Electorate analysis: Clayfield covers the area immediately north of the Brisbane River to the east of the city. The Gateway Motorway divides the electorate between a residential west, from Hamilton north to Nundah, and an unpopulated east, which includes the Port of Brisbane and Brisbane Airport. The city end contains some of the strongest Liberal territory in Brisbane around Ascot and Albion, but this is balanced by Labor areas nearer the motorway and around Nundah. The addition of 3000 voters in the Labor area of Glen Kedron and Lutwyche in the west before the 2009 election gave the seat a notional Labor margin of 0.2 per cent, but a 6.1 per cent swing at the ensuing election kept the seat comfortably in the LNP fold.
The electorate was created when one-vote one-value was implemented in 1992, when it was won for the Liberals by Santo Santoro, previously member for abolished Merthyr. After being swept out by a 6.5 per cent swing in the 2001 landslide, Santoro found refuge in the Senate from 2002 until 2007, when he resigned after becoming embroiled in a share disclosure scandal while remaining a figure of factional influence. The incoming Labor member was Liddy Clark, a one-time presenter of the ABC’s Play School who became an adviser to Arts Minister Matt Foley in 1998. Clark’s success in limiting the swing against her to 0.8 per cent in 2004 cemented the admiration of Peter Beattie, who twisted arms to give her the cabinet post of Aboriginal affairs despite her lack of factional backing. Clark’s troubled tenure in the position ended with an adverse Crime and Misconduct Commission finding in 2005, and a 2.9 per cent swing at the next year’s election proved more than enough to account for her slender 1.2 per cent margin.
The victorious Liberal candidate was Tim Nicholls, who previously represented Hamilton ward on Brisbane City Council. In November 2007 Nicholls made a bid for the Liberal leadership against Bruce Flegg, who as member for Moggill was the only other Liberal holding a seat in Brisbane. The eight-member party room was evenly split between the two contenders, and Flegg succeeded in putting Caloundra MP Mark McArdle forward as a compromise candidate. When Liberal president Mal Brough sought to have the party rank-and-file vote on the merger delayed in July, Nicholls was one of four Liberal MPs who threatened to quit and join the new party headed by Springborg. When the LNP shadow cabinet was unveiled the following month, Nicholls was given the Treasury and future growth portfolios, while Flegg was left on the bench.
Nicholls nominted for the LNP leadership after the 2009 election but was defeated in the secret ballot by John-Paul Langbroek. He subsequently remained Shadow Treasurer while exchanging future growth for employment and economic development. Both the latter portfolios were lost in a divisive reshuffle in late 2010, in response to which Nicholls’ supporters were said to be counting the numbers for a challenge against Langbroek’s leadership. Both on this occasion and in the leadership vote after the election, it was reported that Nicholls was encumbered by his close relationship with Santo Santoro. Nicholls had also been a prime mover in efforts to recruit Campbell Newman as leader, and according to Steven Wardill of the Courier-Mail, the public exposure of these plans by Channel Nine political reporter Spencer Jolly encouraged him to abandon his own leadership plans and bring the Newman scheme to fruition. The arrangement that was subsequently reached saw Nicholls secure the position of deputy leader within parliament with Jeff Seeney as leader.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.