Although Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk faced a barrage of criticism this week over her decision to keep the borders closed, Labor is hardly panicking.
In fact, there’s one aspect to this growing campaign that even bodes well for Ms Palaszczuk — the loudest voices calling for the borders to be opened are coming from outside the state.
Compared with the Prime Minister and morning TV hosts, the LNP Opposition’s response continues to be subdued.
This reflects what is widely believed to be strong popular support in the Queensland electorate for border closures while New South Wales and Victoria try to get COVID-19 under control.
But as the October 31 state election draws nearer, border politics will become more complex and there are signs the Premier is already softening her hard-line stance.
The last time border closures were a major political controversy inside Queensland was in mid-June.
COVID-19 seemed under control nationally, business was getting restless, and Ms Palaszczuk was sending mixed messages about the possibility of keeping the borders closed for yet another three months.
“Tear down this wall” screamed the June 11 headline of Brisbane’s Courier Mail, and Opposition leader Deb Frecklington launched a series of attacks.
“Why has the Palaszczuk Government failed to consider the economic consequences of the border closure? Quite simply it means that the Premier is flying blind through the biggest economic crisis of Queensland history,” Ms Frecklington told Parliament.
A few days later, the LNP leader gambled on talking a more aggressive approach, calling for the restrictions to be lifted by the end of the month.
“By keeping the borders closed it [the Government] is costing jobs and closing businesses,” she said.
Ms Frecklington’s timing couldn’t have been worse — within days, Victoria began to record a second wave of COVID-19 infections.
Although Labor did eventually open the borders for a brief four-week window, it has been taunting the LNP for its irresponsibility and failure to understand the public mood.
Since then, the LNP leader hasn’t called a single media conference on the border issue, a seemingly tacit admission that public opinion was not on her side.
Former Liberal Party campaign manager and Australian Institute for Progress director Graham Young says his qualitative research backs up this commonly held view that Queenslanders favour border closures.
Even among committed LNP voters he found nearly half of those surveyed favoured a border closure, with just over a third opposed.
While Graham Young’s research echoed other published opinion polls showing Ms Palaszczuk had a considerably higher approval rating that of Ms Frecklington, there was also a slightly surprising result.
A narrow majority of those surveyed approved of the way the LNP leader had been handling the border issue.
“They’re not happy that she’s gone out on a limb, but they’re happy she has come back,” Mr Young said.
Over the past two months, Ms Frecklington has refined her position — there are no more calls to tear down the wall or declarations that she is on “a unity ticket with the Prime Minister”.
Rather, there’s been a plea for a less stringent approach.
The contrast between the concessions this week given to the AFL to host this year’s grand final and the medical cases disrupted by the hard border closure has given the LNP an obvious line of attack.
“Where is the consistency, common sense and compassion in these decisions?” Ms Frecklington asked.
The Premier herself has also been reining in the parochial rhetoric.
Last month, Ms Palaszczuk declared Queensland hospitals were only “for our people”, a phrase she has declined to repeat since a number of medical emergencies just south of the border came to light.
Before yesterday’s National Cabinet meeting, the Queensland Premier held a media conference to announce a specialist care unit would be going live.
“We understand that of course this is a very, very difficult time for families … and we want to make sure if people in northern NSW need to get to those specialist appointments, we have a special dedicated unit that will be there for them,” she said.
And although Ms Palaszczuk appeared to dismiss the idea of a national approach to coronavirus hotspots earlier this week, she agreed late yesterday to at least work on developing a consistent definition.
In what is shaping up as a presidential-type campaign, Labor is focusing heavily on promoting Annastacia Palaszczuk as a decisive leader who successfully steered the state through a pandemic emergency.
The Premier’s tough stance on borders is a key part of that campaign — in contrast to the LNP, which Labor is trying to paint as reckless.
“If it were up to the LNP, Queensland would be just like Victoria,” was one of the Labor slogans on social media this week.
But the campaign will also be about which major party is best placed to oversee the economic recovery.
The LNP believes it can make this case without calling for the borders to be opened.