Contenders step up as Annastacia Palaszczuk calls time on historic leadership

Emotional Palaszczuk announces her resignation

As few other leaders have done, Annastacia Palaszczuk took the tides of electoral fortune at their shallowest ebb and rose to power.

After nine years in power, Queensland’s Labor Premier ended speculation on Sunday with the announcement she would retire from politics by the end of this week.

“When I led this party from an opposition of just seven members, I said that the first election will be like climbing Mount Everest,” Palaszczuk said.

“I went on to climb that mountain twice more (in 2017 and 2020).

“I don’t need to do it again.”

Deputy Premier Steven Miles, whom Palaszczuk endorsed as her successor, and Health Minister Shannon Fentiman, from the dominant Labor left, and Treasurer Cameron Dick, from the right, are canvassing the state caucus for support.

Miles confirmed within hours he would make a tilt for the leadership, while saying Palaszczuk would “go down in history as a great reforming Labor premier”.

“I want to pay tribute to Annastacia Palaszczuk MP and thank her for her extraordinary public service, as an MP, a minister, an opposition leader, and nine years as premier,” he shared in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

“She brought the Labor Party back to office at a time when people had written us off for a generation.”

When Palaszczuk took over the leadership of Queensland Labor in 2012, after it had suffered a thumping defeat, she had a caucus of seven MPs, or just enough to field a netball team.

Three years later, she turned public anger at deep cuts to public services under the LNP government of Campbell Newman into a 14-point swing and an extraordinary turnaround.

Still, she was labelled the “accidental premier” and governed cautiously in her first term in a minority parliament.

By 2020, she had won a third term after winning a presidential-style election campaign made into a referendum on the handling of the pandemic and her tough stance on border closures.

That made Palaszczuk the first premier in Queensland history to increase their party’s total at three consecutive elections. It also made her the longest-serving female head of government in Australian history.

There were few signs of the significance of her career when an at-times tearful Palaszczuk announced her resignation on Sunday.

The briefing had been advertised to the media as a statement about preparations for Tropical Cyclone Jasper as it nears north Queensland.

“I have given it my all and I have run a marathon,” she said.

“I’ve dedicated my whole life to community service. There’s no greater honour.

“Nine years, it feels like an eternity.”

The Catholic granddaughter of Polish migrants from the conservative wing of the Queensland ALP focused on the bread-and-butter issues of state politics while also bringing progressive change to Australia’s most conservative state.

Her government oversaw substantial growth in Queensland’s economy and population at the expense of other larger states, and made kindergarten free. It also lifted a 120-year-old abortion ban and, from this year, legalised voluntary assisted dying.

Palaszczuk also made Queensland a more equal state.

She said she was inspired while observing the 1992 US presidential election and meeting the now-late Democratic Party Senator Dianne Feinstein.

“I thought, ‘oh my goodness, if she can debate like this, perhaps one day I could do that’,” she later said.

As premier, Palaszczuk presided over the first female majority cabinet in Australian history. She recalled pointing out to a colleague that four women had just led a press conference.

“He said, ‘I didn’t even notice’,” she said. “Because it has become normal.”

But in recent months, there have been signs of tension between her and leaders of the Queensland union movement, and speculation about Palaszczuk’s future peaked in August when she went on holiday to Italy.

On Sunday, she said she first considered resigning while overseas but made up her mind finally only at last week’s national cabinet meeting.

“I was sitting there thinking ‘this is the fourth prime minister; there are all these new faces around the cabinet table’,” she said. “I thought to myself, renewal is a good thing”.

Palaszczuk will leave parliament within weeks, giving up her western Brisbane seat of Inala – in which she succeeded her father, Henry, in 2006.

Her departure follows two other pandemic-era premiers earlier this year – Daniel Andrews in Victoria and Mark McGowan in Western Australia.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is the last leader remaining from the era that returned state leaders to political prominence.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to the “Labor hero” and “a champion for Queenslanders”.

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