Recent polling may have steadied his nerves a little, but senior minister Craig Emerson remains no certainty for re-election in a seat that has stayed with Labor since its creation in 1984.
Craig Emerson’s seat of Rankin has been held by Labor without interruption since its creation, but like all the party’s Queensland seats has looked precarious during the worst of its polling during the current term. The seat came into being with the enlargement of parliament in 1984, at which time it extended far beyond the bounds of the metropolitan area to the south-west, encompassing Warwick and a stretch of the New South Wales border. It is now located wholly in the outer south of suburban Brisbane, covering the northern part of Logan City from Woodridge and Kingston north to Priestdale and west to Hillcrest. The redistribution before the 2010 election drew it further into the metropolitan area, adding Algester, Calamvale and Drewvale north of the Logan-Brisbane municipal boundary. This territory accounts for much of Brisbane’s mortgage belt, and furnishes the seat with the equal lowest median age of any electorate in Australia. The Logan area is the source of Labor’s strength, but it is balanced by naturally marginal territory around Calamvale to the west and Springwood to the east.
Prior to the 1996 election, the seat was a highly marginal combination of Labor-voting outer suburbia and conservative rural areas, which Labor held by margins of between 0.6% and 5.5%. It was then transformed with the transfer of the rural areas to Forde and the compensating gain of low-income Brisbane suburbs, which boosted the margin by 9.8%. In the event Labor needed every bit of it to survive the Queensland backlash of 1996, which in Rankin manifested in an 11.1% swing. An unfavourable redistribution ahead of the 2004 election cut the margin by 5.3%, but there followed a 0.8% swing against the statewide trend at that election, followed by a 8.8% swing when the Rudd government came to power. The backlash of 2010 produced a swing to the LNP of 6.3%, cutting the margin to 5.4%.
Rankin has had only two members since its creation: Craig Emerson since 1998, and David Beddall beforehand. Emerson emerged through the Labor Forum/Australian Workers Union sub-faction of the Queensland Right, working over the years as an adviser to Hawke government ministers and then to Hawke himself, before taking on senior state public service positions in Queensland under the Goss government. After one term in parliament he rose to the shadow ministry, serving in the workplace relations portfolio in the lead-up to the 2004 election. He was then contentiously dropped after losing the support of his faction, a legacy of his defiance of powerbroker Bill Ludwig in supporting Mark Latham’s successful leadership bid in December 2003 (which by no stretch of the imagination spared him the lash of The Latham Diaries).
Emerson’s career returned to the ascendant after Labor came to power in 2007. spent the first term in the junior small business portfolio and further acquired competition policy and consumer affairs in June 2009, before winning promotion to cabinet as Trade Minister after the 2010 election. On the morning of the July 2010 leadership coup he announced he would support Kevin Rudd if it came to a ballot, but he took a very different tack during Rudd’s February 2012 challenge, accusing him of having undermined the government ever since the election campaign. Emerson achieved, for better or worse, considerable penetration of the soft media in July 2012, with his semi-musical critique of the Coalition’s campaign against the carbon tax.
An LNP preselection in July 2012 attracted six candidates and was won by David Lin, a 39-year-old Taiwanese-born solicitor who founded the Sushi Station restaurant chain at the age of 22.