Margin: Labor 0.4%*
Location: Townsville, Queensland
Outgoing member: Peter Lindsay (Liberal)
* Liberal seat made notionally Labor by redistribution
In a nutshell: The statewide swing to Labor in 2007 brought the Townsville-based seat of Herbert down to the wire, and the redistribution has now pushed it into the Labor column. The outcome will depend on which factor is the greater: the loss to the Liberal National Party of retiring member Peter Lindsay’s personal vote, or the much-touted discontent with Labor in regional Queensland.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: The Townsville-based electorate of Herbert was created at federation, at which time it extended north to Cairns and south to Mackay. It now covers most of Townsville and a shifting aggregation of surrounding territory: the most recent redistribution has added Deeragun and the city’s western coastal hinterland as far as Bluewater (from Kennedy) and removed the southern suburbs of Annandale and Wulguru (to Dawson), each transfer affecting about 7400 voters. Liberal strength in the latter area has resulted in a small but decisive change in the margin in Herbert, from 0.2 per cent Liberal to 0.4 per cent Labor.
Support for Labor is generally stronger in and around the town centre than in the suburbs, which demonstrated their sensitivity to interest rates by swinging strongly to the Liberals in 2004 and then to Labor in 2007. On the 2007 boundaries, the electorate ranked seventeenth out of 150 for number of voters over 55 and had the country’s eighth highest indigenous population, at 6.9 per cent (much of it concentrated in troubled Palm Island). Lavarack Barracks makes the electorate highly sensitive to defence issues: Antony Green noted before the 2004 election that one in eight jobs in the electorate was linked to defence. Adam Carr of Psephos has noted the influence of a booming tourism industry in contributing to relatively high incomes for a regional seat.
Herbert was mostly in Labor hands until the 1960s, and turned in a 34.2 per cent vote for Communist Party candidate Frederick Paterson in 1943 (Paterson went on to win the state seat of Bowen the following year, the only such success for a Communist candidate in Australian history). A watershed moment came with the victory of Liberal candidate Robert Bonnett in the 1966 landslide, which was followed by further swings against the trend of the 1969 and 1972 elections. The seat came back on Labor’s radar in 1980 when Ted Lindsay cut the margin below 1 per cent, before finishing the job with a 3.7 per cent swing in 1983.
Lindsay held the seat until 1996, when a 9.0 per cent swing delivered it to unrelated Liberal candidate Peter Lindsay. The local state seats of Thuringowa and Burdekin were among the 11 that fell to One Nation in 1998 (though their vote in Townsville was markedly lower), but their candidate for Herbert only managed 14.3 per cent in 1998. Ted Lindsay came within 160 votes of pulling off a comeback at that election, but Peter Lindsay consolidated with swings of 1.5 per cent in 2001 and 4.7 per cent in 2004. Lindsay did relatively well to limit the swing to 5.9 per cent in 2007 compared with a statewide result of 7.5 per cent, managing to hang on for a 343-vote victory over Labor candidate George Colbran, owner of eight McDonald’s franchises in the local region.
In January 2010 Lindsay announced he would not be seeking another term, readily admitting the timing of the announcement was chosen for “strategic reasons”. The Townsville Bulletin subsequently reviewed the achievements of his final term: a fact-finding mission encompassing 13 different countries, resulting in a report that plagiarised Wikipedia and featured a Photoshopped image purporting to show Lindsay at a Beirut war cemetery. The new Liberal National candidate is Ewen Jones, an auctioneer for local real estate agency Ferry Property. Labor has nominated Tony Mooney, who served as Townsville mayor from 1989 to 2008 and as a councillor from 1980. Mooney was defeated in the 2008 mayoral election after a council merger forced him into a contest against the mayor of Thuringowa, the victorious Les Tyrell. Mooney earned a footnote in Australian political history when his failure to win the 1996 Mundingburra by-election for Labor led to the downfall of the Goss government.
Tony Mooney was installed as the Labor candidate by the party’s national executive in late March, after what The Australian described as a deal granting Herbert to the AWU sub-faction of the Right, Dawson to its rival Labor Unity sub-faction and Bowman to the Left. The intervention was reportedly conducted at the direction of the Prime Minister, who feared a rebuff from local members after publicly supporting Mooney. Local councillor Jenny Hill, said by a Poll Bludger correspondent to be linked to Right faction powerbroker Bill Ludwig, reportedly had wide support in the local branches, whereas Mooney was said to have support from the Left. The candidate from 2007, George Colbran, was also mentioned as a possible starter.
At the time of Peter Lindsay’s retirement announcement, candidates for LNP preselection were said to be “thin on the ground”, no doubt reflecting a lack of confidence in party ranks. Townsville deputy mayor David Crisafulli, V8 Supercars event manager Kim Faithful and economist Colin Dwyer (who ran unsuccessfully for Mundingburra at the 2009 state election) were rated as possible successors, but all declined to enter the ring. The preselection ultimately came down to a contest between Ewen Jones and Delena Foster, the former mayor of Palm Island who polled 3.4 per cent as an independent candidate for Townsville at the 2009 state election (including 59.5 per cent of the vote on Palm Island itself).
Queensland’s regional coastal seats were clearly the target of Tony Abbott’s announcement in the second week of the campaign that the Coalition would limit the future expansion of marine parks, by requiring peer-reviewed scientific evidence of a threat to marine diversity. A week later Abbott was in Townsville promising $21 million to flood-proof Blakeys Crossing, which Tony Raggatt of the Townsville Bulletin described as strange, as flooding on the lower Bohle Bridge of Bruce Highway was considered a greater concern. Julia Gillard showed up a few days later, promising $160 million for a section of a ring road linking the Douglas Arterial to the Bruce Highway at Mt Low.
Gillard was again in Townsville early in the final week of the campaign with Wayne Swan in tow to launch mainland construction of the National Broadband Network, for which Townsville had fortuitously been chosen as one of five pilot sites.
Herbert was one of eight Queensland marginals covered by a composite Newspoll survey of 1600 respondents a week out from polling day, which showed a combine swing against Labor of 3.4 per cent. The JWS Research-Telereach poll conducted during the final weekend of the campaign, covering 400 respondents in the electorate with a margin of error of about 5 per cent, had Labor slightly in front, 51.3-48.7. However, reports late in the final week confirmed the LNP believed they had the seat in the bag.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read Bowe’s blog, The Poll Bludger.