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Palaszczuk pledges $500m for renewables as Labor sharpens pitch for 2024 state election

Wille Okon 0 Jun 3

The first day of the Queensland Labor state conference was as rehearsed as the government probably hoped, with little infighting or division on display.

In the sugar city of Mackay, where Labor has held the state seat for more than a century, MPs were keen to portray the government as a united front ahead of next October’s election and to keep the focus on three key pressure points: cost of living, health and youth crime.

If there were disagreements, they were tightly contained behind closed doors.

“Leadership is about having that ability to take a stand, to do what’s right, to unite Queensland, not to divide,” the premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, told the crowd on Saturday.

Palaszczuk – who suffered her lowest approval rating on record in a recent poll – wasted no time in taking a dig at the state’s opposition leader, David Crisafulli.

“This week, the leader of the opposition took a stand … to vote no at the referendum later this year to a constitutionally enshrined voice to parliament,” she said.

“Unlike the LNP, our party stands united on the voice.”

The Qld premier asks everyone at the state ALP conference who supports the Indigenous voice to parliament to stand.

“Unlike the LNP, our party stands united on the voice,” she says. @GuardianAus pic.twitter.com/XX9dFTP8Dy

— Eden Gillespie (@edengillespie) June 2, 2023

The centrepiece of Labor’s announcements on Saturday was a $500m investment in the publicly owned company CleanCo to fund solar and wind projects in central Queensland.

The government also said it would legislate a target of 70% renewable energy by 2032, with the energy minister, Mick de Brenni, declaring it was time to “take action on climate”.

But the government did not budge on its 2030 emissions reduction target of 30% below 2005 levels, which lags significantly behind other states.

Outside the Mackay Entertainment Centre, a dozen or so locals protested another key government initiative, the Pioneer-Burdekin pumped hydro project. Dubbed the world’s largest pumped hydro dam, the project, west of Mackay, is expected to impact 50 homes.

De Brenni batted away concerns the project will harm platypus habitat. He said Mackay will become “the beating heart of Australia’s clean energy system.”

Qld treasurer Cameron Dick says the govt will stay firm on its "progressive coal royalties"."This is an industry that has received the benefits of historic coal prices."

"If they've got $40m to run those ads [against the royalties]. Maybe they can pay a bit more" @GuardianAus

— Eden Gillespie (@edengillespie) June 3, 2023

Back inside, Labor party members quizzed the government on youth crime – an issue that has resulted in fierce attacks by the opposition and tabloid media.

The Palaszczuk government suspended the state’s Human Rights Act in February to make breaching bail an offence for children, along with investing $100m “to curb the causes of youth crime”.

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The state attorney general, Yvette D’Ath, said the government’s policies were about “diverting people away from incarceration and youth criminal justice system”.

Guardian Australia revealed this week two-thirds of the 169 children charged with Queensland’s new breach of bail offences are Indigenous.

Asked about whether he was concerned about the impact of the controversial laws, the police minister, Mark Ryan, pointed to a well-rehearsed government’s talking point – community safety.

“If those people are breaching the law, then those people will be intercepted by police, arrested and charged,” he told reporters on Saturday. “Where there isn’t a reasonable explanation … there should be consequences for that.”

And it wouldn’t be a Queensland conference without sledging another opponent – NSW.

With the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, on an official visit in Vietnam, the acting prime minister – and Queenslander – Jim Chalmers took the opportunity to gloat about the Maroons’ victory in the first State of Origin game on Wednesday.

“This part of the world contributed more than its share of Wednesday night’s triumph … and by now you’ve realised I’m not reading out the speech that they wrote out for Albo,” he said.

Senator Murray Watts was also keen to remind audience members of a gaffe by fellow Queenslander and federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, who confused the coastal town of Yeppoon with the Yeppen Floodplain.

“Peter Dutton doesn’t even get Queensland,” he said. “… he doesn’t get Queenslanders want to move forward, not backwards.”