Who is Steven Miles, and what kind of premier can we expect him to be as Queensland heads toward an election in 2024?

Pandanus Petter, Griffith University

When Queensland’s Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk resigned over the weekend, she indicated her preferred successor would be her deputy, Steven Miles.

He promptly nominated for the leadership. He avoided a leadership contest between himself, Health Minister Shannon Fentiman and Treasurer Cameron Dick.

A compromise between Miles’ left faction and Dick’s right has negotiated Miles as Queensland’s 40th premier and Dick as his deputy. It’ll be made official when the party caucus meets on Friday.

But who is Steven Miles, and what kind of premier can we expect him to be as Queensland heads toward an election in 2024?

A union man with a PhD

In some ways, Miles’ journey closely resonates with some broader trends for Queensland Labor in recent years.

Very rarely for a politician, Miles has completed a PhD, seeking to understand how trade unions motivate their memberships through workplace activism.

Following this he worked as a consultant helping improve the campaigns of progressive causes, as state director of a public sector union and as a political advisor to Labor politicians.

Miles fits the mould of someone who has made progressive, union-affiliated politics their career.

However, like many union members in contemporary society, he is a highly educated professional, rather than the blue-collar rabblerouser of yesteryear.

His political ambitions go back to 2009, where he unsuccessfully tried for pre-selection for the state election. He ran at the 2010 federal election for the seat of Ryan, which encompasses the area of Brisbane’s leafy inner-north-west. He fell short again.

Miles’ first success came when he won the state seat of Mt-Cootha for Labor from the LNP in 2015.

However, following a redistribution of boundaries in 2017, he relocated to the outer-metropolitan seat of Murrumba, north of Brisbane. In this way he was like an increasing number of young professionals and working families pushed outward by rising house prices.

With the recent success of the Queensland Greens in inner city electorates, and changing demographics in previously rural areas, Queensland Labor’s heartland and basis of support have moved outward.

The perceived priorities and everyday needs of young families and working people in these areas of population growth will likely guide how he governs and campaigns.

Recognisable, for better or worse

Miles, who has the backing of the powerful United Workers Union, has previously served in a number of ministerial portfolios including state development, environment and heritage protection.

Most famously, he served as health minister in the first year of the COVID pandemic. Given his appearances in daily press conferences, he likely has a high degree of recognition in the electorate.

Whether this is an asset for appealing to a broad cross-section of the Queensland public is debatable, given Miles also has a reputation as a party “attack dog”. He caused controversy by appearing to use uncivil language when criticising former Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Similiarly to Jackie Trad, whom he replaced as deputy premier following her resignation over alleged integrity issues and electoral defeat in 2020, Miles has been an outspoken advocate for progressive causes such as the environment and equitable access to education.

A battle on the bread and butter

When declaring his intent to step forward as premier, Miles flagged his desire to address ongoing issues which dominate recent political debate in Queensland.

They’re issues familiar to people across the country, including the need to improve the public health system, addressing a lack of affordable housing for renters and buyers and ongoing problems with the cost of living.

With the 2032 Olympics and Paralympics also in the pipeline, large-scale infrastructure developments will be on the cards.

He will also look to manage the politics and implementation of Queensland’s transition to a low-emmission economy: a potentially fraught process given the power of the mining lobby and concerns over losses of jobs in regional areas.

Interestingly, these are the same issues Opposition Leader David Crisafulli recently laid out as his priorities, bar a couple of exceptions.

Miles will therefore have to manage the tension between defending the Labor government’s record on these “bread and butter” issues, and trying to present as a fresh, new leader who understands the concerns of everyday people.

Also similarly to Crisafulli, who avoided being drawn on conservative social issues like abortion during his campaign launch, Miles will likely downplay more contentious progressive reforms. This may prove a disappointment for left-leaning voters wanting more action on climate change, or the continued concerns around the detention of children and minors in custody.

Instead, for the next year we will likely see a contest based on trust over the basics: economic management and delivery of public services under strain.

His first test as leader comes in the form of a cyclone in the state’s north, which he was keen to address yesterday, rather than speculation about his rise to premier.

His next test may come at the election in October 2024, as Labor weathers storms on two fronts. In inner Brisbane, the Greens will be looking to consolidate their recent gains. In the regions and outer metropolitan growth areas, the government will be judged on its ability to address cost of living pressures not necessarily in their power to solve.

Pandanus Petter, Research Fellow Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover image, Darren England/AAP