While the Galaxy poll yesterday pointed to Labor not performing in as stellar fashion as some might have expected in Longman (where Mal Brough remains popular) and Herbert (where council amalgamations have hurt the ALP), it’s worth remembering that Queensland is a very diverse state demographically and sociologically.

A number of commentators, including Mumble’s Peter Brent, have noted that the poll didn’t take in Blair. I’ve previously argued that we can infer much about which seats are in play from the movements of the leaders. And interestingly enough, last night’s TV grabs had Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard visiting the Ipswich hospital in the heart of Blair.

Blair, first won by Liberal MP Cameron Thompson running against Pauline Hanson in 1998, is a very different seat after the redistribution. The coalition margin has dropped from 11.2% to 5.7%. The seat now stretches from safe Labor territory in Ipswich itself out along the Warrego Highway.

A couple of years ago, I took the bus up to Toowoomba for a meeting at USQ. I hadn’t been along the Warrego Highway since 1995. Back then, you basically hit farming country after North Ipswich. Now the acreage blocks and the suburban development stretch out along the highway almost until Gatton.

The term “acreage blocks” might give the wrong impression. This is affordable house and land package country. But that begs a number of questions – how affordable really are Rosewood houses priced between $250k and $300k after five successive interest rate rises?

Figures provided by George Megalogenis show that the median household income of those buying homes in Blair is the fourth lowest of any Queensland seat at $1358 a week. Median household income for the electorate as a whole at $808 a week isn’t so bad compared to impoverished rural seats in the state, but it’s hardly a fortune. Blair really is battler territory.

The nature of the development in Blair outside Ipswich and its recent nature also means that infrastructure is running way behind needs. Within Ipswich itself, hospitals and schools are under great pressure. This whole corridor is targeted by the state government’s forward plans, but there’s a big sense that the commonwealth hasn’t really come to the party. Infrastructure is an issue being pushed heavily by Labor in the seat.

And what did Rudd talk about in Ipswich? WorkChoices, of course. Both parties opened the campaign playing to their strengths – but for the good burghers of Blair, many of whom are part of families where one partner works part time to pay the bills, housing stress, conditions and pay and job insecurity may trump tax cuts in the future.

It will be an interesting test of the Rudd lines on the “lived economy” and how they play compared to the Coalition’s fistful of dollars.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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