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Federal Election 2016

Jun 21, 2014

Seat of the week: Leichhardt

Electorally volatile in recent times, the far north Queensland seat of Leichhardt has generally gone the way of the winning party at elections in the modern era, an exception being present incumbent Warren Entsch's win for the Liberal National Party after he returned from retirement in 2010.

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Teal and red numbers respectively indicate booths with two-party majorities for the LNP and Labor. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Leichhardt consists of the northernmost part of Queensland, including Cairns at its southern extremity along with Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait Islands. Naturally marginal Cairns provides it with about two-thirds of its voters, the remainder coming from conservative-leaning rural areas along the coast immediately to the north, and Labor-voting indigenous communities beyond. The electorate ranks sixth out of the nation’s 150 electorates for the highest proportion of indigenous persons, behind the two Northern Territory electorates, neighbouring Kennedy, Durack in northern Western Australia, and Parkes in interior New South Wales. Another distinguishing features is a large number of voters over 55, reflecting the popularity of Cairns as a retirement haven.

The electorate was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, prior to which its area was mostly accommodated by Herbert until 1934 and Kennedy thereafter. Herbert and then Kennedy were in Labor hands from 1928 to 1949, but Leichhardt was narrowly won by the Country Party at its inaugural election, which saw the Menzies government come to power. However, Labor won the seat at the subsequent election in 1951, and it remained in the party fold until David Thomson gained it for the National Country Party amid Labor’s statewide debacle of 1975. Warren Entsch became the seat’s first Liberal member when he unseated Labor’s Peter Dodd with the defeat of the Keating government in 1996, polling 31.8% to the Nationals candidate’s 20.4%. Entsch suffered only a 0.5% swing at the 1998 election, compared with a statewide swing of 7.2%, and subsequently built his margin up to double figures with swings of 2.3% in 2001 and 3.6% in 2004.

Entsch’s local popularity was further illustrated when he bowed out temporarily at the 2007 election, Labor gaining the seat in his absence with a towering swing of 14.3%, the second biggest of that election after Forde in Brisbane’s outer south. The result also underscored the local eclipse of the Nationals, whose candidate polled only 4.0%. Incoming Labor member Jim Turnour managed only a single term before falling victim at the 2010 election to the combined impact of a statewide Labor rout, which cost them seven out of their existing 15 Queensland seats, and the return from retirement of Warren Entsch. Labor’s margin of 4.1% was easily accounted for by a swing of 8.6%, to which Entsch added a further 1.2% at the 2013 election.

Warren Entsch came to politics after serving in the Royal Australian Air Force from 1969 to 1978, then working as a maintenance fitter and welder, real estate agent, farmer and grazier and company director. After winning election in 1996 and re-election in 1998, he was promoted to parliamentary secretary but thereafter rose no higher, and went to the back bench upon announcing his retirement citing family reasons in 2006. During his subsequent three-year interregnum he was director of Cairns construction company CEC Group and the Australian Rainforest Foundation, but talk soon emerged of a political comeback, first in relation to the 2009 state election and then for his old seat. With this accomplished he served for a term as the Coalition’s chief whip, before relinquishing the position to Philip Ruddock after the 2013 election victory.

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