As Christian Kerr wrote yesterday, in the unlikely event that the current polls translate to the election outcome, almost no Coalition seat could be considered safe. Although political scientists and psephologists recognise that uniform swings are a thing of the past and that every election throws up surprises, a lazy national media prefers to concentrate on those seats within the range of the overall swing needed (witness much of the discussion about Bennelong). That’s when pundits can in fact accurately figure out which seats are safe and which aren’t.
Most media discussion of Printgate claimed that all three seats where the members are under investigation, Bowman, Bonner and Moreton are marginal. Bowman is in fact held by sitting member Andrew Laming (the target of the investigation) by 8.9%. It hadn’t previously been on Queensland Labor’s target list but it certainly is now. The hamfisted attempt last week by the Liberal politburo in the Sunshine State to settle some factional scores won’t have helped at all. It’s a prime illustration of the fact that local factors, and the pressure of unexpected events, can quickly move seats into play in an election year.
Another Queensland example is the new seat of Flynn. Malcolm Mackerras calculates a relatively safe margin of 7.9% nominally for the Nationals. But loud noises from local Nats about candidate selection last week, reported only in the Fin, show this margin is far from comfortable. Rudd has intervened to ensure the preselection of Chris Trevor. Trevor, a Gladstone solicitor and local councillor, almost took the state seat of Gladstone from conservative independent Liz Cunningham last year. Cunningham was regarded as being dug in, but a canny campaign focused on the impacts of WorkChoices almost knocked her off. Flynn, like some other regional seats in Queensland, has very high rates of casual employment and taxable incomes far below the national average. The ACTU has a full time organiser in the seat. Trevor recorded a 9% swing for Labor at the state election. Yet the national media assume WorkChoices is only an issue in blue collar suburban seats.
Another good example is Ryan. Local member Michael Thompson has a margin of 10.4%. But Johnson is a tad eccentric, to say the least, and Labor famously took the seat in a 2001 by-election. Howard trumpeted his announcement of a bypass last week as a belated fix to the notoriously gridlocked and dangerous Ipswich motorway. This was seen as an attempt to shore up the Liberal marginals of Moreton and Blair. But it has the potential to shake Thompson’s hold on his supposedly safe seat.
Building the bypass, instead of widening the motorway, raises the spectre of the earmarked and feared Western bypass one day coming to fruition. Such a road would pass through the semi-rural and upscale acreages of Moggill, Bellbowrie and Pullenvale, and eventually cross the river four times, driving volume traffic through the sylvan surrounds of acreage land. It’s been the talk of the town in Brisbane all week, setting blogs and talkback aflame. It’s been suggested that land values will fall. The Courier-Mail has been publishing maps showing which (Liberal voting) areas may be affected. The bypass won’t improve the mobility of Ryan voters, but it will certainly annoy those who’ve chosen to live in their semi-rural enclaves. And they’ll be sorely tempted to take out their anger on Thompson.