Annastacia Palaszczuk
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk wants a new state symbol. (Image: AAP/Dan Peled)

This article first appeared at InQueensland.

After three months of COVID-19-driven restrictions and deprivations, the single thing I’d most like to do is fly to Melbourne, visit friends and relax at one of the Victorian capital’s fine restaurants.

However, it’s not going to happen and I’m fine with that. I’m willing to wait until there’s more certainty and safety in terms of travelling to Victoria which has become the outstanding hotspot in Australia for new COVID-19 infections with an alarming number resulting from community transmission.

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Annastacia Palaszczuk is sticking firm with her controversial — and at times a little confusing — line about this state’s borders. The enforced lockdown of Queensland to outside travellers is staying and we locals needn’t think about heading south unless we want to have a stay-at-home order when we return.

When Palaszczuk’s border closure message was as clear as the water flowing in the Yarra River — she appeared to have ditched her July 10 date for opening up for a “maybe we’ll wait until September” policy — the premier was widely criticised.

Despite having steadied her gaze and returned the original roadmap released in early May, which proposed a review at the end of June and opening borders on July 10 if all the ducks lined up properly, a coalition of conservative politicians (state and federal), tourism operators (big and small) and their media cheer squad have kept up loud demands for opening up as soon as the middle of next week.

The LNP’s Deb Frecklington has been in the media almost every day since her leadership went to the brink of destruction, calling on Palaszczuk to open the borders on July 1.

At first it sounded opportunistic and a bit off the main game — which has been to cement the virus-busting gains achieved in Queensland since March. Now it sounds dangerous.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is also demanding the states open borders with particular criticism heaped on Queensland and Palaszczuk — it seems his arms-around-the-country cooperative federalism 2.0 has its limits and can be parked when there’s some tough guy politicking to do.

It’s said Palaszczuk is a leader blessed with a mix of uncanny good luck and being able to extract herself from tight corners or deep holes filled with toxic political waste.

During the 2017 election campaign, Palaszczuk turned around a situation where, midway through proceedings, she was headed for certain defeat and came up a surprise winner. Many Labor insiders remain unsure how she did it and suggest even she might not know exactly which moving parts she knocked into gear at just the right time.

It’s a great weapon to have in your political armoury but you wouldn’t want to rely on it too often.

Right now Palaszczuk is in the middle of what might be remembered as a turning point in the campaign trajectory for the October 31 poll.

The LNP leadership blew up four-and-a-half months out from polling day but wasn’t really resolved. The plotters correctly diagnosed the party’s chances would increase significantly if Frecklington was replaced but went about it in such a cack-handed way all they managed to do was leave things as they were.

Frecklington’s position as leader is secured and her chief antagonist, party president David Hutchinson, is also standing firm, sending the parliamentary and organisational wings of the LNP off to battle without a hint of trust, cooperation or coordination.

It’s as if they found a secret plan plotting the route to a Labor victory and are following it step by step.

The borders controversy is just another misstep by the LNP, which lacks judgment and has a tin ear for what Queenslanders are thinking.

As Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a winding back of scheduled easing of COVID-19 restrictions and the national health advisory body identified specific local government areas around Melbourne as effectively out-of-bounds, the Queensland government’s cautious policy on borders looked considered and in touch with what most people were wanting and saying.

When Health Minister Steven Miles hit back at continued criticism of the state’s border closures by saying those advocating an early opening of the barriers were “reckless”, you could imagine people around Queensland nodding in agreement.

On the hierarchy of needs, being reckless with the wellbeing of the community is not a winning move.

The response of Gladys Berejiklian — telling people in her state not to go Victoria unless there was a compelling reason — highlighted how the argument has turned in Palaszczuk’s favour. A week ago the New South Wales premier was telling her Queensland counterpart to open the borders without delay.

There are plenty of possible twists and turns between now and the end of October but at the moment, all the breaks are going the way of the Queensland premier.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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