Electorate: Cairns

Margin: Labor 4.7%
Region: Regional City
Federal: Leichhardt
Outgoing member: Desley Boyle (Labor)
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The candidates

cairns - alp


Liberal National (bottom)


Labor (top)

Katter’s Australian Party


Electorate analysis: The electorate of Cairns contains slightly over half the population of the city that bears its name, with the outer and northern suburbs respectively covered by Barron River and Mulgrave. Labor and the Greens’ strongest areas tend to be nearer the city, with the Earlwood and Mooroobool area in the south-west leaning to the conservatives. Created in 1888, the seat has been in either Labor or “independent Labor” hands since 1904. However, Antony Green has observed that the party’s hold has weakened as “the old blue-collar economy, based on sugar, mining and railways, is surpassed in importance by tourism and service industries for the rich retirees from down south”.

Cairns will be vacated at the coming election by the retirement of Desley Boyle, who has held the seat since surviving the challenge of One Nation by a 2.3 per cent margin in 1998. Boyle had a much more comfortable time of it in the 2001 landslide, when she prevailed over Nationals candidate and former Mulgrave MP Naomi Wilson by 14.8 per cent, before suffering a 10.9 per cent counter-swing in 2004 which she blamed on concerns over Cairns Base Hospital. In 2006 she consolidated her hold by picking up a 4.2 per cent swing, allowing her easily enough of a buffer to survive a 3.2 per cent swing to the LNP in 2009. Boyle served in cabinet from after the 2004 election until she announced her impending retirement in February 2011. Her successor as Labor candidate is Kirsten Lesina, who was elected to Cairns Regional Council in 2008 at the age of 21. Lesina’s rival in the preselection ballot was Ritchie Bates, an organiser with the Left faction Rail Tram and Bus Union. Bates’s opposition to the government’s privatisation program reportedly gave him the edge in the local branch vote, but the addition of the union delegate votes produced a tie which Anna Bligh resolved in Lesina’s favour. This preserved the factional status quo, Lesina like Boyle being a member of the AWU/Labor Forum faction.

The LNP has had all sorts of trouble with its candidate selection, dumping its first choice in ignominious circumstances and promptly hitting heavy weather with its second. The original selection of property developer and former Cairns councillor Paul Freebody drew the ire of the member for the corresponding federal seat of Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, who said in a leaked email that he would “not encourage any member of the FNQ business community to donate to the Cairns campaign while he is the candidate”. Entsch smoothed things over with a press release describing Freebody as a “good candidate”, but the wisdom of his earlier judgement appeared to be confirmed with the emergence of an email sent to multiple recipients from Freebody’s address. This described Julia Gillard and Bob Brown as “the most evil people we have ever had in power in our country”, and said of Gillard: “We can only hope that she follows the history of JFK.” Freebody at first claimed the copy of the email being circulated had been doctored, and produced a copy which instead said Gillard should follow not JFK but “KMR” (Kevin Michael Rudd). However, he subsequently acknowledged this email had never been sent, and said the email as he wrote it was altered before being sent by a family member as “an attempt to be humorous”.

Freebody was eased out, and the second round preselection was won by Gavin King, previously editor-at-large of the Cairns Post newspaper, ahead of “local marine identity” Kim Anderson. King has since been attempting to live down his life’s work as a newspaper columnist, having argued that women who were raped while under the influence of alcohol were party to blame for their misfortune, described the federal government’s baby bonus as a “dodgy moneymaking scam anywhere poor people with high libidos reside”, and marked the occasion of Julia Gillard’s ascent to the prime ministership by asserting that all any women needed to do to win an argument with a man was to “say the words pre and menstrual”. Former party state secretary Joel Harrop resigned in protest at the endorsement of King, denouncing his “misogynistic, women-hating views”.

Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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