Margin: Labor 4.1%
Location: Cairns/Cape York Peninsula, Queensland
In a nutshell: Leichhardt was one of four seats in Queensland where Labor achieved the seemingly impossible in 2007 to overhaul double-digit Coalition margins. The swing was partly driven by the loss of outgoing member Warren Entsch’s personal vote, so Labor has cause to be deeply concerned that he has decided to come out of retirement.
Two-party vote map
Swing % map
Electorate analysis: Leichhardt covers Cairns and the Cape York Peninsula, combining naturally territory at Cairns and the surrounding area with indigenous communities on the west coast and the Torres Strait islands. The redistribution has transferred 5000 voters at the southern tip of Cairns and a further 800 in rural territory further inland to Kennedy, which has added a negligible 0.1 per cent to the Labor margin. Besides having one of the highest proportions of indigenous voters of any seat in the country, along with Lingiari in the Northern Territory and Durack in Western Australia. Its other distinguishing features are a large number of voters over 55, reflecting the popularity of Cairns as a retirement haven, and an economy driven by tourism, a downturn in which has driven unemployment near double digits. Leichhardt was one of three Queensland seats where Labor succeeded in demolishing double-digit margins in 2007 (along with Dawson and Forde), assisted in large part by the retirement of popular Liberal member Warren Entsch. Entsch has made the seat doubly interesting in the context of the coming election by coming out of retirement to contest the seat for the Liberal National Party.
Leichhardt was created in 1949, Cape York Peninsula having previously been in Herbert until 1934 and Kennedy thereafter. It was won narrowly by the Country Party at its first election, but Labor gained it in 1951 and it stayed with them until the Queensland wipeout of 1975. It has since changed hands along with government in 1983, when the seat was lost by the Nationals, in 1996, when Entsch became its first Liberal member, and most recently in 2007. Entsch suffered only a 0.5 per cent swing with the 1998 correction, and subsequently built his margin up to double figures with swings of 2.3 per cent and 3.6 per cent. With Entsch’s retirement the seat was contested by both the Liberals, who fielded businesswoman Charlie McKillop, and the Nationals, whose candidate Ian Crossland made campaign headlines with a clumsy swipe at McKillop, arguing Leichhardt was “not an electorate for a woman”. The Nationals proved a flop on polling day, managing just 4.0 per cent to the Liberals’ 38.8 per cent, but the real story was 12.1 per cent primary vote and 14.3 per cent two-party swing to Labor, the second highest in the country (0.1 per cent behind Forde). The swings were particularly enormous at the northern end of the electorate, which presumably reasserted its natural Labor strength in the absence of Entsch’s personal vote.
Jim Turnour is a member of the Left faction, and before entering parliament had worked as a Department of Primary Industries officer, agricultural consultant and adviser to Senator Jan McLucas. He first contested the seat against Warren Entsch in 2004, suffering a 3.6 per cent swing. Warren Entsch served in the Royal Australian Air Force from 1969 to 1978, subsequently working as a maintenance fitter and welder, real estate agent, farmer and grazier and company director. He entered parliament in 1996 and was promoted to parliamentary secretary in 1998, stepping aside from the position when he announced his retirement in 2006. Since leaving politics he has been a director of Cairns construction company CEC Group and the Australian Rainforest Foundation, and there was talk in June 2008 that he might contest the next year’s state election in Barron River or Cairns. He won the Liberal National Party nomination for a comeback in Leichhardt after winning a preselection vote against small business owner Jen Sackley and North Queensland Fire Protection managing director Richard Gibbons.
Queensland’s regional coastal seats were clearly the target of Tony Abbott’s announcement in the second week of the campaign that they would limit the future expansion of marine parks, by requiring peer-reviewed scientific evidence of a threat to marine diversity.
At the start of the third week, Abbott was in northern Queensland promising to spend $62 million on the tourism industry. The choice of Cairns as the scene for the announcement was highly significant, as unemployment has risen to near double-digit levels there due to a downturn in tourism.
A week out from polling day, Patricia Karvelas of The Australian reported Liberal sources believed Leichhardt was as as good as gone to Labor. A Morgan poll of 300 respondents conducted late in the second last week had Warren Entsch leading 52.5-47.5 At around the same time the seat was one of eight Queensland marginals covered by a composite Newspoll survey of 1600 respondents, which showed a combined 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 it split 50-50, but 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.