Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has angrily denied using secretive polling to ensure she was making pandemic decisions that would be popular with voters.
Documents obtained under right to information have shed more light on a $528,000 contract the Premier’s department signed with market researcher Ipsos Public Affairs, before Labor was returned at the 2020 election.
Ipsos produced a series of reports for the state government after polling Queenslanders about pandemic-related issues, including the merit of border closures to deal with COVID-19.
People were also asked what things should trigger an easing of restrictions, and whether the government should trial easing restrictions on a “region-by-region, or sector-by-sector vs all-of-Queensland basis”.
They were even asked what advice they had for leaders to best manage the virus.
The contract, signed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet, also told Ipsos to delve into how Queenslanders rated the performance of individuals in the government, the police service and the health department.
Ms Palaszczuk faced a barrage of questions at Tuesday’s daily coronavirus briefing, and rejected any suggestion the research had informed her COVID-19 decisions.
“No, not my decision making,” she said.
“The research was done to help with the advertising campaigns that the COVID taskforce put in place.”
She said it wasn’t unusual for governments to do “sentiment testing” to guide advertising and messaging and it would have been “negligent not to do that”.
But she has also refused to release the research and the documents obtained under right to information don’t reveal how Queenslanders responded, only what they were asked and some details about the contract with Ipsos.
The opposition has claimed the research was commissioned for political gain and gave Labor an unfair advantage leading into the 2020 election.
“We’ve been told for 18 months now by the Premier that she’s making every decision with respect to COVID-19 based on the health advice,” Opposition finance spokesman Jarrod Bleijie said on Tuesday.
“We have consistently called for the health advice to be made public, and the Premier’s refused to do that on every occasion. Is the Premier relying on the health advice or she relying on the focus groups’ advice?”
The polling was initially commissioned in April 2020 when Ms Palaszczuk faced heavy criticism from some quarters for closing Queensland’s border.
On Tuesday, she cited that backlash as evidence she did not use the research to make decisions that would please Queenslanders.
“Everyone was yelling at me to open the borders,” she said.
“Don’t talk to me about popularity. Everybody was attacking me when I stood my ground here, and backed the chief health officer’s advice to me, when … it was seen as not being popular out there in the public and it kept Queenslanders safe.”
She said she’d always been guided by the advice of chief health officer Jeannette Young, who will go on to be Queensland’s next governor.
“I’ll tell you who helps guide my decision making – this wonderful woman standing to the left of me, who has helped keep Queenslanders safe,” the Premier said of Dr Young.