Newman’s] assistant minister and more will come.” That ought to do it. 

“Consecutive and compounding natural disasters will place increasing stress on existing emergency management arrangements. As the events of the 2019–2020 bushfire season show, what was unprecedented is now our future.”

Chair of the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements Mark Binskin writes, in the foreword of the commission’s final report, about the necessary improvements to Australia’s emergency management capabilities.

“Coal-fired generators will continue to make a contribution until they reach the end of their physical and economic lives … Gas, of course, will be part of the system for many, many decades to come.”

Shadow minister for agriculture and resources Joel Fitzgibbon deals Labor out of the discussion on climate-change solutions.

Not by the Hehir of my political sin
Pressure has started to mount on the federal government, following a string of scandals involving senior public officials. Today, Paul Bongiorno on the government’s attempts to use COVID-19 to deflect criticism.


The number of consecutive days that Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has held press conferences. He will take tomorrow off, handing over the briefing to Health Minister Martin Foley.

“[The Indigenous Evaluation Strategy] puts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at its centre. To achieve better outcomes, what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people value, their knowledges, and lived experiences needs to be reflected in what is evaluated, how evaluation is undertaken, and the objectives of policies and programs. A strategy embodying these principles will help achieve the outcomes in the new National Agreement on Closing the Gap.”

The Productivity Commission proposes a new framework for evaluating policies and programs affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people after finding that, despite decades of developing such policies and programs, little is known about their impacts.

The list

“Whether in a chintzy Las Vegas hotel or a Moscow ballroom where the chessboards dwell in deep pools of light, the visual exaggeration suggests a discombobulated world, a hint that Beth’s outlook is teetering … Stories of champions often require a scene where the subject repents their flaws before they finally ascend to greatness, but The Queen’s Gambit makes the world bend to this young woman. Check, and mate.’”

“Bowie was just always there: a memorable image, a discernible influence, a reference point, a presence. He was, among other things, a poster on an ex-lover’s wall, an album cover propped up in a flatmate’s room, a hit played on the radio. Once, I sat in a half-empty New York repertory cinema watching Nicholas Roeg’s abidingly strange The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), starring Bowie, then coked-up and cracked-out, as a cunning but lonely alien. Once, I decided to listen to 13 Bowie albums in a row, which turned out to be a worthwhile experiment.”

“There are two potential futures I can see for the arts in Australia: one in which we emerge from the pandemic strengthened in our purpose, where the arts and cultural economies are valued for their intangible public benefits, where creativity and imagination lead us – and another where the search for financial certainty and economic returns reshapes what artists can make, with innovation and risk depressed in the name of prudence and prudishness.” 

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.


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