Queensland premier Peter Beattie announced
yesterday a surprisingly early date, 1 April, for the by-election in
the state seat of Gaven, made vacant with the resignation last week of
Labor member Robert Poole.

Poole held Gaven with a margin of 5% in 2004. Given the acrimonious circumstances
of his departure, the broader problems of the Beattie government,
especially over health, and the usual anti-government mood of
by-elections, that should be an easy target. Beattie himself, a master
of the low expectations game, has played down Labor’s chances of
holding the seat.

But there’s a problem here for the opposition. Gaven, an urban Gold
Coast seat, was contested by the Liberals last time (they got a 2.6%
swing), but under last year’s Coalition agreement they and the
Nationals agreed to conduct a “joint preselection” there. That
arrangement soon broke down, and in a revision of the deal a month ago,
Gaven was allocated to the National Party.

Just how serious this is can be seen from a poll in last week’s Sunday Mail, as reported at Ambit Gambit.
Factoring out the undecideds, it has Labor on 34% to the Liberals’ 33%,
but the Nationals way back on 10.5%, just ahead of the Greens on 9%.

In other words, this just isn’t National Party territory. In a
three-cornered contest, results like that might get the Liberals up on
National preferences. But with no Liberal candidate, many Liberal
voters will refuse to vote National, and on past experience their votes
will either exhaust or end up with the ALP.

Peter Beattie is unquestionably a talented politician. But the
strongest thing he’s got going for him is the death wish of his
opponents.

Peter Fray

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