tip off

Electorate: Fairfax

Margin: Liberal National 7.0%
Location: Sunshine Coast, Queensland

The candidates (ballot paper order)

fairfax-lnp
fairfax-alp
fairfax-pup
MIKE HOLT
One Nation

TRUDY BYRNES
Independent

CLIVE FREDERICK PALMER
Palmer United Party (bottom)

TED O’BRIEN
Liberal National Party (top)

ANGELA MEYER
Family First

ELAINE LEXIE HUGHES
Labor (centre)

DAVID KNOBEL
Greens

RAY SAWYER
Katter’s Australian Party

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”.

Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.

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