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Women in politics don't get the credit they deserve

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Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was once dubbed the "accidental Premier" despite her political strength (Screenshot via YouTube)

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk's career in politics has been downplayed as luck and not based on her own strengths, writes Noely Neate.

IN A VERY WEIRD COVID-19 affected State Election, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has won a third term of government in Queensland.

For any government to win three terms is pretty big. To win from where Annastacia Palaszczuk started, as Leader of the ALP in Queensland, is massive. Annastacia was called the “accidental Premier”, being the most experienced of the seven MPs elected to Parliament in 2012, putting her in as leader of the Opposition at the time. This has always grated on me.

The ALP in Queensland suffered a historic defeat in that 2012 Election; using the word “decimation” is not hyperbole and the joke was they ‘could fit in a Tarago’. To step up and take leadership in a situation like that was the very definition of a hospital pass and you would have to be a certain calibre of person to even take that on. Many political pundits were thinking it would take a decade or more for the ALP to rebuild in Queensland.

Of course, former Premier Campbell Newman and the LNP acted all like kids in a lolly shop unsupervised and ran amok. Acted like a dictatorship, sacked so many people, shut down schools, made new rubbish laws and thought they were untouchable. Unfortunately for them, many in Queensland happened to know one of those teachers who were sacked or worked for a public utility that was on the “for sale” list. Newman and the Queensland LNP pretty much went from the penthouse to the shithouse quick smart in 2015 with Annastacia Palaszczuk becoming the so-called “accidental Premier”.

There was nothing accidental about it. Just a woman taking on a job because someone had to do it and working her butt off.

Now, don’t be thinking this is some sort of fan letter to Annastacia Palaszczuk and the Queensland Labor party. I am not a member of theirs, in fact, didn’t even vote ALP – I voted for my local Independent – but I am an admirer of a woman who has achieved so much yet is getting little credit for that achievement.

I first met Annastacia Palaszczuk back in 2013 at a backyard barbecue-style event held by a few local Sunshine Coast branches of the ALP to meet and greet the three federal candidates standing in the 2013 Election. Annastacia and her father Henry – a former Queensland ALP MP and Minister in the Beattie Government – were guests at this shindig.

Annastacia didn’t do a “rah-rah” type speech, more a supportive speech thanking members for keeping the faith and promising to rebuild the party. Most of her time was spent quietly speaking to people, listening to them, a tear in her eye talking with one older bloke who had been a victim of Campbell Newman’s brutal job cuts. She was personable, empathetic and, to be honest, a softly-spoken, thoughtful woman. Even as a “non-ALP” type, I would have been happy to sit around on a balcony having a wine and chatting with her for ages. She came across as a “real person”, not a politician.

Chatting with Henry was illuminating. He had driven with her as a way of sharing the driving due to the sheer volume of kilometres Annastacia was travelling every weekend. At that time, she had already travelled thousands of kilometres around the state. Many donors had deserted the ALP after their political decimation and they just didn’t have the staff or resources to call on, so Annastacia was slowly making her way around the state, branch by branch, with the help of her father and others for support. Now that is dedication.

I realise she had to rebuild the party and get branches reinvigorated if the party was to survive, though I also think those hard times may have been of benefit to her. Unlike many other political leaders who tell the “faithful” what to care about and support, often generated by focus groups or at the behest of lobbyists, Annastacia actually knows the people in the branches, knows what their concerns and needs are and understands how very different each region of the state is through personal experience.

Therefore, calling Annastacia the “accidental Premier” in 2015 was demeaning. There was nothing accidental about it, she worked bloody hard to get the ALP back in power and was savvy enough to garner the support of Independent Peter Wellington to form Parliament.

Even when Palaszczuk won again in 2017, this time as a majority government, it was still viewed more through the lens of what the LNP did wrong, not so much what the ALP and Annastacia Palaszczuk did right.

Steven Wardill of The Courier Mail even when to far as to critique what Tim Nicholls (Queensland LNP Opposition leader at that 2017 election) had to do to win the Election with this excruciatingly cringy line:

‘Trying to “out-nice” and “out-normal” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will be even tougher.

 

It’s like trying to barbecue Bambi while convincing voters of the virtues of venison.’

Maybe Annastacia should have ridden some horses with a gun slung over her back to fit the perception of strong blokey leader.

I admit, I hoped the ALP would sneak over the line this election. Though with The Courier Mail, all the regional owned News Corp media, the breakfast television shows, Clive Palmer's squillions spent on advertising, the Prime Minister and NSW Premier all squealing about borders and bashing Palaszczuk before you even got to the Queensland LNP having their go at her, I thought that it was maybe a hurdle just too high to get over.

Many are now calling this a COVID-19 election and she is “lucky” that she had the virus to deal with and won on that platform. Listening and heeding the advice of her very experienced Chief Health Office, Dr Jeannette Young, was not considered savvy or a sensible duty of care to Queenslanders, but a “lucky” political guess that won the Election.

These were hard decisions to make, the state was hurting economically, but no decent leader wakes up one morning and thinks, “let’s keep those borders closed just for shits and giggles”. The hysteria and pressure she has withstood to do the right thing to protect Queenslanders are admirable, not “lucky”.

The Courier Mail even tried to give One Nation credit for the ALP winning government again. Seriously. How One Nation propelled Labor to victory, they yelled.

I am not sure which of the three authors of the article (Greg Stolz, Michael Madigan and Michael Wray) came up with this line:

‘One Nation’s vote collapsed across the state, with Labor seen as a major beneficiary.’

This was seen by The Courier Mail as the only possible excuse for their own team not being elected, but that premise is not even close.

Annastacia Palaszczuk propelled Labor to victory in Queensland on the back of good decisions.

If Annastacia Palaszczuk was a bloke, taking a decimated party of seven MPs from a Tarago in 2012 to a third term election win in 2020, she would be lauded as a warrior.

Whatever your flavour of politics, whether you personally like Annastacia Palaszczuk or not, in this arena, that feat is massive and deserving of respect, not rubbish “accidental” or “lucky” precursors to minimise the achievement.

Read more from Noely Neate on her blog YaThink?, or follow her on Twitter @YaThinkN.

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What hope do the rest of us women in this nation have when even the Leader of a state can’t be respected for her own achievements?

 
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