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Why coronavirus could still throw up surprises in the Queensland election

The events of the past 48 hours are a reminder of how COVID-19 is still the wildcard in the upcoming Queensland election.

The conventional wisdom in Australia is the pandemic is helping incumbents, as most political leaders experience a surge in popularity.

But with incumbency comes responsibility — and Victoria shows how quickly political fortunes can change in the age of coronavirus.

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The news that three young women have undermined months of planning, restrictions and discipline by simply allegedly lying on their border declaration forms has raised many questions for the Palaszczuk Government.

Although some of those questions appear to have been answered for now, it will be at least another week before we know the true extent of Queensland’s exposure to COVID-19.

And this virus has an uncanny knack of seeking out weakness — any cracks in our quarantine system will be tested.

‘Advantage of incumbency’

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk spent most the past week, in effect, on the campaign hustings — donning the helmet and hi-viz jacket for a Cross River Rail contract announcement, touring a prawn farm in Proserpine, and announcing the site of a new hospital in Bundaberg.

It was a marked and dramatic change of tone yesterday — as Ms Palaszczuk held a media conference on the speaker’s green of Parliament House with her deputy and Health Minister, the state’s Chief Health Officer, Police Commissioner and Deputy Police Commissioner.

This is the advantage of incumbency — a politician seeking re-election having her message endorsed by Government experts.

Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll and her deputy Stephen Gollschewski argued Queensland’s policing system for keeping out COVID was “excellent”, “exceptional” and working “extraordinarily well”.

Queensland police, they argued, had successfully processed 95,000 people entering the state by air since July 10, but the system does require people to be honest.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks to the media on Speakers Green at Parliament House in Brisbane.
An advantage of incumbency is a politician seeking re-election having their message endorsed by Government experts..(ABC News: Allyson Horn)

‘Deliberate acts of deception’

The three woman who attended an illegal party in Victoria this month and returned to Brisbane, represent the small minority who do the wrong thing.

“What we have seen are deliberate acts of deception — the way we operate cannot prevent that,” Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski said.

The Deputy Commissioner also said privacy law prevented police getting access to past air travel records, including the three women’s earlier flight itinerary from Melbourne to Sydney.

Ms Palaszczuk offered a sharp reply to a question about possible weaknesses in the system.

State Disaster Coordinator Steve Gollschewski.
Deputy Commissioner Gollschewski says the way police operate cannot prevent ‘deliberate acts of deception’.(ABC News: Chris Gillette)

‘System has broken down’

The Opposition was a happy to offer a suggestion — of sorts.

“I think we need to have a more thorough examination of these declarations to determine if people are telling the truth or not,” Deputy Opposition Leader Tim Mander said.

Without going into detail about how this would work, Mr Mander conceded this approach could lead to lengthy delays at the airport.

“It would seem that the system has broken down,” Mr Mander said.

Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington and her Deputy Tim Manders at a press conference
Mr Mander conceded his approach could lead to lengthy delays at the airport.(AAP: Dan Peled)

Coronavirus has posed a tricky political challenge for the LNP.

By calling for an earlier opening of Queensland’s borders last month, the Opposition took a calculated risk.

It succeeded in differentiating itself from Labor, but ultimately ending up in a campaign cul-de-sac.

‘Increasingly risky time’

Public opinion appeared to swing around in favour of the Premier’s more cautious approach as a second wave of the virus struck Victoria.

And the LNP may well struggle again to counter the Premier’s standing as a leader who has succeeded in keeping COVID-19 at bay, although a lot depends on what the next week has in store.

Police have “high confidence” there were only three Queenslanders at this problematic Victorian party, and health authorities were making progress in tracing their movements in South East Queensland since then.

But Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young has warned this was an “increasingly risky time”.

Just as public opinion appears to have swung fairly quickly over border closures, it can just as easily swing the other way if there’s any hint of second wave in Queensland.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young speaks to media, with Steven Miles and Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll.
Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young warns this is an “increasingly risky time”.(ABC News: Allyson Horn)


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