Federal factor subsides as campaign shifts into second half

With Anthony Albanese not making it north of the Tweed in the first half of the campaign, and arrangements in Sydney on Sunday, he will now be locked out of Queensland until after polling day.

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Without a sudden and unexpected shift on border policy, he would be required to quarantine for 14 days.

While the Premier has expressed confidence she does not need Mr Albanese to “hold her hand” as she tries to win over voters for a third time, the sense in the LNP camp has been a little more split.

Some have welcomed the boost provided by Mr Morrison, while others are keen to bring focus back to Ms Frecklington.

“I think it would be fair to say [the Prime Minister’s office] have not been happy with the whole term, all of the leaks, the backroom boys. Deb’s popularity has been an issue as well,” one LNP source with knowledge of the campaign said.

“Don’t get me wrong, we still think we can win.”

The insider said Morrison’s visit had injected optimism back into the LNP campaign and put Ms Frecklington in a more “positive” mood, adding if the election was held last October as issues around then-deputy premier Jackie Trad’s investment property were “blowing up”, “we would have won hands down”.

On Wednesday, the Prime Minister’s fifth and final day of appearances alongside Ms Frecklington – and after days of trading barbs with Deputy Premier Steven Miles – other party insiders described being glad to see Mr Morrison go, to let the state leader “back into the spotlight”.

It is a spotlight that state leaders normally share at least a slice. Since the 2009 state election, when the incumbent Bligh government held firm against the newly minted Queensland LNP led by Lawrence Springborg, every federal Labor leader has joined the hustings in some form.

Only in 2015 did then-prime minister Tony Abbott, perceived to be widely disliked by the electorate, eventually rule out a trip of his own after then-LNP premier Campbell Newman sought to distance himself from the federal Coalition.

Then-prime minister Julia Gillard greets Queensland premier Anna Bligh at the 2012 campaign launch.Credit:Glenn Hunt

University of Queensland political scientist Glenn Kefford said it was “unusual” to not see a federal party leader during the state campaign, even though their presence was unlikely to shift many voters’ minds.

“[It] is about rallying the troops and trying to change the media agenda,” he said. “If the Prime Minister is in town it is going to lead the news.”

Dr Kefford added that while Mr Albanese was undoubtedly popular among Labor supporters, “the jury was still out” on how the broader electorate and regional areas felt about him.

“They will be able to use the pandemic as a bit of a cover for not bringing him up,” he said.

While Mr Morrison may have led some news bulletins, analysis of social media data throughout the second week of the campaign by the Queensland University of Technology’s digital media research centre did not find much in the way of a Prime Minister-led bump.

Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, State Deputy Opposition leader Bob Quinn, state National Party leader Lawrence Springborg and Prime Minister John Howard saluting the party faithful at the 2004 campaign launch.

Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, State Deputy Opposition leader Bob Quinn, state National Party leader Lawrence Springborg and Prime Minister John Howard saluting the party faithful at the 2004 campaign launch.Credit:Andy Zakeli

QUT’s Professor Axel Bruns said much of the online focus had centred around the general themes: jobs, infrastructure. This was punctured by a “spike” at the start of the week as Ms Frecklington was forced to go on the defensive after reports she had been referred to the ECQ – by her own party – over a dinner at a developer’s home that resulted in a stream of donations.

Federal Labor was relegated to the state’s south-east corner at the 2019 federal poll, leading a triumphant Mr Morrison to declare: “how good is Queensland?”

With his popularity in Queensland ahead of Mr Albanese’s, he also suggested the Premier was not so keen to see her federal leader join her.

“If he wants to come, I’m more than happy, but I don’t need someone to hold my hand for a week,” Ms Palaszczuk eventually responded to the question on Tuesday.

Dr Paul Williams, a senior politics lecturer at Griffith University, said while there was a lot of nuance at play, Mr Morrison’s visit would likely have been a net benefit for the LNP outside of Brisbane – but far less so within it.

John Mickel, a Queensland University of Technology political analyst and former state Labor government minister and speaker, was less certain about the impact of the trip.

“He is popular, but it is a state campaign and people can differentiate,” Professor Mickel said. “I think it did what it needed to do.”

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While the Labor camp will now almost certainly be without Mr Albanese on the ground, Professor Mickel added that his state-based colleagues had been lending a hand to candidates and Ms Palaszczuk’s frontbench had been playing a significant supporting role – in contrast to the largely solo travelling of the Opposition leader.

“The image [of the LNP] is of Frecklington without the team,” Professor Mickel said.

With minimal polling conducted in the lead-up to the campaign, it was also tough to know where the electorate stood. The leaders’ movements so far could shed some light on what daily tracking polls were telling party headquarters. Both had “genuine concerns” outside the south-east.

“Judging by the Premier’s visits, the government has hopes of winning additional seats on the Gold Coast and possibly in the Wide Bay, whilst the Opposition wants to protect seats on the Gold Coast and win some in regional Queensland,” Professor Mickel said.

Postal votes are now rolling out to the more than 1 million voters who applied for them before deadline on Friday – representing about one-third of the state’s 3.37 million enrolled voters. More still are expected to begin early voting in pre-poll booths from Monday.

And as the campaign shifts into its second phase, some will be watching to see whether the messaging also moves away from high-vis and hard hats.

But with the federal House of Representatives now sitting for the next fortnight, and the Prime Minister also required to spend 14-days outside hotspot-declared NSW for a quarantine-free return to Queensland, the state leaders will need to don them on their own.

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