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Seat of the week: Lilley

Wayne Swan’s electorate of Lilley covers the Brisbane bayside north-east of the city centre, between the Brisbane and Pine rivers – an area accounting for industrial Eagle Farm i

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Wayne Swan’s electorate of Lilley covers the Brisbane bayside north-east of the city centre, between the Brisbane and Pine rivers – an area accounting for industrial Eagle Farm in the south and residential Brighton in the north – along with suburbs nearer the city from McDowall, Stafford Heights and Everton Park eastwards through Kedron, Chermside and Zillmere to Nundah, Nudgee and Taigum. The redistribution before the 2010 election had a substantial impact on the electorate, adding 26,000 in Chermside West and Stafford Heights at the northern end (from Petrie) and removing a similar number of voters in an area from Clayfield and Hendra south to Hamilton on the river (to Brisbane), but the margin was little affected.

Lilley was created in 1913, originally extending from its current base of Nudgee, Aspley, Kedron, Eagle Farm and Brisbane Airport all the way north to Gympie. It did not become entirely urban until the enlargement of parliament in 1949, when Petrie was created to accommodate what were then Brisbane’s semi-rural outskirts. Labor won Lilley in 1943, 1946, 1961 and 1972 (by a margin of 35 votes on the latter occasion), but otherwise it was usually safe for the prevailing conservative forces of the day. A decisive shift came with the elections of 1980 and 1983, when Labor’s Elaine Darling won and then consolidated the seat with respective swings of 5.2% and 8.4%.

Wayne Swan succeeded Darling as the Labor member in 1993, but like all but two of his Queensland Labor colleagues he lost his seat in 1996. Swan stood again in 1998 and accounted for the 0.4% post-redistribution margin with a swing of 3.5%. He added further fat to his margin at the each of the next three elections, although in keeping with the inner urban trend his swing in 2007 was well below the statewide average (3.2% compared with 7.5%). The 2010 election delivered the LNP a swing of 4.8% that compared with a statewide result of 5.5%, bringing the seat well into the marginal zone at 3.2%.

Swan’s path into politics began as an adviser to Bill Hayden during his tenure as Opposition Leader and later to Hawke government ministers Mick Young and Kim Beazley, before he took on the position of Queensland party secretary in 1991. He was elevated to the shadow ministry after recovering his seat in 1998, taking on the family and community services portfolio, and remained close to former boss Beazley. Mark Latham famously described Swan and his associates as “roosters” when Beazley conspired to recover the leadership in 2003, but nonetheless retained him in his existing position during his own tenure in the leadership. Swan was further promoted to the Treasury portfolio after the 2004 election defeat, which he retained in government despite suggestions Rudd had been promised the position to Lindsay Tanner in return for his support when he toppled Kim Beazley as leader in December 2006.

Although he went to high school with him in Nambour and shared a party background during the Wayne Goss years, Swan has long been a bitter rival of Kevin Rudd, the former emerging as part of the AWU grouping of the Right and the latter with the Right’s “old guard”. He was in the camp opposing Rudd at successive leadership challenges, including Rudd’s successful challenge against Beazley, his toppling by Julia Gillard in June 2010, and most recently when he sought to recover the leadership in February 2012, when Swan accused Rudd of “sabotaging policy announcements and undermining our substantial economic successes”. Swan succeeded Gillard as deputy upon her ascension to the prime ministership.

Swan’s LNP opponent for the second consecutive election will be Rod McGarvie, a former soldier and United Nations peacekeeper. McGarvie won a July preselection vote from a field which included John Cotter, GasFields commissioner and former head of agriculture lobby group AgForce, and Bill Gollan, owner of a Deagon car dealership.

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