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Behind the scenes on the Queensland election campaign trail

It might feel like Queensland’s election campaign has been underway for some time due to the ongoing political debate around COVID-19 and border closures, but Parliament was only dissolved 18 days ago.

Because the official campaign is limited to just four weeks, politicians pack intensive travel, campaign launches and their best announcements into this short period.

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As journalists covering the campaign, we often don’t know ahead of time where each day might take us.

It is the job of the people dubbed “advancers”, who work within the major parties, to keep the media pack up to date.

A typical message from advancers to journalists might read:

“Hi everyone — please pack for three nights. Pick up Parliament House at 8:15am. Closed-in shoes required.”

Robert and Terri Irwin (holding a koala) standing next to the Premier speaking at a lectern
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk with Terri and Robert Irwin at Australia Zoo(ABC News: Kate McKenna)

It might seem hard to believe that we genuinely do not know where we’re going, but the advancers want it that way to stay one step ahead of their opponents.

For example, if the LNP knew Labor was campaigning in Townville, they might try to pip them at the post with their own targeted announcement.

And vice versa.

LNP leader Deb Frecklington (left) and MP for Currumbin Laurer Gerber
LNP leader Deb Frecklington joined Currumbin MP Laura Gerber on the Gold Coast early in the campaign.(AAP Image: Dave Hunt)

Covering an election campaign is undoubtedly an exciting time for any reporter, but it is also exhausting and unrelenting.

Being a multiplatform news organisation, ABC journalists file for radio, television, digital news platforms as well as to social media.

Technology allows us to log in remotely from just about anywhere, but long flights crossing vast areas of the state can undo even the best-laid plans.

A woman stands surrounded by reporters and camera crew in hi-vis vests.
Another high-vis moment for the Premier and reporters at a campaign event this week.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

The leaders themselves — and their staff — face an equally unrelenting schedule.

There are often multiple press conferences in a day, and each of these is our opportunity to pepper the leaders with questions across an almost limitless range of topics.

Setting the agenda

An accidental leak of talking points from the Prime Minister’s office earlier this month gives insight into the preparation taken to brief ministers before a press conference.

In each city the Premier, Opposition Leader and MPs read up to get across local, state and federal issues to answer any question that could be thrown at them by the media.

A group of people including Scott Morrison and Deb Frecklington standing under awning on an airport tarmac
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and LNP leader Deb Frecklington looking at helicopters in Townsville, Wed Oct 14 2020(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

There’s an incredible amount of behind-the-scenes work to make the logistics of a campaign run smoothly.

You have a press pack made up of journalists, camera operators and photographers from news organisations, and media units and co-ordinators from the parties that all travel together.

The media is told where to meet and how long to pack before being loaded onto a coach and taken to the airport.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk stands among multiple camera people in a street in Mount Isa.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk doing back-to-back TV interviews with various camera crews in Mount Isa during the Queensland election campaign.(ABC News: Rachel Riga)

From here it’s a mystery flight — the journalists may have a faint idea where they’re heading but the location is removed from boarding passes and journalists are only told mid-flight where they are being taken.

A coach is at each location to take the traveling media to the press conference or picture opportunity with the major party leaders.

A boarding pass with no location
A boarding pass with no location — part of the magical mystery tour on the campaign trail.(ABC News: Rachel Riga)

Food is always on hand, the parties carry water, fruit, snacks and muesli bars to keep us going before stopping for lunch.

Lunch can vary from eating in transit on the plane en route to a new city or at the local bowls club and RSL.

Two men standing either side of a woman under umbrellas
Rain or shine, LNP leader Deb Frecklington knows the campaign road show must go on.(Supplied: Stuart Coward)

Occasionally the leaders will have dinner or drinks with the press before heading off to another event.

During an election campaign the schedule for the party leaders and MPs can be gruelling.

They wake up early and go for a walk or run — that may be filmed for the media and their social media platforms.

A smiling middle-aged woman holds up a blue Townsville T-shirt surrounded by people in gymnasium.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk in Townsville where she made a half a million dollar local announcement for upgrades to the Murray basketball centre on October 8th, 2020.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

They may do early morning radio interviews, meet with the local party branch, hold a press conference, meet with community groups, host live events on social media, and get across daily issues.

It’s non-stop on both sides to cover an election campaign as each party uses those vital four weeks to win over voters.

Deb Frecklington walks down the corridor of a plane.
Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington likes to joke that she is an air hostess when flying with the media.(ABC News: Stephanie Zillman)

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