One thing I found when I was covering the state election for Crikey last year was that it was hard to sit in Brisbane and get a good read on what was going on in North Queensland. Queensland is Australia’s most decentralised state in population terms, and unsurprisingly, local and regional factors feature strongly outside the capital (and even in Brisbane, we’re seeing distinctly different patterns emerging on the suburban edges to the southwest and north respectively).

That was very evident in the state election – from a distance, you might think that the Sunshine and Gold Coasts were superficially similar in terms of the sorts of demographics and issues, but Labor held its own on the Gold Coast while the Sunshine Coast was the state party’s only real disaster area. The Nats made ground in some regions, but went backwards in the Lockyer Valley and around and in Toowoomba. And in far north Queensland, Labor got some excellent swings in its favour – up to 8 or 9% in some seats.

So it would be quite wrong to read off polls taken in Brisbane and assume any sort of uniform swing.

Fortunately, my QUT colleague, Jason Wilson of YouDecide2007 fame, hails from the deep north (where they look on us Brisbanites as Mexicans) and has written a very comprehensive analytical piece for the ABC.

He says: “There’s no dislodging Bob Katter from Kennedy, and De-Anne Kelly probably doesn’t need any help in Dawson, but the other two tropical Queensland seats are illuminating because they are among the most sensitive barometers of the recent electoral fortunes of the major parties.”

And he correctly picks the fact that Labor are ahead in both the Townsville seat of Herbert and the Cairns regional seat of Leichhardt.

But he might be wrong about Dawson. Kevin Rudd paid the locals up there a call yesterday. On one hand, he may be messing with Howard’s mind again, but on the other, Labor has never entirely written off its chances in Dawson in good years.

As William Bowe observes at The Poll Bludger, the Mackay-based seat was won by Labor in a 1967 by-election, which was seen at the time as a very good omen for Gough Whitlam. While it’s been the Nats’ bailiwick since 1975, its margin of 10.2% is in the sort of range Labor are going hunting in this year.

The Nats retained Dawson by only 181 votes in 1990.

Incumbent De-Anne Kelly used to be closely identified with the Bob Katter/Barnaby Joyce style of Nat, and in some ways adopted the NCC influenced almost DLP style of politics they’ve made their own. But like many other regional Queensland and New South Wales seats, it’s a low income area with lots of casual employees, and WorkChoices has the potential to do the conservatives real damage.

Dawson could be well worth while keeping an eye out for on Saturday week.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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