The state which Joh Bjelke-Petersen ran for many long years may be about to have its first female left-wing Premier as a result of the state election called by Peter Beattie today.

Campaign billboards, which started appearing on sites adjacent to major arterial roads and highways last year, feature a smiling Premier Pete standing next to Deputy Premier and Treasurer Anna Bligh. The slogan is “Strong Leadership, Strong Economy, Strong Queensland”.

There has been intermittent speculation about Beattie’s intentions over the last year. At one stage he claimed he would resign if health wasn’t “fixed”, but the need for this to occur disappeared when he proclaimed health “fixed” to the accompaniment of an expensive print and TV advertising campaign. But Beattie has strongly hinted that he will not serve out a fourth term, and has anointed Bligh as his preferred successor.

With the retirement of former Deputy Premier Terry Mackenroth last year, Bligh was elevated to the number two spot, and made Treasurer after serving a brief apprenticeship in an economic portfolio as Finance Minister. Bligh, who presents well, and who is seen as competent and popular, was a high-profile Education Minister for five years, presiding over major reforms to school education. Unlike some of Beattie’s other ministers (some of whom are retiring), she is not associated with any political or administrative stuff-ups.

The Coalition will no doubt try to raise hell about the prospect of a left wing woman becoming Premier. But Bligh has been engaged in some none too subtle repositioning, spending a fair bit of her time as Acting Premier giving interviews and doing blokey things like turning her foot to a shovel on new building projects. A long profile piece in the Courier-Mail‘s weekend colour mag was liberally spiced with quotes from colleagues describing Bligh’s journey from young left activist to mature politician of the pragmatic centre. Bligh has also denied that her recent marriage to long term partner and father of her two sons, Greg Withers, was at all influenced by political considerations.

Beattie was able to hose down opposition from factional figures such as AWU boss Bill Ludwig by pointing to the absence of an equally appealing candidate for the leadership from the right. Beattie himself has a very chequered history with the AWU faction, but rumours of payback against Bligh have come to nothing. Bligh appears to be positioning herself, along similar lines to Julia Gillard, for a segue out of the left on the grounds that the leader should be above factions and factionalism. There’s a precedent for this – former Premier Wayne Goss, though close to the AWU, was never a member during his leadership.

The ALP are more than likely on to a winner with Bligh. The presentation of Beattie and Bligh as a strong unified team sends a message about the feuding between Nats leader Lawrence Springborg and new Liberal head honcho Dr Bruce Flegg. It also sends a strong signal that in contrast to the Federal disunity blatantly obvious to voters in Barnaby Joyce’s home state, Beattie understands succession planning and presides over a united ship of state.

If, as anticipated, Beattie is returned with a reduced majority, Queenslanders can look forward to Premier Bligh sooner rather than later. It’s interesting to speculate what Sir Joh might have thought.