A late review of three conceivably interesting seats in Queensland, including the Sunshine Coast seat being targeted by Clive Palmer.
Three Queensland seats newly fleshed out in the seat-by-seat electorate guide:
Fairfax (Liberal National 7.0%)
Fairfax covers the Sunshine Coast from Maroochydore north to Coolum Beach, the Bruce Highway from Palmwoods north to Eumundi, and a short stretch of the Mary River around Kenilworth. At the time of its creation with the expansion of parliament in 1984 it was centred around Noosa, which had previously switched back and forth between Wide Bay and Fisher. The creation of Flynn at the 2007 election caused Fairfax to be reoriented to the south, with Noosa and its surrounds returning to their old home of Wide Bay and Fairfax accommodating a smaller but more populous region inland of Maroochydore.
The seat’s inaugural member was Evan Adermann, who had held Fisher for the Nationals since 1972. When Adermann retired in 1990, the seat was contested for the Nationals by Senator and former Treasury secretary John Stone. However, this was at the post-Fitzgerald nadir of the Queensland Nationals’ fortunes, and Democrats preferences helped deliver the seat to Liberal candidate Alex Somlyay, a former private secretary to Adermann. Candidates occasionally fielded by the Nationals thereafter attracted progressively fewer votes. The seat entered the marginal zone after a One Nation-driven 13.3% swing in 1998 and a 9.4% swing on the back of Kevin Rudd’s strong statewide performance in 2007, but Somlyay added a considerable amount of fat to his margin at the two intervening elections.
Alex Somlyay had made it clear long before time that this term would be at least, and the general expectation was that his Liberal National Party successor would be James McGrath, who was the director of the party’s enormously successful 2012 state election campaign. However, McGrath instead opted to set a cat among the pigeons by contesting preselection for the neighbouring seat of Fisher, whose local branches had long been cultivated by Mal Brough with a view to returning to politics at the expense of sitting member Peter Slipper. McGrath promised local preselectors he would not seek to use Fairfax as a fallback option if his bid for Fisher failed, and he duly opted for a position on the Senate ticket when this transpired. The Fairfax preselection was instead won by Ted O’Brien, the Buderim-based managing director of government relations firm Barton Deakin. O’Brien prevailed over perennial bridesmaid John Conolly, a former coach of the Australian rugby union team who ran unsuccessfully against independent Peter Wellington in Nicklin at the state election, and was a surprise loser of the preselection for the Brisbane seat of Petrie despite having the endorsement of John Howard.
The LNP’s hold on the seat is unlikely to be troubled by Labor, whose candidate is Lifeline crisis line supervisor Elaine Hughes. However, a potential threat to them looms in the substantial form of Clive Palmer, who has targeted the seat for his run at parliament at the head of his newly established Palmer United Party. The value of Palmer’s mining interests has been put by Forbes magazine at $795 million, a chunk of which he is using to bankroll a national television advertising for his party as well as an intensive local campaign in Fairfax. Palmer’s entry into politics came as an associate of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, having been the director of his strikingly successful 1983 state election campaign and a backer of his quixotic bid for the prime ministership in 1987.
Palmer began raising the possibility of an entry into politics early in the current term, initially telegraphing an intention to run for LNP preselection in Wayne Swan’s seat of Lilley, to the consternation of many in the Coalition hierarchy including Tony Abbott. He did not in fact nominate for the Lilley preselection, despite having paid for billboard advertising in the seat, which he said was out of deference to Tony Abbott’s wishes. However, he kept open the possibility of running in either Fairfax or Kennedy. Palmer meanwhile became an increasingly loose cannon so far as his party was concerned, criticising Newman government ministers and complaining of the influence of lobbyists. This caused his membership of the party to be suspended, and he resigned from it a fortnight later and announced his intention to form his party. In March he announced that Fairfax was to be the base from which he was running to be the Prime Minister of Australia.
Hinkler (Liberal National 10.4%)
Hinkler covers a 90 kilometre stretch of the central Queensland coast, encompassing Bundaberg at the northern end and Hervey Bay in the south, and extends inland to accommodate Childers. It was created with the enlargement of parliament in 1984, and for most of its existence extended north to Gladstone. That changed with the creation of Flynn at the 2007 election, which caused Hinkler to be pushed southwards to accommodate Hervey Bay, previously in Wide Bay. Labor held the seat from 1987 to 1993, but it has otherwise been in Nationals and more recently Liberal National Party hands. The member since 1993 has been Paul Neville, who is bowing out at this election.
Neville enjoyed something of a charmed electoral life during his two decades in the seat, surviving by 510 votes in 1998 (when One Nation polled 19.3%, their preferences saving Neville from a substantial primary vote deficit against Labor) and 64 votes in 2001, and benefiting considerably from redistributions in 2004 and 2007. The latter gave him a timely 6.5% boost by detaching Labor-voting Gladstone, and he needed nearly every bit of it to survive a 6.7% swing at the 2007 election that reduced his margin to 1.7%. He may well have been saved from defeat by the performance of Labor candidate Garry Parr, who made headlines when he told the parents of a soldier serving with British forces in Afghanistan they were “English warmongers”. The seat’s former Labor member, Brian Courtice, also emerged in Coalition television commercials to inform the nation that “Kevin Rudd couldn’t go three rounds with Winnie the Pooh, so there’s no way he can stand up to the union bosses”. Neville enjoyed the full force of the statewide reversal in 2010, his swing of 8.9% being the third biggest in the state.
The New Liberal National Party candidate is Keith Pitt, who comes from a cane farming background and is now the managing director of workplace health and safety consultancy the Australian Safety & Training Alliance. Others mentioned as preselection contenders were Cathy Heidrich, a former newspaper proprietor and media and research officer to Paul Neville; Len Fehlhaber, a primary school principal; Cathy Heidrich, a media/research officer; Greg McMahon, a probation and parole officer; and Geoff Redpath, a Hervey Bay accountant; Chris McLoughlin, a staffer for state Bundaberg MP Jack Dempsey; and Bill Trevor, former mayor of Isis. Other candidates at the election are Labor’s Leanne Donaldson, a Bundaberg human relations consultant, and two former state MPs in David Dalgleish, who won Hervey Bay for One Nation in 1998 and is now running for Katter’s Australian Party, and Rob Messenger, Nationals-turned-independent member for Burnett who lost his seat last year and is running for the Palmer United Party. Hinkler is one of six Queensland seats where Katter’s Australian Party is directing preferences to Labor, as part of a preference deal that sees the KAP get the second preference on Labor’s Queensland Senate ticket.
Flynn (Liberal National 3.6%)
One of four new seats wrought by Queensland’s ongoing population explosion since 1998, Flynn was created at the 2007 election and was won the first time by Labor and the second time by the Liberal National Party. Central to the electorate is Gladstone, which had previously been accommodated by Hinkler since its creation in 1984 and Capricornia previously. It also encompasses the Capricornia Highway towns out to Emerald in the west, and the Burnett Highway through Monto to Gayndah in the south. The seat was substantially reduced in geographic size by the redistribution before the 2010 election, which transferred the interior Barcaldine, Blackall Tambo, Longreach and Winton shires to Maranoa and compensated it with the more densely populated Mount Morgan area south of Rockhampton.
With a Nationals margin of 7.9% on its creation, Flynn emerged as a key seat at the 2007 election, at which expectations of a dramatic swing in Queensland featured heavily in Labor’s calculations. Labor nominated solicitor and former Gladstone councillor Chris Trevor, who as candidate for the state seat of Gladstone a year earlier had done very well to reduce independent MP Liz Cunningham’s margin from 11.2% to 2.0%. Trevor picked up a swing of 7.9% that was slightly higher than the statewide result of 7.5%, and proved enough to give him a slender 253 vote victory. The shift to Labor was especially pronounced in its traditionally strongest areas: double-digit swings were recorded in Gladstone and surrounding areas nearer the coast, such that Labor won the latter booths en masse after losing them all in 2004.
Trevor reportedly had his path to preselection in 2007 smoothed by Kevin Rudd, and he publicly contemplated quitting politics when Rudd was dumped as leader. The 2010 redistribution appeared to do Trevor a good turn by substituting Nationals heartland for the declining mining area around Mount Morgan, which boosted his margin by 2.1%. However, that did not avail him against a swing that was roughly in line with the state average at 5.8%, and was particularly forceful in the area newly added by the redistribution. The victorious Liberal National Party candidate was Ken O’Dowd, owner of Busteed Building Supplies in Gladstone and further noted in the local press as a racing identity. Chris Trevor will again contest Flynn for Labor, having resumed his Gladstone legal practice since his electoral defeat. Flynn is another of the six Queensland seats where Katter’s Australian Party is directing preferences to Labor, as part of a preference deal that sees the KAP get the second preference on Labor’s Queensland Senate ticket.