Gaven by-election preview

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.

. TNS 1-2/3 GCB 9/3 TNS 15-16/3
Labor 34 34 39
Nationals 11 41 43
Liberal 33
Greens 9 11 7
Others 13 14 11
Sample 230 300 265

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:

  • The government is facing local hostility over its plans to construct a cruise ship terminal at the Southport Spit. The Nationals are making mileage out of the controversy by accusing the government of "decreeing from Brisbane what will happen on the Gold Coast", and have promised to establish a Gold Coast Port Authority which Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg says will involve "local people making local decisions for the best local outcomes". Suzanne Lappeman and Tanya Kirkbride of the Gold Coast Bulletin describe the Nationals’ position as a risky move that could alienate Liberal supporters of the development.
  • There have been widespread calls for Gold Coast City Council to be sacked following a Crime and Misconduct Commission inquiry into allegations of bribery and failures to disclose election gifts and material personal interests. The claims involve local developers including Brian Ray, who was killed in a plane crash in Victoria last year, and their alleged efforts to establish a pro-development bloc on council. A TNS survey of 300 respondents published in the Courier-Mail on Monday found that 60 per cent of locals believed the council should be dismissed, which Local Government Minister Desley Boyle has vowed to do if even one councillor is "found to have acted inappropriately" by the CMC.
  • The Greens were initially refusing to rule out the possibility of directing preferences to the Nationals, although history suggests the threat was being played as a bargaining chip. Perhaps realising this, the Nationals began pushing the line that they would not cut deals with anyone, and that a vote for anyone but their own candidate would be a vote for Labor. Yesterday Greens candidate Glen Ryman said he was "very wary of the National Party’s credentials in terms of the environment", and rejected the possibility of a deal. All other candidates have ruled out directing preferences to either major party.
  • Suzanne Lappeman of the Gold Coast Bulletin reports that "the Labor Party is running a cut-price campaign in Gaven with party management refusing to invest money in a lost cause". The report says Labor plans to spend less than $100,000 on the campaign, compared with $200,000 to $300,000 by the Nationals.
  • The Nationals have felt compelled to humiliate themselves by branding Alex Douglas as a "Coalition candidate" in their election advertising, tacitly acknowledging that it is the Liberals who should really be contesting the seat.
  • Cyclone Larry has meant that locals have been spared visits from party leaders this week.
  • Author: William Bowe

    William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

    19 comments on “Gaven by-election preview”

    1. I’ve hardly been back up five minutes Peter, so it’s good to see some people out there have apparently been sitting at their computers hitting ‘refresh’ for the last five days!

    2. I concur! I tried at least 3x a day. [I always read the news at least morning and night]… and I have to get my dose of politics! [What cant I say? I’m obesesed 🙂 ] I’d have to make do with the Ozpolitics Blog and today’s one is interesting as it provides a link to the Mecury saying Labor in Tasmania will have 15 seats!! I’m sure Mr Lennon will definetly see that as approval of his Premiership…. [or to very good advertising on behalf of many parties.]

      Just wondering WB…
      Why does the site just ‘temporarily’ close down? Is it because the Government is trying to control the internet and doesn’t like this site? 😀

    3. May I ask a stupid question please???
      I obviously haven’t followed Qld politics closely enough. Why on earth aren’t the Libs contesting this seat? I would have thought they would have romped it in… makes no sense to me.
      Someone please enlighten me.

    4. VPL, in September last year (some time before the Gaven by-election came on the radar), the National and Liberal parties reached a coalition agreement in which they divvied up seats for the election due early next year – three-cornered contests being a recipe for Coalition disaster under Queensland’s system of optional preferential voting. Once upon a time, the Gold Coast was National Party territory – think Russ Hinze. While there is no question that that time has passed, the Nationals are stubbornly refusing to let go, and because they have more MPs than the Liberals (15 to seven) they had the muscle to win the argument over at least some Gold Coast seats, Gaven being one. Liberal vice-president Jim MacAnally shared your concerns over the agreement, and resigned in protest.

      This is representative of a broader problem for the Queensland Coalition parties – the population explosion in the urbanised south-east means it is no longer tenable for the Nationals to be the senior partner, because too many voters in the south-east will never vote for a Nationals Premier. The Coalition will only reach its potential in Queensland when an election result gives the Liberals more seats than the Nationals – an outcome which will, of course, be delayed for as long as the Nationals continue to win the exclusive right to contest seats like Gaven.

    5. Thanks for the explanation PB – if you don’t mind I’d rather not think of Russ Hinze. If I have to think of a member of that famile I’ll stick to Kristy!
      This agreement has clearly had its day. Time to move on. The Nat supremacy in Qld is clearly a historical anachronism that is in serious need of renewal. The Libs there will continue to stagnate on a State level until they do something about this type of arrangement.

    6. Queensland’s ‘population exploison’ is of course largely an immigration explosion. You are probably familiar with the thought that in the year to September 2005, Queensland had 30, 000 interstate immigrants.

      And some of these people may well be anti-Labor, but I suspect they are overwhelmingly Liberal, _not_ National voters if they are in fact anti-Labor.

      Traditional National voters are being outpaced in South-East Quensland, which is where the seats are. Certainly it would be in the interests of the anti-Labor side of politics to admit this long-term decline and get on board.

      But when has a declining poliical elite ever voluntarily surrendered power just to make it easier to win Government?

      There is a long-term history of bitterness between Liberal and Country/National politicians in Queensland. For instance, in 1993 the Liberal leader (Terry White, of the pharmacy chain of the same name) was sacked from cabinet by Premier Bjelke-Petersen for moving that Parliament establish a Public Accounts Committee.

      After the election later that year, two Liberal MPs (including Don ‘Shady’ Lane of Fitzgerald Enquiry fame) defected to the Nationals, giving them power in their own right. The Liberals had been humiliated.

      There are plenty of people around in both parties now who were junior members at the time of this war. Distrust runs deep. The Nationals scorn Liberal talk of a Liberal ascendancy as a ‘world domination theory’, but long-term population trends will mean eventually that this will happen. Queensland elections will one day be fought between Liberals and Nationals, and the Nationals will be more like the National caucus in Canberra – influential, but ultimately the junior partner.

      But I predict 10-25 years yet of Lib-Nat warfare before that happens.

      BTW I moved here myself from SA at the end of 2002 and have by and large voted Green/Labor. It has been very interesting moving from a State where the National Party hardly exists (and its one State MP is a member of Mike Rann’s Labor Cabinet (!)), to a State where the National Party is the main opposition.

      Of course in Brisbane there is little or no National vote or structure to speak of any more. But Beattie’s opposite number is Springborg, a National, not Quinn, the Liberal Leader.

      Regards David J

    7. David – did you mean 1983 and not 1993? since Joh wasn’t Premier in 1993 and last was Premier in 1987…

      On another note in general – I’m surprised people keep voting National in QLD… in both their last Goverments [say Joh in the 1980s] and the 1996-1998 National Government…. both Premiers and a couple of cabinent members were all brought foward to the board [whatever it is in QLD… as a New South Welsh Man I am unsure of the name] for corruption charges… it seems to be a similar trend in Nationals… as bad as their conservative partners in crime [the Liberals more so Federally] and get away with it [like AWB]…how about that but then again I just guess that’s politics.

    8. Hi PB,
      Can you offer any explanation for the ALP’s large (and I suspect expensive) Just Vote 1 hand out and strategy in Gaven. Considering they had Green preferences why would have wanted a large proportion of the non-major parties vote to extinguish and play into the conservatives hands?

    9. Not entirely, Steve. I could speculate that they thought the message would only be heeded to those it was directed at, i.e. Labor’s own voters. It is true that previous elections suggest that a “just vote one” message has a broad educative effect for voters who otherwise might not have realised they had the option, but I would suggest that the voters most likely to take this on board are the alienated voters who support independents or One Nation types (who would probably be more likely to preference the Coalition if forced to) rather than the Greens. Greens voters are more politically engaged and inclined to maximise their vote by directing a preference, which the party goes to great lengths to encourage them to do. Also, it should be noted that all the non-Greens minor candidates were conservative, and the total preferences split about evenly. Finally, Labor probably figures that the strategy has always served them well in the past, so why should they stop now.

    10. I think that the “Just Vote 1” campaign this time was a poor strategy. Daren’s best booth’s were also the ALP’s best booths on a two party preferred basis. I think if they had layed off on that message, they might have picked up a few more prefs from him. It is also possible that the “Vote 1” message resonated with a few of our voters. More likely, our voters looked at the cruise ship development issue and other stalled Green initatives within the electorate and made their own minds up about preferences.

    11. Any thoughts on Bicentennial Hall, Glen? It was the first proper booth that came in and based on preferences from 2004, the swing was less than 4 per cent. I called it as “a very encouraging result for Labor” at the time, but it was their last bit of good news all evening. It was your best booth as well, both in terms of the swing and the total vote (unless you count the Brisbane booth with its 29 votes).

    12. There is a pretty clear distinction between booths north of Nerang Forest (Pac Pines, Oxenford, Gaven) and those south (the Nerang booths).

      Bicentennial Hall is a little different in that it is convenient to for people to drive south from Gaven (the suburb) as well as from parts of Nerang. It is also on the Nerang-Southport Road near the M1 motorway, which means that it is also a traveller’s booth. I suspect many of the “tree-changers” driving to the coast from the hinterland behind Nerang forest would use this booth.

      Also, this was the venue for two “Meet the Candidate” nights and voters who saw the candidates speak may come back to vote. This would explain the higher votes for the non-majors.

      So it is hard to make clear demographic assumptions about this one.

    13. I know several people who vote Liberal Federally and Labor in Qld but since the Dr Death they are all adamant that they will not vote for Beattie again, they are generally angry at him as they are usually Liberal voters but have given him a chance, two of these people commented that Beattie’s comments after his weekend defeat in Gaven angered them even more, saying that the people have no faith in Nationals when they won the seat and they Labor did not do that bad and then gave his trademark Grin!. I don’t Springborg would be a better Premier than Beattie but by God I will be offering my services to any Conservative Party at next years election. I want to see Beattie and his incompentant Labor fails be given a Bloody nose, I am not sure that Beattie could lose Government in 2007 but I predict a Blood Bath and then the Nats & Libs will have quality MP’s (Doctors, Lawyers etc) not like Labor (Unions Officals & Party Hacks) then the Tory’s will win in 2010.

    14. Spam hits comments threads as well as email, and I’ve been a bit lazy weeding it out lately. Bryan Palmer gets so much that he moderates all comments before letting them through, and I fear it may end up that way here one day.

    15. We have a friend who was Joh’s prisoner. He was corrupt and proven. He has no right nor does his family, to have access to State funds, he was just an old German. Imagine that: A GERMAN AND A KIWI- You couldn’t get more evil than that..
      He was an evil man. Corrupt (and its a FACT) and people had no real understanding of his nature. BAD BLOOD.

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