Queensland premier wins state vote on tough virus response

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and the member for Oxley Milton Dick bump elbows after casting their votes in the state election, at the Inala State School polling booth in Brisbane, Australia Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. Australia’s tourist-popular Queensland state is voting for a new government Saturday in an expected close race between incumbent Premier Palaszczuk’s Labor Party and Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington. (Dan Peled/Pool Photo via AAP Image)
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BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — The incumbent premier of Queensland won a third consecutive term in Australian state elections in which voters strongly endorsed her government’s tough policies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including closing state borders.

Annastacia Palaszczuk, dubbed the “accidental premier” when she came to power unexpectedly in 2015, became the first female Australian political leader to win three consecutive elections.

Results on Sunday with 63.2% of votes counted showed a 5.2% swing in favor of Palaszczuk’s center-left Labor party, which had won 40.6% of the vote, ahead of the main opposition Liberal National coalition with 35.6%.

The anti-immigration One Nation party saw its vote fall from 13.73% in the 2017 election to 6.9% while the United Australia Party of mining magnate Clive Palmer managed only 0.57%.

Palaszczuk campaigned on her strong response to COVID-19 — there have only been six virus deaths in the state. She acknowledged in declaring victory on Saturday night that the cost of the pandemic response had been high.

“For many Queenslanders, I know it has been an incredibly tough year,” Palaszczuk said. “It has been tough not being able to see your family and friends in other states or even around the world as we’ve been in the midst of a global pandemic."

Her main challenger, Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington, campaigned on the heavy toll Labor’s border policies have taken on Queensland’s tourism industry. The Great Barrier Reef straddles most of the top half of the state, while the Gold Coast tourist strip south of Brisbane, particularly popular with Asian visitors, has also sustained big losses.

But voters appeared to endorse Palaszczuk’s handling of the pandemic. Election observers suggested older former LNP voters, mindful of the pandemic response, may have switched their support to Labor.

In a trend following that of next week’s U.S. presidential election, more than 1.28 million of 3.3 million eligible voters in the so-called Sunshine State voted ahead of election day. A further 905,806 postal votes had been issued, of which 571,095 had been returned by Saturday. Voting at all levels of government in Australia — federal, state and municipal — is compulsory.

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