With the change in the state's political breeze recently, Labor is hungrily eyeing Queensland as a potential source of seats to counterbalance anticipated losses in Sydney. An inner-city seat with the LNP's lowest margin represents an obvious target.
The electorate of Brisbane has existed without interruption since federation, and presently covers the north shore of the Brisbane River from Milton through the CBD to Eagle Farm, extending northwards to Stafford at its western end and Hendra in the east. It was the most surprising of the Liberal National Party’s eight gains in Queensland at the 2010 election, as Labor had held the seat since 1931 outside of the interruption of 1975 to 1980, holding on even in the face of the 1996 disaster which reduced Labor to two Queensland seats. The defeated Labor member was Arch Bevis, who had held the seat since 1990 when he succeeded Manfred Cross, whose tenure went back to 1961. Peter Johnson held the seat for the Liberals from 1975 until 1980, when Cross recovered his old seat on the second attempt.
Brisbane’s complexion was changed somewhat by redistributions in 2004 and 2010, the more recent of which cut the margin from 6.8% to 3.8% by adding 26,500 voters at the eastern end of the electorate at the expense of territory out to Ferny Grove and Upper Kedron in the west and Stafford in the north. The former area included Clayfield and its highly affluent surrounds, which have contributed to the electorate’s current status as the highest-income electorate in Queensland. This proved doubly damaging for Labor as the swings around Clayfield were especially strong, in keeping with a national trend in which the air went out of the Howard-era doctors’ wives balloon. The effect was to counterbalance a relatively static result in the inner city, contributing to a decisive 5.7% swing to the LNP. The result was also notable for the 21.3% vote for the Greens (compared with a Labor primary vote of 30.4%), whose candidate was former Democrats Senator and party leader Andrew Bartlett.
The LNP victory facilitated a return to parliament for Teresa Gambaro, who had held the northern Brisbane seat of Petrie from 1996 until her defeat in 2007. Gambaro is a member of a family famous in Brisbane for its seafood business, its restaurant being located in the electorate at Petrie Terrace. Nonetheless, Brisbane did not seem an especially strong prospect for her at the time of preselection, which occurred at the peak of the Rudd government’s fortunes in the opinion polls. Gambaro held parliamentary secretary and assistant minister positions in the final term of the Howard government, and has served as shadow parliamentary secretary for international development assistance and citizenship and settlement throughout the current term. She made headlines in January 2012 when she called for migrants to be given hygiene lessons, for which she subsequently apologised.
Labor has preselected Fiona McNamara, an organiser with the Queensland Teachers Union, of which Arch Bevis was also an official before entering parliament. The union is not affiliated with the ALP, but is said to wield influence in the Labor Unity faction. McNamara has been twice unsuccessful as candidate for Peter Dutton’s northern Brisbane seat of Dickson, falling short by 0.1% in 2007 and 5.1% in 2010.
William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, is one of the most heavily trafficked forums for online discussion of Australian politics, and joined the Crikey stable in 2008.