Electorate analysis: Moggill covers some of the outermost suburbs of western Brisbane, including Kenmore in the north and Mount Crosby to the west, along with semi-rural hinterland beyond. It has been in Liberal and then LNP hands at all times since its creation in 1986. The member from 1989 was David Watson, who led the party to the disastrous 2001 result which reduced it to three seats, and who himself survived by just 0.9 per cent before retiring at the 2004 election. Local doctor Bruce Flegg then retained the seat for the Liberals in fine style, adding 11.8 per cent on the primary vote and 5.4 per cent on two-party preferred.
Flegg came to the seat after a bitter preselection battle against Russell Galt, later to come to fame when he claimed Liberal Senator George Brandis had described John Howard as a “lying rodent”. Galt launched a Supreme Court challenge against his preselection defeat, and only withdrew after the party agreed to cover his legal costs. Flegg’s subsequent rise was all too swift: he immediately became the Liberals’ deputy leader and transport spokesman, and was given the hugely significant health portfolio when a coalition agreement was reached in September 2005. Speculation of an early election in August 2006 activated Liberal members’ long-standing concerns for their chances of re-election under Bob Quinn, enabling Flegg to topple Quinn with the support of four of the five other Liberal MPs.
An early election was indeed forthcoming, and Flegg soon showed himself to be less than adept at meeting the challenge. One day after the announcement, Lawrence Springborg and Flegg were unable to tell a press conference which of them would be Premier if Labor was defeated and the Liberals won more seats than the Nationals. Faced with outrage from members of his own party, as well as Labor’s damaging line that a vote for the Liberals was a vote for the Nationals, Flegg was forced to recant. The Coalition campaign never fully recovered, and Flegg went on to suffer further gaffes on the campaign trail. It later emerged that Chatsworth MP Michael Caltabiano, soon to lose his seat, had contemplated a mid-campaign leadership challenge which was quashed by the intervention of John Howard, and that internal polling had the Liberals fearing they would lose every seat bar Surfers Paradise.
Flegg nonetheless remained leader after the election, but rumours soon circulated he would be challenged by new Clayfield MP Tim Nicholls, a member of the rival Santoro-Caltabiano faction. In the middle of 2007 he came under attack on two fronts, with the Nationals openly calling for his removal and threatening the coalition would be terminated if he didn’t go, while Liberals leaked polling showing Flegg would cost the party votes in Brisbane at the looming federal election. When the federal election was out of the way, Nicholls made a bid for the leadership which split the party room four-all, with Flegg retaining the backing of Robina MP Ray Stevens, Noosa MP Glen Elmes and his deputy, Caloundra MP Mark McArdle. The stand-off was resolved when Flegg succeeded in putting McArdle forward as a compromise candidate. Flegg remained Shadow Treasurer, but was only offered a minor portfolio when the LNP merger took effect in August 2008. He refused this and went to the back bench, leaving the new shadow cabinet with just one member from Brisbane out of a total of 17.
Flegg returned to the front bench after the 2009 election under John-Paul Langbroek as Shadow Education and Training Minister. It was suggested to Flegg in 2010 that he should abandon his seat in favour of Campbell Newman, but he was reportedly encouraged to resist by perceptions that the plot had been hatched by Santo Santoro. Newman was thus forced to fall back on the risky option of Labor-held Ashgrove when the plan came to fruition in March 2011. The reshuffle that followed saw Flegg exchange training for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.