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Australia floods pose a political test not all pass

While Prime Minister Gillard has been criticized for her response to the Australia floods, Queensland Premier Bligh has struck the right note of strength and emotion.

A boy pushes a broom across a mud-covered street after flood waters receded in the Brisbane River side suburb of Westend on Jan. 14. Australia's third-largest city began cleaning up stinking mud and debris in flood-hit areas on Friday.

Tim Wimborne/Reuters

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The Australia floods that have submerged much of Queensland are raising the political fortune of the state's premier, Anna Bligh.

Before the Brisbane River inundated Brisbane, Australia’s third largest city, and caused up to $6 billion in damage statewide, Ms. Bligh was facing all but certain electoral defeat heading into the upcoming state election. Now, the 50-year-old has become the public face of disaster relief, outshining the country’s other leading female politician, Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Times of national calamity have long served as defining moments in political careers – think of then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani after 9/11 or Ronald Reagan in the wake of the Challenger space shuttle disaster (“They slipped the surly bonds of earth and touched the face of God.”).

Likewise, many Australians feel that Bligh has struck the right note of steely determination – calmly informing the public to expect the death toll to rise – and human emotion, her voice cracking when she told a live press conference: “It [the floods] may be breaking our hearts at the moment, but it will not break our will.”

Despite Queensland being twice the size of Texas, it seems that no town or community has been small enough to slip her attention. She has confidently commanded a mass of changing information, at one point gently correcting numbers provided on the disaster by a top police official at a joint press conference. She has given the good with the bad in a no-nonsense manner, even when her own mother was being evacuated from her Brisbane home.


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