Margin: Labor 7.4%
Location: Ipswich/Brisbane Valley, Queensland
In a nutshell: Blair was created in 1998 and immediately came to fame by virtue of being contested by Pauline Hanson, as it covered much of the turf of her existing seat of Oxley. Hanson didn’t win, and the seat has since had highly variable fortunes owing to dramatic redistributions. The latest has strengthened the hands of Labor’s Shayne Neumann, who gained the seat from Liberal member Cameron Thompson in 2007.
One of nine Labor gains in Queensland in 2007, Blair was created at the 1998 election to accommodate the hinterland beyond Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast. It has been substantially redrawn at three redistributions since: the first two saw it take over central Ipswich from Oxley, while the most recent has detached 28,000 in rural territory beyond the southern limits of the City of Ipswich (including Boonah, Gatton and Laidley) to the new seat Wright and added the least populous areas of Dickson and Fisher in the north (respectively accounting for 10,800 and 2,400 voters in the old shires of Esk and Kilcoy, now merged into Somerset Regional Council) and 5,500 voters around Collingwood Park and Springfield Central from Oxley in the east. The changes are dramatic in geographic terms, but rapidly growing Ipswich continues to provide 65,000 of its 79,700 voters. However, the strongly conservative nature of the area transferred to Wright and the relatively marginal Somerset areas have boosted the Labor margin significantly, from 4.5 per cent to 7.4 per cent.
Ipswich gained its Labor orientation as a result of post-war industrial expansion, its host electorate of Oxley being won from the Liberals by Bill Hayden in 1961. Pauline Hanson memorably demonstrated that Labor could not take Ipswich for granted when she won Oxley in 1996, scoring 48.6 per cent as an independent after the Liberals disendorsed her for writing to a newspaper advocating the abolition of government assistance for Aborigines. Hanson was then done a poor turn by a redistribution that created Blair from Oxley’s areas outside Ipswich, and she opted to contest the new seat rather than Oxley or (more sensibly) the Senate. The major parties’ mutual decision to preference each other at Hanson’s expense may have sealed her doom no matter which way she jumped, although she still came within 3.3 per cent of winning the seat. Liberal candidate Cameron Thompson (who won preselection against a quixotic bid from former Moreton veteran Jim Killen to return to politics at 72 to take on Hanson) won from third place on the primary vote, overturning first the Labor candidate on minor party preferences and then Hanson on Labor preferences.
Thompson went on to absorb most of the disappearing One Nation vote in 2001, when he won an 8.5 per cent two-party margin over Labor. A redistribution ahead of the 2004 election clipped this by 1.8 per cent, but Thompson handsomely consolidated his position at the ensuing election with a 4.5 per cent swing that was evenly distributed across the electorate. In 2007 the Liberals targeted Blair as part of a “firewall” strategy to grimly hang on in enough seats to retain a slender majority, a key element of which was a risky decision to fund a $2.3 billion Ipswich Motorway bypass at Goodna in the neighbouring electorate of Ryan. This proved of little use, the decisive 10.2 per cent swing to Labor being well above the tectonic 7.5 per cent statewide shift.
Labor’s winning candidate was Shayne Neumann, a family lawyer and partner in the Brisbane firm Neumann & Turnour who first ran for the seat in 2004. Neumann is a member of the state party’s Labor Unity/Old Guard faction, which includes Kevin Rudd. The defeated member from 2007, Cameron Thompson, has twice unsuccessfully contested preselection for the new seat of Wright, both in the initial round and when Hajnal Ban was compelled to withdraw in June. The new Liberal National Party candidate for Blair is Neil Zabel, the deputy mayor of Somerset Regional Council.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.