Jackie Trad’s grip on her Deputy Premier and Treasurer role has been dealt a serious blow after Maryborough Labor MP Bruce Saunders told colleagues he was planning to quit her dominant Left faction. The move comes after The Australian revealed on Thursday that Mr Saunders had previously told colleagues Ms Trad should resign. Labor sources told The Courier Mail Ms Trad phoned Mr Saunders to confront him over his comments, prompting his decision to quit. Mr Saunders, a second-term MP, reportedly told Labor caucus colleagues he was resigning his factional allegiance after he and Ms Trad had a heated argument over the phone.
Source: Michael McKenna and Sarah Elks, News Corp
Jackie Trad’s grip on role dealt serious blow as Bruce Saunders quits faction
The loss of Mr Saunders will shift the balance of power in the Labor caucus away from Ms Trad’s dominant Left faction and add fuel to the push to remove her.
Labor sources reportedly downplayed Mr Saunders’ decision as a “fit of pique” and “Bruce being Bruce”, but others insisted the shift was definite and damaging.
Ms Trad is already staring down pressure from within Labor ranks to resign from the leadership team, amid fears she could cost the Palaszczuk government power at this year’s state election.
The divisive leader is refusing to budge, despite facing the danger of losing her inner-city seat of South Brisbane and growing angst among Labor backbenchers about their prospects at the October 31 poll.
Ms Trad, who engulfed the second-term government in an integrity crisis last year over her failure to declare an investment property, is relying on union support, particularly that of United Voice boss and Labor powerbroker Gary Bullock, to stay in cabinet.
ALP-commissioned research is understood to have revealed Ms Trad’s unpopularity among voters is just behind that of Clive Palmer.
The state opposition this week began letterboxing pamphlets labelling the Treasurer as “dodgy” and Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk as “weak” for not sacking her deputy last year — ahead of the March 28 by-election for the Liberal National Party-held Gold Coast seat of Currumbin.
The state opposition this week began letterboxing pamphlets labelling the Treasurer as “dodgy”.
Ms Palaszczuk, Ms Trad, State Development Minister Cameron Dick and Tourism Minister Kate Jones — the four most senior cabinet ministers — will bunker down later this week for a “leadership retreat” to plan for the election.
Ms Palaszczuk, through a spokesman, insisted on Wednesday that Ms Trad had her support and that she would remain as Deputy Premier and deliver an early election budget in April.
The Premier ruled out a cabinet reshuffle this year.
A spokesman for Ms Trad said her position had not changed; she had previously insisted she would run again in South Brisbane, where she faces a battle to hold off the Greens, and not parachute into a safer seat.
Labor insiders said that Ms Palaszczuk had little choice but to continue to stand by her embattled deputy because of Ms Trad’s powerful leadership of the Left faction and her union support. “The Premier could have acted last year over the investment property and didn’t, and it would be a terrible look if she moved against her ahead of the budget that she then needs to go out and sell,’’ an ALP insider said.
Concern about Ms Trad in Labor ranks, particularly among regional backbenchers and across all factions, is growing. A poll published in Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail newspaper on Saturday showed the Premier’s personal support had plummeted, along with Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington’s popularity. Labor and the LNP were locked at 50-50 two-party-preferred.
One backbencher said the poll had shocked Labor MPs, and had some concerned the ongoing issue of Ms Trad was dragging down the Premier’s popularity. “There’s a lot of angst in the backbench, that’s true,” a Labor MP said.
“There’s some who think she should stay (in cabinet) and there’s some who say she should step back and concentrate on winning her own electorate.”
Some regional MPs have reported door-knocking in their electorates and having voters expressing disgust with Ms Trad’s handling of her investment property scandal.
The Deputy Premier failed to properly declare a house bought by her family company near the proposed route for her signature infrastructure project, the $5.4bn Cross River Rail.
She later had ministerial responsibility for the project taken off her, and the Crime and Corruption Commission said that, although she had not committed a crime or corruption, similar actions should become criminal.
The CCC is still assessing a separate complaint against Ms Trad, about her involvement in the appointment of the principal of a new school in her electorate. She has denied wrongdoing.
Maryborough Labor MP Bruce Saunders, a member of the Left faction, said he had advised Ms Trad to “hang on” and stay in cabinet. But he admitted he had had a number of “tense and frank” conversations with the Treasurer, and conceded he had told colleagues in the past he thought she should go.
Thuringowa MP Aaron Harper — another Labor Left faction MP — said he was a “big fan” of Ms Trad, who had helped him secure $100m in government projects for his marginal north Queensland electorate. “I am a huge Jackie fan, when I get that kind of money for a regional MP,” Mr Harper said.
Several Labor insiders said Ms Trad should take a leaf out of Ms Jones’s book, and step out of cabinet to fight for her marginal seat. Ms Jones resigned as a minister to (unsuccessfully) fight Campbell Newman’s campaign for her seat of Ashgrove at the 2012 election.
Ms Trad holds South Brisbane on a 3.6 per cent margin, secured only after the Liberal National Party preferenced Labor ahead of the Greens at the 2017 state election.
The LNP has already announced it will put Ms Trad last on its how-to-vote cards. And at last year’s federal election the largest booths in Ms Trad’s seat had some of the nation’s biggest swings to the Greens, of up to 15 per cent.
In the inner-city suburb of West End, brunching university students Olivia Roney, 23, and friend Lucy Heywood, 22, said Ms Trad needed to engage better with younger constituents to gain votes. “They (Labor) are not really engaging with the right platforms,” Ms Roney said.
“I’ve noticed there’s been a lot of door knocking, which has probably pissed people (off) for decades, but it’s certainly not the way to engage (with young people).”
The law and economics student, who runs The Unknown Project to support the education of students from refugee backgrounds, said she would likely vote for the Greens in the election, as she had in 2017.
Additional reporting David Ross, Mackenzie Scott