Margin: Liberal National 1.6%
Location: Outer Southern Brisbane, Queensland
In a nutshell: One of a brace of Queensland seats which Labor won in 2007 then lost again in 2010, Forde has emerged as the most keenly watched contest of the election after former Premier Peter Beattie’s surprise decision to emerge from retirement and contest the seat for Labor.
The candidates (ballot paper order)
BERT van MANEN
PETER DOUGLAS BEATTIE
BLAIR MATTHEW BREWSTER
PAUL ROGER HUNTER
Straddling the southern edge of Brisbane, Forde has emerged as a key focal point of the election with the announcement during the first week of the campaign that the seat would be contested for Labor by former Premier Peter Beattie. Forde was one of a number of Queensland seats which fell Labor’s way under Kevin Rudd’s leadership at the 2007 election, only to be lost again in the wake of his demise three years later. The electorate contains the eastern part of the municipality of Logan City around Beenleigh and extends southwards along the Pacific Motorway to accommodate, somewhat awkwardly, the rapidly growing suburb of Upper Coomera at the interior northern edge of the Gold Coast. The latter area was acquired in the redistribution which preceded the 2010 election, when Forde provided the new seat of Wright with about a third of its voters in rural territories extending to the New South Wales border.
Forde was created with the expansion of parliament in 1984, at which time it covered Brisbane’s outer south-west. Liberal candidate David Watson won the seat on its debut by 43 votes, but was unseated after a single term at the 1987 election by Labor’s Mary Crawford. Watson would later return to politics in the state parliament, eventually leading the Liberal Party into a disastrous result at the 2001 election. Crawford meanwhile built up a handy margin on the back of swings in 1990 and 1993, before a punishing redistribution pulled the seat into the rural Beaudesert region on the New South Wales border. Thwarted in a bid to be reassigned to an outer suburban seat, in part as a consequence of the party’s determination to accommodate Kevin Rudd in Griffith, Crawford was left with no buffer to defend herself against the savage swing that hit Labor across Queensland, which struck in Forde to the tune of 9.6%. Forde was then held for the Liberals throughout the Howard years by Kay Elson, who retained comfortable margins in 1998 and 2001 before enjoying a further 5.9% boost in 2004.
Elson’s retirement at the 2007 election was presumably a factor behind the spectacular 14.4% swing to Labor, making the seat one of three in Queensland where Labor was able to overhaul double-digit Coalition margins. It was then held for a term by Brett Raguse, a former teacher, local newspaper publisher and TAFE college director who had more recently worked as an adviser to state ministers associated with the AWU/Labor Forum sub-faction of the Right. The aforementioned redistribution improved Raguse’s margin from 2.9% to 3.4%, but this proved insufficient at the 2010 election in the face of what by Queensland standards was a fairly typical swing of 5.0%. The Liberal National Party’s winning candidate was Bert van Manen, a financial planner from Slacks Creek who had run as the Family First candidate for Rankin in 2007. Raguse meanwhile recently re-emerged as a candidate for the preselection to succeed Craig Emerson in the neighbouring seat of Rankin, in which he was narrowly unsuccessful despite claiming support from Kevin Rudd.
Van Manen’s Labor opponent for the coming election was originally to be Des Hardman, a radiographer at Logan Hospital. However, in the first week of the campaign Labor dropped the bombshell announcement that he had agreed to stand aside to make way for former Premier Peter Beattie. Beattie began his career as a solicitor and secretary of the Railway Stationmasters Union, before emerging as the party’s state secretary in 1981. In this capacity he spearheaded the modernisation of a party that had been in opposition since 1957, and would remain so until Wayne Goss’s win at the 1989 election, at which Beattie entered parliament as the member for Brisbane Central. His rise thereafter was initially slow, owning to enmities with factional leaders and a measure of hostility from Goss, but he rose to cabinet as Health Minister after the 1995 election which cost Goss’s government its majority, and was elected party leader when Goss relinquished the position after the Mundingburra by-election defeat cost Labor power the following February.
Labor under Beattie emerged the beneficiary of the electoral earthquake that delivered Pauline Hanson’s One Nation 11 seats at the election of June 1998, which cost the Coalition parties their majority and enabled Labor to return to government with the support of two independents. Beattie subsequently emerged as one of the most electorally successful politicians in Australia’s modern history, leading Labor to victory in 66 of the state parliament’s 89 seats in 2001, which only slightly reduced to 63 and 59 at the subsequent elections of 2004 and 2006. Labor achieved a further win under Anna Bligh’s leadership in 2009, before the crushing defeat of March 2012. Beattie has often been at odds with Kevin Rudd over the years, blaming his loss of the party leadership in June 2010 on a “lack of political judgment”. His recruitment to contest the second most marginal of Queensland’s LNP-held seats was seen to indicate concern in Labor ranks that support in the state was waning after an initial burst of enthusiasm following Rudd’s return.
Four polls emerged from Forde after Peter Beattie’s announcement, each of which suggested that his move was not going to pay dividends. The first was conducted by ReachTEL on the night of the announcement from a sample of 725, and showed Bert van Manen leading 48.3% to 39.9% on the primary vote and 54-46 on two-party preferred. A week later, a JWS Research poll of 568 respondents had van Manen leading 54% to 33% on the primary vote and 60-40 on two-party preferred, while a Lonergan poll of 1160 respondents had the primary vote lead at 56% to 34%. As low as van Manen’s national profile may be, JWS Research gave him a 49% approval rating against 19% disapproval, with Beattie on 35% and 51%. The Lonergan poll had 40% saying Beattie had made them less likely to vote Labor against on 22% for more likely. Another week on, from August 19-21, Newspoll conducted a poll of 502 respondents showing van Manen leading 54-46, from primary votes of 38% for Beattie, 48% for van Manen and 5% for the Greens.
In the second last week of the campaign, The Australian reported that Bert van Manen was the half-owner and recently resigned director of a financial planning firm which owed creditors more than $1.5 million when it collapsed last year. The report said administrators KPMG had told creditors of “unreasonable director-related transactions” behind the collapse. A Liberal spokesperson was quoted saying van Manen had personally settled with the main credtior, Westpac, but no comment was offered on $325,000 owed to three further creditors.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.