This week’s leg of our electoral tour of Australia takes us to Brisbane and its surrounds, which is not taken to include the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast — not that it matters much, since all five seats there are safe for the conservatives. The rest of the state will be covered in a later episode.

City and country Queensland shared equally in the epic 7.5% swing to Labor in 2007, with Labor’s primary vote in the Brisbane area soaring from 39.4% to 48.0%. This gained them no fewer than six of the area’s 14 seats, to add to the five already held from 2004. Following their plunge in polling fortunes over the past few months, Labor has cause to worry that the elastic might be about to snap back.

Two polls this week bear out their concerns. Yesterday, Newspoll published a combined result from three marginal Queensland seats including Longman in Brisbane’s outer north, together with the regional seats of Flynn and Dawson. This pointed to a 6% swing which, if applied uniformly, would cost Labor all three.

Today, The Australian reports figures from a Galaxy poll (commissioned, for some reason, by the World Wildlife Fund Australia) of four Brisbane marginals: Labor-held Petrie and Brisbane, and Liberal-held Bowman and Ryan. This shows a 3% two-party swing to the Coalition and a 9% dive in the Labor primary vote. On such figures, Labor would only be able to retain Petrie and Brisbane if a swollen Greens vote continued to break three-quarters their way as preferences, and then only just.

With much depending on the consistency of the swing, Labor would be greatly alarmed that marginal seat polling is turning up such consistently poor results.

The swing in Brisbane last time followed a broader national pattern: inner-city areas that had never become enamoured of Howardism shifted little, while a dramatic realignment took place in the outer suburbs and urban fringe.

The latter trend was highlighted by two remarkable results at the city’s northern and southern edges. On the cusp of the Sunshine Coast in Longman, Labor’s Jon Sullivan dispensed of senior minister Mal Brough with a swing of 10.3%, while on the edges of Brisbane and the Gold Coast in Forde, the retirement of a sitting member helped fuel Brett Raguse to victory on a swing of 14.4%.

Another blockbuster swing of 10.2% was recorded on the western edge of the city in Blair, covering Ipswich and the surrounding urban fringe, although this caught less attention as the Liberal margin it demolished was more
modest.

In Dickson in Brisbane’s outer north, Peter Dutton was desperately lucky to survive an 8.8% swing by 217 votes. Swings nearer the city were generally milder, but sufficient to deliver Labor a further three seats in Moreton, Petrie and Bonner, on swings of 7.6%, 9.5% and 5.0%. There was a further near miss in the southern bayside seat of Bowman, where Andrew Laming won by 64 votes after suffering an 8.9% swing.

In the Labor-held inner city seats of Griffith (Kevin Rudd), Lilley (Wayne Swan) and Brisbane (Arch Bevis), the swings were positively modest: 3.8%, 2.8% and 3.2% respectively. No doubt in reaction to WorkChoices, much larger swings of 7.0% and 8.8% were recorded in the safe Labor low-income southern suburbs seats of Oxley and Rankin.

Labor emerged with a brace of contested seats spread evenly across the metropolitan area: inner urban Bonner, Forde and Blair across the outer south-western fringe, Longman in the outer north, Petrie in the middle north and Moreton in the inner south. These seats also covered a wide range demographically, from established Petrie to the deep mortgage belt of Forde, and from the lower end of the urban income scale in Blair and Longman to the upper-middle in Bonner and Moreton.

Since then the electoral landscape has been reshaped by two significant events.

Firstly, Queensland has undergone yet another redistribution resulting from its explosive population growth, requiring the gain of an extra seat for the fourth time in little over a decade. The creation of the new seat of Wright beyond the southern outskirts has required a substantial rearrangement of boundaries in the city’s south, with Forde and Blair among those heavily affected. Brett Raguse loses on the roundabouts what he gains on the swings in Forde, but Shayne Neumann in Blair has had his margin boosted to an almost-safe 7.4%.

Knock-on effects from these changes have had significant impacts on two inner-city seats which have usually been safe for their respective major parties. In the western suburbs seat of Ryan, which the Liberals have always held barring an aberrant by-election result in 2001, the absorption of areas near the city centre has cut the margin from 3.8% to 1.1%.

Ryan’s eastern neighbour, the electorate of Brisbane, has in turn been pushed eastwards into the strongly Liberal-voting Clayfield area, cutting Arch Bevis’s margin from 6.8% to 3.8% (and adding the city’s second wealthiest seat to the list of Labor marginals).

The second significant event was the merger of the state’s Liberal and National parties, which has encountered serious teething problems during the preselection process. The merger deal finessed party rivalries by protecting all sitting members and dividing the spoils of open contests, a process which was complicated by the redistribution.

Peter Dutton saw the elimination of his margin in Dickson as a cue to find a more secure base for himself, but he suffered a humiliating defeat in his preselection bid for the Gold Coast seat of McPherson. He then reneged on his earlier death-or-glory proclamation that he would not contest Dickson if unsuccessful in McPherson, and will thus be seen as damaged goods in the eyes of many constituents.

Another headache has been the LNP’s expulsion of Ryan MP Michael Johnson amid party investigations into financial transactions and allegations he pursued a commission on a business deal using his parliamentary email address. Johnson’s determination to run as an independent further complicates things in another seat left precarious by the redistribution.

The other eye-opener has been the endorsement of two candidates for seats lost at the 2007 election who weren’t old enough to vote at the time. Nineteen-year old Wyatt Roy won the right to challenge Labor’s Jon Sullivan in Longman courtesy of 80 local preselectors who were reportedly “impressed with his talking ability”, and he has indeed proved more articulate in media appearances than cynics might assume.

However, the decision to send a teenager to recover Labor’s most marginal seat in the state has generally been met with derision, and there have been suggestions the federal leadership might seek to have it reversed.

Making matters worse is that Moreton candidate Michael Palmer is not only just out of high school, but also the son of mining heavyweight and belligerent government critic Clive Palmer.

There have also been reports of discontent with Forde candidate Bert van Manen among the party branches who preselected him, with claims he has broken a promise to fund his own campaign.

Of the three winnable seats where LNP candidate selection has gone smoothly, two are being contested by former MPs who lost their seats in 2007.

Ross Vasta was a surprise winner for the Liberals in the new seat of Bonner at the 2004 election, before facing inevitable defeat in 2007 at the hands of Labor’s Kerry Rea. He has since run for Brisbane City Council in the local Wynnum-Manly ward with little success, and has a big wall to climb if he is to recover a naturally Labor-leaning seat.

The seat of Brisbane will be contested by the former member for Petrie, Teresa Gambaro, the redistribution having left the former seat with a slightly bigger margin than the latter. In her old seat, now held for Labor by Yvette d’Ath, the LNP has quietly nominated Dean Teasdale, a property services company manager with a low public profile.

Peter Fray

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