‘I’m going to win big’: Bold plan to defeat Premier
Here we are at the Gold Coast's Paradise Point Bowls Club, home of the mighty Dolphins and Monday night's famous "Parmimania" where the chicken parmi comes in five different flavours - Classic, Hawaiian, The Stockman, Mexican and Meat Lovers.
It's the sort of watering hole that once peppered our towns; a place that smells like beer and friendship, where the meat trays are raffled, the drinks are ice-cold, and the bar staff have masters degrees in banter.
And here, at a long table beside the bar is Queensland's newest State Opposition leader, David Crisafulli, 41, telling a story to a pod of Dolphin players sitting around it, pots of amber gold in hand.
Crisafulli - open, checked shirt, casual trousers, hands resting loosely on his hips - finishes his tale with a "then Tony says, 'I'll have a Guinness'", as the players break into laughter.
Crisafulli laughs easily with them, because he's right at home here, in this place where stories are shared, people have time to listen to them, and everyone knows his name. Not because he's the state member for Broadwater or the latest (and some say greatest) chance the Liberal National Party (LNP) has of dethroning Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, but because the Paradise Point Bowls Club is the sort of place where everyone knows everyone's name.
And Crisafulli comes from that sort of place.
To understand his tilt at the top job, and all that has brought him to it, it's necessary to travel to a sugarcane farm on the banks of the Herbert River, about 15km west of Ingham in North Queensland. And then it's necessary to travel further still; to Novara di Sicilia, a small village in Italy's Sicily, and Crisafulli's grandfather Francesco leaving behind its hazelnut trees and Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta to build an altogether different life.
Francesco Crisafulli left Sicily, his wife Angelina and young sons Antonino and Vincenza and daughter Maria in 1960, seeking his fortune, like so many other Italian immigrants, in the Australian canefields, dreaming of grass castles built by blistered hands. A year later he would bring out Angelina and his children (a third son, Salvatore would be born here) and all three sons would work alongside their father as the North Queensland sun beat down on their backs and the infamous "Hairy Mary" cane fibres stuck to their skin.
Later still Antonino - the "Tony" of Crisafulli's aforementioned bowls club story - would expand the family farm to its now well over 400ha, harvesting 40,000 tonne of cane annually. Tony Crisafulli would make his life there, with his wife Karen, his son David and daughter Belinda, the family's days flavoured by the cane seasons, and their nights by Karen's excellent northern Italian cooking - plump pillows of ravioli and coffee-drenched ladyfingers of tiramisu.
Everyone knew everyone in the place where the future politician grew up; the place that shaped him, the place that taught him the value of hard work, and the place where he was known then - and now - simply as "Tony's boy".
Crisafulli says he has a debt to pay the people of North Queensland, a place where "Tony's boy" also says he has "unfinished business".
Newman. Springborg. Nicholls. Frecklington. As Annastacia Palaszczuk, perhaps a touch smugly but not incorrectly, pointed out at a recent press conference, there have been quite a few LNP contenders seeking to snatch the Golden Snitch (with apologies to Harry Potter) in Queensland's parliament over the last decade or so. Asked if she feared the latest seeker (Crisafulli) the Premier airily replied: "No, not really. I mean, they can put up whoever they want, I don't really care."
But should she? Because that "unfinished business" Crisafulli refers to has made him hungrier than most for the top job.
While other contenders may have danced around the question: "Do you believe you will be Premier?" with coy utterings about the will of the people, Crisafulli is far more forthcoming, even a tad Trumpesque.
"Yes, absolutely. I believe I will be Premier. I believe we will win in 2024 and I believe we will win big."
After all, he's come tantalisingly close to snatching that Golden Snitch once before.
Leaving his school years (Canossa Primary, Gilroy Catholic College) behind him, Crisafulli studied for a journalism degree at Townsville's James Cook University, while working full-time as a cadet at his local paper, the Herbert River Express.
"At one stage I was working at the paper on Mondays and Tuesdays, and then driving to Townsville to do uni on Wednesdays and Thursdays," he says. "The trade off was I'd take the sports pics for the paper on Saturday, and, later on, I was doing Townsville radio in the morning from 3.30am to 8am, then WIN television from 8.30 to 6pm, and then tutoring at uni from 7 to 9pm. I bloody loved it."
But not enough to stay, when politics, by way of a job as then North Queensland Liberal Senator Ian Macdonald's media adviser, came calling.
The former journalist with the telegenic face was on his way, and in 2004, at just 24 years old - "a kid" as he now says - Crisafulli surprised everyone by becoming the youngest person ever elected to the Townsville City Council, upsetting what had been a 33-year, unbroken Labor run.
"It had been a heavily Labor-dominated council," Crisafulli grins, still clearly taking delight in the steal all these years later. "I just door knocked and door knocked.
"People would initially say, 'You're the guy off TV', and I guess that's how I got my foot in the door, but then I'd have to keep talking for them to let me in and vote."
And Crisafulli - as everyone who knows him will attest - is a good talker; one journalist likens his performance in parliament to "a bantam boxer, extremely quick on his feet".
Crisafulli says his early years in Council's Labor stronghold were "lonely ones".
"I was ostracised, and not many people would talk to me, but, to be honest, I was a bit of a shit stirrer, and I gave as good as I got."
Tony's boy - deft with his words and quick on his feet - was on his way.
In 2008, aged 27, he was elected Deputy Mayor of Townsville, and then, in 2012, Crisafulli jumped trains.
And he jumped just in time to hop on board the Campbell Newman Express, which barrelled its way through Queensland politics. Crisafulli won the Townsville seat of Mundingburra - and the Local Government portfolio.
Crisafulli's fast-tracked elevation to Cabinet was when the first whisperings about a future premiership began; the first seeds sown of his reputation as somewhat of an LNP Boy Wonder, someone who could straddle the divide between city and country, a pollie who wore a George Street suit as slickly as an Akubra.
It was said at the time that Newman himself saw Crisafulli as a possible heir apparent, and his former boss Macdonald went on record to say he believed his one-time staffer would be North Queensland's first premier in decades.
After all, who else could boast of a Deputy Mayorship, a state seat and a Cabinet portfolio all under their cape by the age of 30?
And then, as quickly as it all unfolded, it was taken away.
Crisafulli lost Mundingburra on election night, January 2015, to Labor's Coralee O'Rourke, and, in doing so he candidly tells Qweekend, he also lost his way.
"Oh," CRISAFULLI says over lunch (rump steak, chips and salad) at the bowls club, holding his hands to his cheeks, as if still stinging from his electoral rebuke, "that bloody hurt".
"I just … I don't know, I can see it very clearly now what happened but I was really shocked at the time," he says.
"History is written by those who win, but the swing against me was minimal and I did win on primary vote, but the fact is I was a young bloke in too much of a hurry.
"I needed a kick up the arse and I got one. Losing made me a better person, and it made me a better politician.
"It made me realise that you can't assume the position you have been given automatically gives you respect.
"You have to gain respect, you cannot take it, or the people who elected you, for granted.
"For the first few days and weeks afterwards I had no idea what I was going to do, I was just really, really lost."
And then, the boy from the bush, who grew up knee-deep in the North's cattle and cane, found himself again - and perhaps in the most unlikely of places, Queensland's ritzy, glitzy Gold Coast.
Post-loss, Crisafulli, along with his wife Tegan and their daughters Georgia, now 15, and Nicola, 13, opted for a sea change.
They moved to Hope Island in late 2015, where the former politician established an economic consultancy business, and healed his wounds in the Gold Coast's salty waters.
"When we moved here, it was the first time in my life that I'd walk into a room and have to introduce myself," Crisafulli laughs, "because before that everyone knew my name wherever I went. I'd either been on their tele, on their council, or been their deputy mayor, their representative, or, in the north, I'd been 'Tony's boy'," he continues, "and when we moved here, nobody knew who I was or what I'd done, and we had to, all of us, start again."
He did so the way he's always done it, the way Antonino and Karen, and Francesco and Maria before him did: by joining Rotary, the local (Paradise Point) Bowls Club, wielding the tongs at neighbourhood barbecues, volunteering for school clean-ups, and embedding himself and his young family into the community.
And while the more cynical among us might say it's also a way to become visible in a community you hope to one day represent, Crisafulli shakes his head. "No, that was not the motive at all," he says. "I am my parents' son.
"For me, growing up, they were at the car washes, they were at the community clean ups. That's what I witnessed. And I would like you to remember me saying this … the day after I finish politics I will be doing more in the community than I ever have."
Nevertheless, Crisafulli did re-enter the political arena in May 2017, beating Verity Barton in a LNP preselection bout and winning Broadwater in November of that year.
The LNP's Boy Wonder - a little older, a little wiser, a little bruised, but not broken - was back. With some unfinished business to attend to.
WHEN it comes to the Golden Snitch, if Campbell Newman has become the LNP's Lord Voldemort, then Annastacia Palaszczuk has surely become Labor's Albus Dumbledore.
Palaszczuk has become somewhat untouchable, seeing off allcomers with her personal popularity ratings, and that polite, "I know something you don't know" smile.
Other contenders have appeared at times almost spooked by her, but not so Crisafulli.
He believes he can, and will, beat Palaszczuk by being, in opposition, a little less oppositionary.
"I will never oppose something just for the sake of it," Crisafulli says.
"If something is a good idea, I will respect it, and I have never underestimated Annastacia - and there were plenty who did - as a politician.
"I do respect her, and I'm not ever going to be derogatory towards her personally. I had a lovely conversation with Anastacia's father, Henry, when she was sworn in and I said: 'You must be very proud of your daughter'.
"He is a really good man, and he had exactly the same look in his eye as my father did when I was sworn in.
"And I think what we all should try to remember is the humanity beneath the politics."
"But," Crisafulli's fork hovers, mid-air, "I do believe that as popular as Annastacia is, Queenslanders are increasingly asking 'Where is the legacy? Where is the reform? Where is the vision?', and what we have to do is be very clear about what ours is.
"Labor also keeps bringing up Campbell Newman, and I think people are tired of them being fixated on a bloke who lost a decade ago.
"I think people are tired of the same old tune and they want to hear a new one.
"Yes, the way we did some things was wrong, the way the public service was treated was wrong, and we have learnt from that.
"I got the biggest lesson myself when I was turfed out.
"I am about reform, but with dignity. I am about communicating change to the people it affects, and I am about being a government for city and country.
"I want us to be that bridge between the city and the regions, and I am not afraid to be a traditionalist when it comes to agriculture.
"But I also understand that if we don't embrace good environmental technology we will get left behind. And many country towns are being left behind.
"They are dying out. There are towns with no hope …" Crisafulli unexpectedly finds himself in tears, his voice wavering.
"I think of those places. I think of Ingham, no bloody growth there for years; I think of Townsville, the crime there, it's a basketcase … these places took a chance on me when I was just a kid.
"They elected me at 25 years old to do something about it, and I know I have unfinished business there. We have to get that infrastructure back in the regions."
Crisafulli holds a tissue against his eyes.
"I'm sorry," he says, "The only thing that usually makes me cry is bad cricket scores."
SHOULD Crisafulli become Premier, his wife and children will be - privately at least - by his side.
But not publicly. There won't be the sort of carefully curated photo opportunities many politicians stage with their smiling spouses and cherry-cheeked offspring, because Crisafulli has made his family a promise.
"I am a much different politician in 2021 than I was the first time around in all manner of ways and one of them is in regard to my wife and kids.
"Back then my wife Tegan (who he met in high school and has been married to since 2002) was much more immersed in the public side of politics. Tegan was everywhere the first time around, and so were my kids, but I have promised my girls I won't post photos of them, I won't talk about them.
"The girls are teenagers now, and the last thing they want to do is to be associated with their very uncool dad," Crisafulli laughs.
"On the first day of the last election campaign, a billboard went up with my picture on it, and their school bus happened to pass it, and I got all these text messages from them: 'Oh my God Dad, get it down!'
"But I did make a promise to my family that if I did ever re-enter politics I would not expose them to its highs and lows.
"Tegan took my loss in Townsville very hard; it really shook her. So, I think she has made that decision to be more in the background this time, and I respect that.
"So you won't be seeing too much of family at all, and I honestly don't know if it will hurt me politically, but I intend to keep my word.
"I just hope people understand."
At the Paradise Point Bowls Club, theDolphins are finishing up their beers and Crisafulli is heading back to his nearby office.
"See ya fellas," he waves, at home in this place where everybody knows his name.
Should he become Premier in 2024, everyone in Queensland will know it, and this son of Antonino and grandson of Francesco; this latest contender who knows what it is like to lose and to win, will return one day to the place of his heart.
He will make the trek north to visit a cane farm nestled on the banks of the Herbert River, and hang his hat at the door, business finally completed.
Originally published as 'I'm going to win big': Crisafulli's bold plan to defeat Premier