Electorate analysis: Created at the 2009 election, the electorate of Condamine extends from the western outkirts of Toowoomba north-westwards along the Warrego Highway as far as Dalby 80 kilometres away, and southwards for about 40 kilometres to Pittsworth and Clifton. It is in large part the successor to abolished Darling Downs, from which it took 17,000 voters in its northern half. The southern area came from abolished Cunningham, providing 12,100 voters, and the outskirts of Toowoomba came from Toowoomba South, providing 2800 voters. It was won for the LNP by Ray Hopper, who first entered parliament as an independent in Darling Downs at the 2001 election. Hopper was subsequently welcomed into the Nationals fold, and effortlessly retained the seat in 2004 and 2006.
Hopper could reasonably have expected another straightforward re-election in 2009, but his applecart was upset when the homeless member for Cunningham, Stuart Copeland, announced he would contest the seat as an independent. Copeland had been stranded by the terms of the LNP merger, which reserved redistributed seats for sitting members whose existing seats provided the majority of their voters. That meant Condamine went to Hopper, leaving Copeland to seek an alternative local seat. Mike Horan refused to make way for him in Toowoomba South, despite Copeland being 24 years younger and a rare commodity as a rising young performer in Nationals ranks, and Copeland also professed himself uninterested in Labor-held Toowoomba North or distant Beaudesert. He initially reacted to the impasse by moving to the back bench and announcing he would not contest the election, causing considerable embarrassment for Lawrence Springborg who had named Copeland a potential leader after himself abandoning the position after the 2006 election. In the event Copeland polled a highly respectable 25.4 per cent, but it wasn’t enough to trouble Hopper on 47.7 per cent.
Hopper was a shadow minister from the time he joined the Nationals until a coalition agreement was reached in mid-2005, when he was demoted to parliamentary secretary. He returned to the shadow ministry a year later, taking on natural resources and water after the 2006 election and moving to food security and agriculture in September 2008. After the 2010 election he moved from food security and agriculture to primary industries, fisheries and rural and regional Queensland, exchanging the latter for food security in the minor rearrangement which followed Gympie MP David Gibson’s exit from the front bench in September 2010. Hopper was reportedly identified as an opponent of the forces behind Campbell Newman’s move on the leadership in March 2011, and he was dropped in the ensuing reshuffle amid reports he would face a preselection challenge from a candidate backed by party headquarters. He dismissed rumours in late 2011 that he planned to join Dalrymple MP Shane Knuth in jumping ship to Katter’s Australian Party.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.