The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal National 9.8%
Region: Sunshine Coast, Queensland
Outgoing member: Mal Brough (Liberal National)
In a nutshell: Three years after fighting off a preselection challenger and Palmer United to return to parliament in 2013 as member for Fisher, Mal Brough is calling it quits.
Candidates in ballot paper order
The seat of Fisher on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast has been in conservative hands for all but two terms since its creation in 1949, and is to be vacated at the coming election after a single term by Mal Brough. The electorate extends from Caloundra north to Mooloolaba on the coast, and inland to Maleny and the Glass House Mountains. It originally went inland as far as Gympie and Kingaroy when created in 1949, but development on the Sunshine Coast caused it to assume a more coastal orientation over time. Outside of its period in Labor hands from 1987 to 1993, the seat was held by the National/Country Party until the Liberal National Party merger of 2008. For much of that time it was a fiefdom of the Adermann family, being held first by Sir Charles Adermann until 1972, and then by his son, Evan Adermann, until his move to the new seat of Fairfax in 1984.
Fisher was retained for the Nationals at the 1984 election by Peter Slipper, who would emerge later in the term as an ardent proponent of the Joh-for-PM push that reduced the Coalition to a state of disarray in early 1987. Slipper then lost his seat at the double dissolution election called by Bob Hawke to take advantage of the situation, losing by 0.5% after a swing to Labor of 2.8%. It was held for the next two terms by Michael Lavarch, who increased his margin to 2.0% at the 1990 election, by which time the Nationals’ stocks were low enough that they finished third behind the Liberals. A redistribution in 1993 removed the areas of northern Brisbane that had made Labor competitive, prompting Lavarch to move to the new seat of Dickson. Peter Slipper then made a comeback as a Liberal, and enjoyed double-digit margins between the elections of 1996, when the swing in his favour was 14.0%, and 2007, when Labor’s strong statewide performance under Kevin Rudd translated into a 7.9% swing in Fisher.
Despite lingering memories John Howard may have had of 1987, Slipper won promotion to parliamentary secretary after the 1998 election, but he was pushed aside to make way for Peter Dutton after the 2004 election. Slipper became increasingly marginalised thereafter, and picked up a notably small swing of 0.6% when Queensland surged back to the Coalition in 2010. It was already evident by this time that Mal Brough had his eyes on Fisher after being unseated in Longman in 2007, but his reported move to have Slipper deposed in his favour at the 2010 election fell foul of the terms of the LNP merger, which guaranteed endorsement to all sitting members.
With a clear expectation that Slipper would not again win preselection, Labor identified him as a weak link in the Coalition as it battled to survive in minority government. The government was able to slightly bolster its position after the election by successfully nominating him for the deputy speakership, which thwarted the Coalition’s desire to have the position go to Maranoa MP Bruce Scott. Brough’s intention to seek preselection was confirmed shortly afterwards. The government went one better in November 2011 when it persuaded Slipper to take on the Speakership at the expense of incumbent Harry Jenkins, resulting in his expulsion from the LNP and a fierce campaign against him from elements of the media. However, he stood aside in May 2012 after a staffer, James Ashby, launched legal action against him for sexual harassment, and presented evidence that Slipper had misused Cabcharge vouchers, for which he would later be convicted and then acquitted on appeal.
The matter soon embroiled Mal Brough, who initially dismissed suggestions he knew of Ashby’s actions in advance, before conceding he had met him on multiple occasions and sought legal advice on his behalf. In December 2012, a Federal Court judge dismissed Ashby’s sexual harassment charge as an abuse of process in which Brough had been directly involved. None of this prevented Brough from winning a strongly contested LNP preselection held in July, after a vigorous local recruitment drive that reportedly doubled the local party membership. A surprise late entrant in the preselection race was James McGrath, the director of the LNP’s hugely successful 2012 state election campaign, who had long been expected to secure preselection in the neighbouring seat of Fairfax. Despite endorsements for McGrath from Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop, Brough was able to win the support of more than half the 350 preselectors in the first round, leaving McGrath to settle for a seat in the Senate.
Mal Brough first came to parliament in 1996 as member for the newly created seat of Longman on Brisbane’s northern fringe, and won promotion to the junior ministry in July 2004 and cabinet in January 2006. A somewhat unfavourable redistribution before the 2007 election was followed by a devastating swing to Labor of 10.3%, leaving Brough as the highest profile victim of Labor’s strong performance in Queensland in 2007. Brough then assumed the presidency of the state branch of the Liberal Party, from which he stood down in September 2008 due to dissatisfaction with the terms of the LNP merger. His win in Fisher at the 2013 election was achieved in the face of a strong challenge from Palmer United candidate Bill Schock, who narrowly failed to finish second ahead of Labor, and would have finished about 2% short of Brough after preferences had he done so.
Brough won promotion to cabinet as Special Minister of State in September 2015 after backing Malcolm Turnbull in his successful leadership challenge, despite reports his activities in the Ashby/Slipper affair were being investigated by the Australian Federal Police. A year previously, Brough had confirmed in an interview with Liz Hayes of the Nine Network’s 60 Minutes program that he had asked Ashby to procure Slipper’s diary. When search warrants executed in November 2015 indicated that police viewed this as a potential criminal offence, Brough accused Nine of selectively editing the question posed to him by Hayes, which Nine was able to refute by releasing the full video. Brough stood down from the front bench the following month pending completion of the investigation, then announced his decision to not contest the election in late February.
The Liberal National Party preselection process that followed was won by construction industry barrister Andrew Wallace, who reportedly on the vote convincingly on the first round over Chris Thompson, former Sunshine Coast deputy mayor; Roz White, a local IGA retailer, Con Hughes, principal of a local construction company; Teresa Craig, owner of an agri-business and stud farm on the Sunshine Coast hinterland; and Ben Murphy, a staffer to Moncrieff MP Steve Ciobo.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.