In this interview with Local State member, Jackie Trad, we started with her recent resignation as Deputy Premier and Treasurer, and ranged across climate change, coronavirus, the coming State Election, and life on the backbench.

This is the latest in a series of interviews the Westender has conducted with our local elected representatives across the three levels of Government. In interviews with Terri Butler and Jonathan Sri, the focus has been on issues surrounding the COVID-19 shut-down, and also in the case of Cr Sri, the recent Council election.

Ms Trad resigned from Queensland cabinet on the 9th of May when the Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) confirmed it would undertake a formal investigation into the recruitment and selection process for the principal of the Inner City South Secondary College. There is no timeframe for the CCC to report, and so it could be some time before we know the outcome of its investigation.

Following her resignation, initially assumed to be for the duration of the investigation only, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk appointed replacement Ministers in Ms Trad’s portfolios, announcing that the appointments would be permanent.

The decision to resign

The decision to step down from the Ministry was entirely her own, Ms Trad said.

“I think it’s important to place on the record that my decision to stand down was my decision.

“It was a pretty significant issue, and it was a pretty big decision, but I made the commitment publicly last year when there was another matter that the CCC was assessing, that if matters do get elevated to an investigation status, then I think it’s the right thing for Ministers to stand aside, or stand down … so, it is what it is, but it was a pretty significant issue.

“The only person I really consulted with was my husband, … and that was, I guess, a reflection of the fact that as a family unit we’d been through quite a bit in recent times, and I really wanted to seek his counsel. I called the Premier to advise her.”

Ms Trad rejects reports that she had lost the confidence of key unions.

“It’s incredibly interesting that these reports are often associated with senior spokespeople or senior party spokespeople and never with people who are willing to come forward with their name,” she said.

As would be expected, the response of locals to her resignation has been mixed, with many, regardless of voting intention, expressing concern for Ms Trad’s personal wellbeing. She was visibly moved as she talked about how people have expressed their support.

“There was a point a couple of weeks ago when you couldn’t come in here, there were so many flowers, and people were baking cakes, and that’s what it is to be a member of this community. We experienced it during the floods, you know with coronavirus people have been coming out and doing as much as they can to lend a hand. You see a lot of the street pantries full. And when their local member gets knocked about, you know, they’ve just been beautiful and generous with their affection and support.

“And I’m very humbled by that. I really appreciate it, and it’s often the case that these sorts of events hurt the people around you more than they hurt you, and I know people are feeling it, in the same way, that I’ve been feeling it.”

Absolutely do it

Politics can be pretty relentless, particularly for high profile women, and I asked Ms Trad what her advice would be, after all she has experienced, if a young woman approached her for advice about starting a career in politics.

“I think that we still have a way to go before it’s not seen as abnormal for women to be within the exercise of power, whether that’s politics or whether that’s the boardroom or the head of major organisations.”

But, she says, “… the advice that I would give a young woman looking to enter politics is to absolutely do it, because, ‘nothing changes if nothing changes’.”

“And for all of the challenging times that I’ve experienced, there have been tremendous opportunities where my contribution has mattered. And it’s absolutely the case that there’s always more work to do, and you need people who have good intent and good motivation, who are prepared to make sacrifices, whether that’s in getting attacked by people with a different worldview than yours.

“I don’t regret that at all, and I would absolutely advise young women to play roles to step up and to lead and to not be afraid.”

To be clear is to be kind

There’s been a lot written about Ms Trad in the last couple of weeks. Some have listed her critical achievements in government, such as abortion law reform and vegetation protection legislation. These could be described as traditional Labor issues, but they arouse high emotions in the community, and Ms Trad has been the butt of some quite vicious personal attacks.

“A calling to public life has always been about what is possible … for me, the motivation has always been about what can you achieve on behalf of the people who actually invested their trust in you.

“When I grew up, Queensland was ridiculed nationally. And we have seen some great strides over the past 30 years, whether that’s been in the education area, whether that’s been in infrastructure or the cultural sector. We have really seen Queensland enter into the 21st century in a way that for me stands out from the Queensland that I knew growing up, where you couldn’t even have footpath dining for example, and on a Sunday, everything was shut, and there was no sense of vibrancy around the city.

“So for me, it really has been about how we make our community the best possible community; how we make sure that kids are getting a great education and make sure that we’ve got a strong economy that’s contributing nationally and internationally – and we are, and that’s a fantastic thing. That’s what’s called me into a life of politics.”

Among the issues she is most proud of at a State level, Ms Trad spoke about the stolen wages class action and abortion law reform.

The stolen wages class action she said, is the largest human rights settlement in Australia’s history.

“We could have engaged in protected legal negotiations, resulting in litigation and meanwhile, many more stolen wages applicants would have died during that process, so for me, resolving that was a significant issue.

“Of course, abortion law reform is something that has motivated me since I was a young person: the absolute injustice of a woman not being able to determine her own life.

“These are things that have, for me, really resonated with people who have less rights in our community and I have wanted absolutely to change that.”

Life under COVID

The extent of disadvantage within the State has been exposed by the coronavirus shut down, and there have been calls for increased investment in social housing from Federal Labor and recently from The Greens in Queensland.

“I totally agree that a lot of issues of inequality that have existed in our community for a long time have been dialled up quite considerably with coronavirus.

“The State responded, I think, incredibly effectively and I’m very proud of the role that I played in that respect.

“We have moved a lot of people who have been sleeping rough into accommodation to make sure that they are safe and that they’ve got a period where we can wrap services around them, to see if we can get them into permanent accommodation – so we’ve got quite a number of months to work with them in order to achieve that.

“Of course, we need more social housing. The whole Nation needs more social housing; remote indigenous communities need more housing full stop. But we’ve got a Federal government that has walked away from the table on all of these things.

“They’ve got a $60 billion underspend in terms of Job Keeper – redirect some of that to stimulate the construction industry, get more people into more permanent accommodation, because as long as you’ve got a house, you’ve got a base in which to improve your life.”

Ms Trad said that the coronavirus pandemic will be the first significant economic shock that the Nation has experienced with the younger generation feeling the full brunt of it, and she would also like to see the Prime Minister extend the goodwill he demonstrated by getting rid of the Ensuring Integrity Bill to keeping Job Seeker/Newstart payments at current levels.

“Because come September, when that goes back down to $40 a day, that will just throw a whole range of people into poverty – young people and people in the arts sector.”

Climate Change and Adani

The Adani coal mine has become emblematic for action on climate change for many in the South Brisbane electorate, and Ms Trad has often been the target of these concerns. She has been accused of ‘dragging the chain’ by the pro-Adani lobby and of not wielding her power to stop the mine, by its detractors. It is clear that she considers the issue has served to overshadow what she believes are substantial achievements by the State Government to reduce energy emissions.

“I don’t think anyone, anywhere, could have witnessed what happened over the Christmas and New Year period, and not feel a sense of urgency around responding to climate change. I certainly feel that urgency.

“But as I have also said publicly, reducing all of this down to one issue is a zero-sum game, and means that we get nothing.”

Ms Trad is critical of inaction by the Federal Government and says in contrast she is proud of the Queensland Governments’ achievement over the past five years.

“We’ve set up a publicly owned renewable energy generation company, CleanCo, and I did that along with my colleague, Anthony Lynham.

“When we came into government, only 7% of our electricity generation here in Queensland, was from renewable energy. It’s now at 20%. So, we are going to hit 50% by 2030 at a terrific pace. And we’re generating jobs and we’re attracting investment because of our policy settings and because we are committed to making sure that Queensland is powered through clean, renewable energy. That’s what it means to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work.”

But she says, rather than focus on what is being done in this space, it suits conservative commentators to use identity politics to polarise the debate.

“…who sips lattes and who eat steaks – it’s just a bullshit dichotomy. But they’re much happier to have us playing in that space than actually having the genuine conversation about what needs to happen and why we are not being served well by the current leadership.”

The State Election and South Brisbane

Retaining the seat of South Brisbane will be a tough ask for Jackie Trad, but she has not shied away from the challenge, announcing in a Facebook post on the 18th of May that she will re-contest the seat at the October State Election.

The Greens’ Amy McMahon did well against Ms Trad in 2016, gaining a +11.7 swing in her favour, and she claims she could win the seat this year with a 4% swing. The LNP may make that easier for her to achieve, having given notice that they will direct preferences to Ms McMahon ahead of Ms Trad on 31 October.[2]

I asked Ms Trad what this means, and what she needs to do to convince South Brisbane voters that she is the best candidate.

“The LNP is doing this quite deliberately because they know that this will ultimately lead to a stronger electoral position for them. They also want to do it because they do know that, as someone who has been, I guess, described as an effective politician, that they do want to take out that effective opponent – that’s what it’s all about.”

Ms Trad said that the expansion of West End State School, the new High School in Dutton Park and Cross River Rail are all responses to local concerns about population density and congestion.

“Being able to manage that and being able to ensure that we had adequate green space and adequate infrastructure – all of that was critical and important, so I have really worked hard to prioritise that for my community because I know that it’s been a significant concern.”

Ms Trad says that Cross River, “… will totally radicalise transport throughout the whole southeast Queensland region in terms of busting congestion and emissions reductions if we can get people out of their cars and into public transport.”

“So, in terms of what I’ve been able to deliver for the local community, it is absolutely about responding to the number one concern, which is how do we preserve our community, how do we preserve our livability and our village type lifestyle with all of this additional population growth going on. And it is by making sure that government steps up and delivers in response to these concerns,” she said.

Managing Expectations

More has been written about Jackie Trad in the past few years than about most other politicians in Queensland, even the Premier.  She is often portrayed as a direct communicator and a tough negotiator.

“Brené Brown often talks about the fact that, ‘to be clear is to be kind’.  We often go through life, I think, not directly talking about the things that matter. I guess that hasn’t been me. And I do want to get to the nub of issues; I do want to talk about things that matter because I want to do things that matter for, and on behalf of my community.

“If you don’t want to do anything and if you just want to talk pleasantries to people, then people are really going to like you, but you’re not going to do anything. And I guess, for me, I never wanted to put up my hand to occupy a seat, I wanted to put up my hand to genuinely make things better.”

Ms Trad said that her political opponents, on both the left and the right, say much the same things about her. The perception created in the media that she has been the most influential person in Queensland politics is also a political tactic put around by her opponents, she says.

“No one person can exercise that much power; there’s a whole government… it is put out by my political opponents to, I think, set up a level of expectation that absolutely no one can meet.”

“It is that tactic by political parties to differentiate and to try to elevate their own position in contrast to what’s actually happening.”

Given the overlaps between State and Council responsibilities, I asked Ms Trad whether the electorate understands the different responsibilities of the State government and Council, and indeed whether these can get confused at an election.

Ms Trad said that the community is pretty well informed, but she thinks that politicians can muddy the waters. For example, local Councillor Jonathan Sri has asked Ms Trad to intervene to save trees from destruction as part of the City Council’s Brisbane Metro road works which are occurring on State-owned land in South Brisbane.

“I think the issue around what you’re able to do, and the expectations around doing it, are confused by different politicians saying different things.

“Council is duly elected. There’s a big democratic process that happens to elect this administration, and they’ve got jurisdictional rights to exercise their power. And I think one of the things that people don’t like is when that gets overridden.

“I am of course happy to always use the position people have given me through the election to speak on their behalf around issues, whether that’s the Jane street community garden, whether that’s Brisbane Metro, or whether that’s a whole range of other issues. I am a stakeholder in this community as the elected local member, and I’m very happy to put a point of view across on behalf of the community.

“But people can’t say that the process has to be adhered to, and then say that we don’t like that process anymore and we want someone to intervene in that process.”

Life on the Backbench

The most noticeable difference, Ms Trad said, about moving to the backbench, is the extra time she now has to get out into the community.

For context, Ms Trad says, when she was first elected in 2012, the Queensland parliament was made up of 78 LNP members, with only seven Labor members, each of whom held multiple shadow portfolios. After Labor won the election in 2015, Ms Trad has been Deputy Premier, as well as variously, Minister for Investment, for Infrastructure and Planning, and for Transport, and most recently for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, and Treasury.

“The number one thing that has bowled me over is the amount of time I have now.

“This is the first time that I’ve been a backbencher, and it’s been terrific. I’ve been able to get out to the community as much as I can with coronavirus. Getting out and about connecting with the community in a way that there wasn’t enough time to do previously has been absolutely tremendous.

“There’s always a lot happening in South Brisbane, and to make sure that there is a strong and effective, progressive voice, that is representing the views, and the concerns of the local community have always been my motivation for standing for politics, and that hasn’t changed.”

At the end of the interview, I reminded Ms Trad that I had not asked her about how she is portrayed by the Murdoch press as I had intended and asked if she wanted to add anything.

“Oh”, she said, with a wave of her hand, “conservative commentators,” and that was that.

 

NOTE

[1] A spokesperson from the Queensland Greens confirmed in an email response to The Westender that the party has asked members how it should direct preferences, and based on feedback, it will put One Nation and the LNP last on How to Vote cards for all Queensland electorates in the coming election.

 

 

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