Electorate: Southern Downs
Margin: Liberal National 21.1%
Region: Rural Southern
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Electorate analysis: The electorate of Southern Downs extends from Warwick, 100 kilometres south-west to Brisbane, westwards along the Cunningham and Barwon highways through Inglewood, Goondiwindi and beyond. It was created in 2001 in an area previously accommodated by Carnarvon until 1992 and Warwick thereafter. Carnarvon, Warwick and Southern Downs were progressively held for the Nationals by Lawrence Springborg, who entered parliament at the age of 21 in 1989. The area has been secure National/Country Party territory since the 1957 Labor split, such that not even a 20.9 per cent dive in the primary vote (to 45.9 per cent) could put Springborg in real danger from One Nation in 1998.
Springborg served as Natural Resources Minister for four months in the twilight of the Borbidge government, before becoming Shadow Attorney-General in opposition. In February 1999 he rose to the deputy leadership in place of Mike Horan, who stood aside after an unsuccessful challenge to Borbidge’s leadership. Springborg and Horan contested the leadership when Borbidge quit politics after the 2001 election disaster, with Horan reportedly prevailing by one vote. When polling failed to show any improvement over the following two years, Horan sought to head off mounting leadership speculation by calling a party room spill, with Springborg winning the ensuing leadership vote with at least eight votes out of 12. Springborg did well by modern standards to remain at the helm without interruption for two elections, but was only able to make a minor dent in Labor’s massive majority.
After the second defeat in September 2006, Springborg relinquished the leadership and was widely tipped to enter federal politics. Party figures reportedly put pressure on him to challenge Ron Boswell’s Senate preselection for the 2007 election, but he declared his reluctance to unseat a sitting member. He thus remained on the back bench as the party’s polling went backwards under the leadership of Jeff Seeney, and a view developed after the federal election that he should be re-enlisted to put the party on a better footing in looming merger negotiations. After initially expressing reluctance, Springborg challenged Seeney in the party room in January 2008, and reportedly won the party room vote 10 to six. Springborg then became a crucial figure in the merger negotiations which bore fruit in August 2008, but he was unable to lead the newly established LNP to victory at his third election as Opposition Leader in March 2009, despite a much stronger performance than on his two previous attempts.
After the 2009 election Springborg moved from leader to deputy leader and also took on the industrial relations and Attorney-General portfolios while retaining trade. In the November 2010 reshuffle he kept only the latter, taking on state development, major projects, infrastructure and planning. He stepped down from the front bench when the plan for Campbell Newman to lead the party from outside parliament was unveiled in March 2011, complaining that the party organisation had undermined the parliamentary wing.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.