Why Steven Miles most likely to take top job off Palaszczuk

IT CAN be cathartic to admit you're wrong about someone and I reckon I was wrong about Steven Miles.

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, the Queensland Health Minister, who has also assumed the deputy premier mantle, has proved he's a Labor leader-in-waiting. And he might not have to wait that long.

Some might argue that it's easy for political leaders to shine in a crisis ­because the usual terms of engagement are abandoned.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis like no other and Miles has shown he's up to the challenge. Miles has been measured, sincere and accountable during his numerous appearances updating Queenslanders on the issues, while avoiding the grandstanding and overblown rhetoric of others who've ­blatantly attempted to use the crisis for their own political gain.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, with Deputy Premier Steven Miles behind her. Picture: Annette Dew
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, with Deputy Premier Steven Miles behind her. Picture: Annette Dew

The maturity he's displayed certainly wasn't what you would have expected from Steven Miles circa 2015 when he found himself as a first-term MP and a cabinet minister.

His nervous laugh during statements to Parliament, even on serious matters, quickly earned him the nickname "Giggles" among some and he came off looking like a school kid speaking in front of the class.

But it was his penchant for playing politics like an undergraduate that made me assume he'd never amount to much.

While Miles had a strong affinity with his former environment portfolio, he found himself in fights externally and internally that were about as important as student unionists protesting about vending machine prices.

There was inflammatory commentary that wouldn't have done the ­government any good in regional Queensland and frequent leaks to ABC friendlies where Miles was often suspected of being the source.

His close connection with union powerbroker Gary Bullock ensured he landed a safe seat when his own electorate was removed in a re­distribution. His shift from the inner-city to the outer suburbs also saw him ditch his "Doctor" honorific, something he earned after completing a thesis on how to raise union membership.

That university politics streak was still with him early in his stint as health minister when he decided to tear Lady Cilento's name from the children's hospital.

It might have seemed a good idea at the time, but this folly was a ­distraction that cost the government more than it gained in the critical health portfolio.

Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled
Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles. Picture: NCA NewsWire/Dan Peled

As Labor's second term comes to a close, Miles finds himself in the government's second most powerful ­position after Jackie Trad's exit.

And because of the credibility he's earned during this crisis, he could take the next step up.

The government is faced with a concerted challenge to retain its two-seat majority at the October 31 election. If Annastacia Palaszczuk takes Labor into Opposition, it's over for her.

Even if she falls short of a majority, there's no guarantee that the party's factions would let her continue as leader or if she'd even want to head another fractious and fickle minority administration.

Palaszczuk's ill-advised decision to strip funding from Katter's Australian Party has also diminished her ­capacity to negotiate a deal with the crossbench, however, she's been urgently trying to repair relations. Removing her might resolve the issue.

And even if she wins a majority, how long she might remain premier during the four-year term that would follow is an open question.

Before COVID-19 came along, Palaszczuk's personal appeal had diminished considerably and may again when the pandemic is over.

Former premier Anna Bligh also got a big bump after the 2011 floods, but a year later she was just as unpopular as ever.

Labor won't want to follow another leader off a cliff.

The party has options.

State Development Minister Kate Jones is the best retail politician that the government has got, but she's from the pint-sized Old Guard ­faction.

While this did not prevent Peter Beattie from leading Labor, the party is far more fixated on factionalism than pragmatism these days.

Treasurer Cameron Dick is another name always mentioned in leadership discussions, although his critics claim that's only when he's doing the talking.

Within the Left faction, the AWU-aligned Dick is about as popular as a principal at a schoolies party.

That leaves Miles in the box seat to replace Palaszczuk.

The dominant Left faction would be loath to give up the opportunity to have one of its own lead Labor.

Now it has a candidate such as Miles, who has always been popular inside the party and is gaining a reputation outside of it, there is no reason why they would.

Giggles, it seems, is going to get the last laugh.


Originally published as Why Steven Miles most likely to take top job off Palaszczuk