The Poll Bludger
Margin: Labor 5.3%
Region: Outer Brisbane, Queensland
In a nutshell: Pauline Hanson’s old stamping ground of Ipswich is now mostly accommodated by the seat of Blair, which has been in the Labor fold since Shayne Neumann gained it in 2007.
Candidates in ballot paper order
The electorate of Blair encompasses the urban centre of Ipswich 40 kilometres south-west of Brisbane, from which it extends northwards into rural areas around the Somerset and Wivenhoe dams. Created at the 1998 election, it is one of several new seats accounting for Queensland’s swelling population over the past few decades, and has been substantially redrawn on a number of occasions since. At the time of its creation it had a somewhat more rural orientation, extending inland to encompass the South Burnett region centres of Kingaroy and Nanango in the north, and Gatton and Laidley in the Lockyer Valley to the south. Subsequent redistributions drew it deeper into Ipswich, and it gained its present northern rural areas in 2010 in exchange for territory through Boonah to the New South Wales border, which was transferred to the new seat of Wright. Ipswich was accommodated by Oxley from 1949 until its division with Blair in 1998, prior to which it was in Moreton.
Ipswich had been an area of strength for Labor from the early days of the party’s history, when it was noted for its now defunct coal industry, but has more recently been prone to rebellion as the party has sought to engage with new middle-class constituencies. The most famous such occasion was when Pauline Hanson won Oxley with 48.6% of the primary vote after the Liberals disendorsed her for advocating the abolition of government assistance to Aborigines, which came too late to stop her appearing on the ballot paper as the Liberal candidate. The creation of Blair with the subsequent redistribution did Hanson a poor turn by dividing her home turf between two electorates, but she turned down the certainty of a Senate seat to chance her arm in Blair. However, the two major parties may have sealed Hanson’s doom by directing preferences to each other ahead of her, with Liberal candidate Cameron Thompson chasing down a 36.0% to 21.7% deficit on the primary vote to prevail by 3.4% at the final count after distribution of Labor and Nationals preferences.
Thompson appeared to absorb most of the disappearing One Nation vote when he first faced re-election in 2001, when he more than doubled his primary vote (partly reflecting the absence of the Nationals) without improving his two-party margin over Labor. The redistribution ahead of the 2004 election clipped this by 1.8%, but he went on to handsomely consolidate his position with a 4.5% swing. In 2007 the seat was a key element of the Liberals’ strategy to hold on to office by “firewalling” identified marginal seats, inspiring a risky decision to fund a $2.3 billion Ipswich Motorway bypass at Goodna in the neighbouring electorate of Ryan. This proved of little use to Thompson, as Labor picked up a decisive 10.2% swing that typified the shift of blue-collar voters back to Labor in response to the Howard government’s industrial relations policies.
Blair has since been held for Labor by Shayne Neumann, a former family lawyer and partner in the Brisbane firm Neumann & Turnour, and a member of the state party’s Labor Unity/Old Guard faction. Neumann’s margin was boosted 2.5% in the next redistribution, which almost precisely accounted for what was, by Queensland standards, a mild swing against Labor at the 2010 election. As with every seat it held in Queensland, Labor had grave fears for Blair during the second of its two terms in office, but Neumann was ultimately able to increase his margin in 2013 by 1.0%. He had won promotion the previous March to the positions of parliamentary secretary to the Attorney-General and Health and Ageing Minister, but this did not stop him defecting from the Julia Gillard to the Kevin Rudd camp on the occasion of the latter’s return to the prime ministership the following June. After the September 2013 election defeat he won promotion to the shadow junior ministry in the indigenous affairs and ageing portfolios.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.