Annastacia Palaszczuk's triumph in Queensland appeared to come out of the blue, but was due to hard work and a canny strategy.
|ALP rising star Annastascia Palaszczuk.|
The former Queensland Labor premier Peter Beattie describes Annastacia Palaszczuk as the "girl from nowhere". But that's not meant as a putdown.
Instead, it's a frank acknowledgement of the depth of shock - even in Labor ranks - at the abrupt turnaround in the fortunes of the Queensland ALP under a woman who three years ago took on a job no one else wanted.
Fronting a Labor caucus that had been slashed to a derisory seven members after the Liberal National Party's sweeping triumph in 2012, Palaszczuk was initially seen as a caretaker leader.
"When she took over the leadership they had such a depleted caucus people said she would just be there holding the fort until someone else comes along," veteran Labor strategist Bruce Hawker says.
A former transport minister in Anna Bligh's government, Palaszczuk was the most senior Labor parliamentarian left standing after the electoral carnage inflicted in 2012 by the LNP's combative Campbell "Can Do" Newman, the former Brisbane lord mayor.
But Palaszczuk did not sit on her hands warming the leader's chair for someone else.
She set out to make her own electoral fortunes, aided enormously by the Newman government's style, which came - like its leader - to be seen as high-handed and bullying.
"There was a real discipline in the way she went about prosecuting the case against job cuts and privatisation [proposed asset sales]," Hawker says. "It was unfussy, but effective."
Beattie agrees: "She was the woman who came from nowhere and who just continued to grow and grow and grow on the job." With counting still under way in a handful of seats, the ALP remains hopeful she will be able to claim the premiership early next week.
Labor born and bred (her father Henry was a popular primary industries minister in Beattie's government), Palaszczuk also understood one of the fundamentals of Queensland politics - you don't win government in the metropolis alone.
"She was up there in places like Townsville, where the LNP had slashed jobs in health, just making that case constantly," Hawker says. "That was impressive about her. She was not a Bob Carr, but by golly she was focused."
Palaszczuk is no show pony, but has a natural, plain-spoken kind of warmth which Queenslanders seem to have taken to.
Her easy mingling with people on the campaign trail stood in contrast to Newman's more stage-managed appearances, and she bounced back from a gaffe over the GST.
"I think people are sick of polished politicians," Beattie says. "They want to see the real McCoy, and she is the real McCoy."
She also won respect for weathering the derision directed at her by LNP opponents after Labor's 2012 wipeout. Among other provocations, the Newman government threw the then-tiny ALP caucus out of its Parliament House quarters, saying the space was needed for committee rooms.
"The hubris and arrogance that followed in the chamber was pretty outrageous," says her deputy, Jackie Trad. "But Annastacia is a person who knows herself. We formed a very close-knit team that was incredibly supportive. My view is that leaders are made, not born, and she has seized those opportunities to become a great leader."
The eldest of four sisters, Palaszczuk's surname reflects Polish heritage on her father's side (her grandfather was a prisoner in a Nazi work camp). She trained as a lawyer and picked up a master of arts as a Chevening scholar in London ( but worked mainly as a political staffer before entering Parliament. She has been unusually open about her private life, and her struggle with childlessness. First briefly married in the late 1990s to journalist George Megalogenis, she later married Labor staffer turned energy consultant Simon Every. The couple lost a baby at 11 weeks and she told an interviewer last year that her second marriage foundered, in part, because of years of unsuccessful IVF treatment.
Beattie says such honesty was unusual but went down well with voters.
"A whole lot of people related to that," he says. " I think she really set a standard that perhaps some previous leaders could have followed."
Palaszczuk has some strong talent in her new team, most notably Bligh's former attorney-general, Cameron Dick, seen as a future premier.
But the elephant in the room is the Queensland economy. "It has the highest unemployment in the country, a suppressed mining industry and a debt that is huge compared to other states," says political commentator Paul Williams, of Griffith University. Palaszczuk's hold on the leader's job will depend on how she handles that challenge.
"You can't reward a Labor leader who has achieved the greatest turnaround in 110 years of political history with the sack," Williams says. "She's allowed to make a few mistakes. But if she tanks and we are 12 months out to next election she is no safer than anyone else. That's the nature now of modern leadership."