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Federal Election 2016

Jul 20, 2014

Seat of the week: Lilley

With the inner northern Brisbane neighbourhood of Stafford fresh in the mind after yesterday's by-election, a visit to the federal electorate that covers its northern half and areas further to the east, held for Labor by Wayne Swan.

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Wayne Swan’s electorate of Lilley covers bayside Brisbane 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 – together with suburbs nearer the city from McDowall, Stafford Heights and Everton Park east 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), although the margin was little affected.

Red and teal numbers respectively indicate size of two-party majorities for Labor and the LNP. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Lilley was created in 1913, originally extending from its current base 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 it was otherwise 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 the seat and then consolidated her hold with respective swings of 5.2% and 8.4%. Wayne Swan succeeded Darling as Labor’s member in 1993, but was unseated together with all but two of his Queensland Labor colleagues at the 1996 election.

Swan returned to parliament at the following election in 1998, when he accounted for a 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 his swing in 2007 was well below the statewide average (3.2% compared with 7.5%), consistent with a trend in inner urban seats across the country. 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%. Labor’s dire polling throughout its second term in government, particularly in Queensland, led to grave fears about his capacity to retain the seat in 2013, but in the event Lilley provided the party with one of its pleasant election night surprises by swinging only 1.9%, enabling Swan to hang on with a margin of 1.3%.

Swan’s path to parliament began with a position 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 his 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 Treasury after the 2004 election defeat, and retained it in government despite suggestions Rudd had 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, a rivalry developed between Swan and Kevin Rudd with the former emerging as part of the AWU grouping of the Right and the latter forming part of the Right’s “old guard”. Swan was in the camp opposed Rudd at successive leadership challenges, including Rudd’s move against Beazley in December 2009, his toppling by Julia Gillard in June 2010, and the three leadership crises which transpired in 2012 and 2013. As Rudd marshalled forces for his first push in February 2012, Swan spoke of his “dysfunctional decision making and his deeply demeaning attitude towards other people including our caucus colleagues”. When Rudd finally succeeded in toppling Gillard in June 2013, Swan immediately resigned as deputy leader and Treasurer. Unlike many of his colleagues he resolved to continue his career in parliament, which he has continued to do in opposition on the back bench.

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