It took the landslide defeats of the Whitlam and Keating governments to loosen Labor's grip on the central Queensland seat of Capricornia. The risk of a repeat has increased with the recently announced retirement of sitting member Kirsten Livermore.
The central Queensland electorate of Capricornia has existed since federation, with Rockhampton as its constant as boundaries shifted over the years. It currently has Rockhampton at its southern coastal end, from which it extends northwards to the southern outskirts of Mackay and westwards through farming and coal mining communities as far as Belyando 250 kilometres inland. Rockhampton has kept the seat strong for Labor for most of its history, the party’s only defeats after 1961 coming with the demise of the Whitlam and Keating governments in 1975 and 1996 (the margin on the former occasion being 136 votes).
The proverbial baseball bat having been wielded in 1996, the seat was recovered for Labor in 1998 by Kirsten Livermore, member of the soft Left tendency associated with Martin and Laurie Ferguson. Livermore picked up an 8.8% swing on her debut and retained the seat with reasonably comfortable margins thereafter, until an 8.7% swing in 2007 boosted it to very safe territory. Then came a 0.7% redistribution adjustment followed by an 8.4% swing amid the Queensland backlash of 2010, which reined it back to 3.7%. In December 2012 she announced she would not seek another term, as she wished to spend more time with her family.
A preselection to choose Livermore’s successor was held in February and won by Peter Freeleagus, a Moranbah miner, former Belyando Shire mayor and current Isaac Regional councillor. This was despite the local party ballot being won 65-37 by Paul Hoolihan, who along with most of his Labor colleagues lost his seat of Keppel at the 2012 state election. However, Hoolihan was overwhelmed by a 41-9 to win for Freeleagus in the 50% component of the vote determined by the state party’s electoral college, which consists mostly of union delegates. Michael McKenna of The Australian reported that Freeleagus was backed by the Left faction CFMEU, but also harnessed support from the AWU Right at the behest of Wayne Swan. The implication appeared to be that this was a counter to Kevin Rudd, whose Old Guard Right faction included Hoolihan. The deal was also said to require that the Left back AWU Right over Old Guard candidates in future state preselections.
The Liberal National Party has again endorsed its candidate from 2010, Michelle Landry, who owns a small book-keeping business in Yeppoon. Landry won preselection ahead of real estate agent Alan Cornick and anti-council amalgamation campaigner Paul Lancaster.
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.