Electorate analysis: The inner western suburbs seat of Ashgrove has emerged as the crucible of the entire Queensland election after being picked by Campbell Newman as his chosen entry point to parliament, despite Labor’s seemingly formidable 7.1 per cent margin. After none of the existing Brisbane LNP members proved willing to make way for him, Newman arrived at Ashgrove by a process of elimination after his home electorate of Brisbane Central (margin 6.0 per cent) was ruled out partly because a candidate had already been preselected there, and also because it was feared rates increases may have cost him some of his shine as lord mayor. In March 2011 an unprecedented arrangement was announced in which he assumed the de facto leadership of the LNP despite not holding a seat in parliament, with the official position of parliamentary Opposition Leader to be held until the election by Callide MP Jeff Seeney.
Ashgrove covers inner western suburbs from Ashgrove north to Enoggera, and extends westwards through The Gap and the Enoggera Military Camp which separates The Gap from the lower income and more Labor-friendly territory around Gaythorne in the electorate’s north. The seat was held by the Liberals for all but one term from its creation in 1960 until 1989, when it was won for Labor by Demetrios “Jim” Fouras, who had been member for South Brisbane from 1977 until he lost preselection in 1986. Fouras held Ashgrove until his retirement in 2006, his closest shave being a 1.3 per cent margin at the 1995 election. The member since 2006, Kate Jones, was previously a media adviser to Public Works and Housing Minister Rob Schwarten and came to the seat with the backing of his Labor Unity faction. After the 2009 election, Jones became at 29 Queensland’s youngest cabinet minister since 1890, taking on the climate change and sustainability portfolio, and she won further promotion to environment and resource management in February 2011. The following June she announced she was stepping down from cabinet to focus on the threat posed to her seat by Campbell Newman.
Campbell Newman is the son of former Tasmanian federal Liberal politicians Jocelyn Newman (Senator and early Howard government minister) and the late Kevin Newman (Fraser government minister and victor of the legendary 1975 Bass by-election). He served as an army officer from 1981 to 1993, attaining the rank of major, and subsequently worked for privatised grain handlers Grainco. In 2004 he ended 13 years of Labor control at Brisbane’s city hall with a surprise win in the lord mayoral election over Labor incumbent Tim Quinn, prevailing by a two-candidate preferred margin of 2.5 per cent. He was resoundingly re-elected ahead of Labor’s Greg Rowell in 2008, when his margin blew out to 16.1 per cent. Like Anna Bligh, Newman received an overwhelmingly favourable response to his handling of the January 2011 floods crisis, inspiring figures in the LNP who were concerned about Bligh’s upstaging of LNP leader John-Paul Langbroek to risk the unorthodox arrangement involved in making him the new state party leader.
The tension in Ashgrove reached fever pitch a fortnight out from the election with the publication of two polls which had Kate Jones with her nose in front of Campbell Newman. A poll conducted by newcomer ReachTel using its low-cost automated phone polling technology had Newman at 45.4 per cent of the primary vote and Jones at 44.4 per cent, which after distribution of preferences as per the 2009 election result had Jones in front 50.7-49.3. This was confirmed a few days later by the very similar result of a Galaxy poll conducted using more traditional phone survey methodology, which had both candidates on 45 per cent of the primary vote and Jones ahead 51.5-48.5 on two-party preferred. The polls had very substantial samples, respectively of 742 and 800 respondents. The Greens also announced a week out from polling day that they would be directing preferences to Labor. Even more worrying for Newman was that the seven polls conducted by ReachTel since September appear to show a slow but steady trend in favour of Jones.
However, ReachTEL and Galaxy again entered the field in the final week of the campaign, and both detected a decisive surge to Newman. Galaxy’s poll had Newman leading 55-45, from primary votes of 52 per cent and 38 per cent. ReachTEL had it at 54-46 from primary votes of 49 per cent and 41 per cent. There was also a poll conducted by Newspoll the previous week which parted company with the others in having Newman ahead, albeit by a modest 52-48 margin from primary votes of 49 per cent and 44 per cent. Cosima Marriner of the Sun-Herald also reported at around this time that polling conducted by Mark Textor for the LNP had Newman with a 53-47 lead, while Labor polling was “believed to show the gap is slightly smaller than that but Mr Newman is still in front”. A telling finding from Galaxy was a strong shift on the previous week in respondents’ attitudes to Labor’s attacks on Newman’s alleged “dodgy deals”: 21 per cent professed themselves more likely to vote for Newman, compared with 11 per cent a week before, with only 12 per cent saying it made them less likely, down from 19 per cent. This was consistent with a perception that Anna Bligh was badly damaged a week ago when she conceded Labor was unable to pursue its allegations through the Crime and Misconduct Commission because it didn’t have “enough material”.
In late January, Newman’s successor as Brisbane lord mayor, Graham Quirk, ruled out standing aside to allow for Newman to return to his old job if he failed to win Ashgrove. This possibility was created by the delay to the local government election timetable which allowed the state election to be held on March 24, pushing out council elections to April 28.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.