Voters in the Queensland seat of Gaven will head to the polls next Saturday to replace Labor member Robert Poole, who embarrassed his party when he indulged in a non-business trip to Thailand and informed Premier Peter Beattie he would not be back until June. When Beattie demanded he return immediately, Poole instead chose to resign. Beattie has opted to get the by-election over with as quickly as possible, ostensibly because any later date would have to be after Easter, and is apparently unfazed by the symbolism of a poll held on April Fools’ Day.
Given the circumstances, a Labor defeat would seem to be inevitable. The seat covers normally conservative territory (the corresponding federal electorates of Fadden, Forde and Moncrieff are respectively held for the Liberals by margins of 15.3 per cent, 13.0 per cent and 20.1 per cent), and Labor’s victories were a measure of their success on the Gold Coast at the 2001 and 2004 state elections. The 5.0 per cent margin is well below the swing Labor suffered at last year’s Chatsworth (13.9 per cent) and Redcliffe (8.3 per cent) by-elections, and the government is still seriously wounded as a result of the "Doctor Death" scandal and related troubles with the health system.
Yet for all that, three polls conducted in the past few weeks show Labor holding up surprisingly well. The following table provides results from two polls conducted by TNS and published in the Sunday Mail and Courier-Mail, and one conducted by and for the Gold Coast Bulletin, with the undecided distributed in each case and removed from the figures identifying the total samples. The first of these polls provides ample support for the view that Labor is only in the hunt because the Liberals meekly surrendered the right to contest the seat to the National Party, which no longer has a constituency on the Gold Coast.
The by-election has attracted an agreeably modest field of six candidates (all male), who are listed here in ballot paper order:
Glen Ryman (Greens). Ryman is identified in party literature as a "39 year old business analyst and father of three".
Daren Riley (Independent). Not much is known about Riley, except that he is a building industry worker and is (according to Emma Chalmers of the Courier-Mail) "locked in talks with One Nation candidate Steve Moir after deciding not to allocate preferences to the major parties".
Alex Douglas (Nationals). A GP who has worked in the local area for 18 years, Douglas is married to Gold Coast City Councillor and Nationals senior vice-president Susie Douglas. His wife has not figured in the recent controversies surrounding the council (see below).
Phil Connolly (Independent). Connolly is a funeral director who also ran as an independent at the 2001 and 2004 elections, and as the One Nation candidate for Surfers Paradise in 1998.
Steve Moir (One Nation). Moir also ran for One Nation in the seat of Mudgeeraba at the 2004 election.
Phil Gray (Labor). Gray is a former president of the Left faction Queensland Public Sector Union and was Robert Poole’s campaign manager in 2001 and 2004. The latter campaign is best remembered for a pamphlet that portrayed Liberal candidate and Gold Coast councillor Ray Stevens as a pig with his snout in a trough, which copped a rebuke from Peter Beattie.
Highlights of the campaign thus far have been as follows: