Margin: Liberal 2.9%
Location: Sunshine Coast, Queensland
In a nutshell: The Sunshine Coast is ordinarily a conservative stronghold, and the narrowness of the current margin in Fairfax is a measure of Labor’s strong performance in Queensland in 2007. Alex Somlyay won the seat for the Liberals from the Nationals in 1990, and despite murmurings about his productivity will go into the election seeking an eighth term.
Electorate analysis: Fairfax was created in 1984 around Noosa, which had previously been switched back and forth between Wide Bay and Fisher. The redistribution before the last election dramatically altered the electorate through a rearrangement to accommodate the new seat of Flynn, with Noosa and its surrounds returning to their old home of Wide Bay and Fairfax moving south into a smaller but more populous region inland of Maroochydore. The current redistribution has nudged the seat back northwards, adding 2100 voters around Doonan from Wide Bay and transferring 12,700 around Eudlo to Fisher, with only a negligible impact on the margin.
The seat’s inaugural member was Evan Adermann, who had held Fisher for the Nationals since 1972. When Adermann retired in 1990, the seat was contested for the Nationals by Senator and former Treasury secretary John Stone. However, this was at the post-Fitzgerald nadir of the Queensland Nationals’ fortunes, and Liberal candidate Alex Somlyay (a former private secretary to Adermann) was able to overtake Stone with Democrats preferences. Occasional candidates fielded by the Nationals since have attracted progressively fewer votes. The seat was made technically marginal by swings of 13.3 per cent in 1998 and 9.4 per cent in 2007, but Somlyay added a considerable amount of fat to his margin at the two intervening elections.
Alex Somlyay was born in Hungary, and had two separate stints on the front bench in his first decade in parliament: from 1992 to 1994, when he served first as shadow cabinet secretary and then parliamentary secretary to the Opposition, and as Local Government Minister in the last year of the Howard government’s first term. He was respectively elbowed aside in the reorganisation that followed Alexander Downer’s ascension to the leadership, and a post-election reshuffle in which John Howard wished to accommodate Ian Macdonald as part of the ministry’s Queensland contingent. Since the 2007 defeat he has held the position of Chief Opposition Whip.
Doubts have been raised about Somlyay’s political future on a number of occasions over the past term: in May 2009 Glenn Milne reported in The Australian he was on a “hit list” of 14 MPs who “major business donors” wanted to make way for new blood, and there were suggestions he should make way for Peter Dutton after he failed in his bid to move from endangered Dickson to safe McPherson. In November and December 2009 he underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy after being diagnosed with cancerous growth on his neck.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.