Highlights of week one

This time last week, the Queensland Coalition’s 51-49 lead in a Courier-Mail/Galaxy Research poll contributed to a frisson of excitement about its prospects at the election which, it was correctly anticipated, would be called three days later. A second Galaxy poll published today shows just how much has changed since then. Labor now leads 53-47 on two-party preferred with a primary vote up 3 per cent to 45 per cent, while the Coalition is down from 43 per cent to 40 per cent. When a baggage-laden government seeking a fourth term faces a divided, incoherent opposition, you can usually expect a big vote for minor parties and independents, particularly in Queensland. However, so far the polls have shown no evidence of this. Galaxy has the Greens on 5 per cent, Family First on 3 per cent and the rest on 9 per cent, with Newspoll telling a similar story. This amounts to an unspectacular 3 per cent increase in the total non-major party vote since the 2004 election.

Beyond the polls, much less is being heard from minor parties of the right than was the case at the last election, never mind the two before. One Nation are only fielding two candidates, including their last remaining MP, Rosa Lee Long in Tablelands. Nothing has been heard from Bob Katter, who in 2004 endorsed a loose grouping of independents campaigning on sugar industry issues. If any other independents are generating momentum in country seats, they are doing so under the radar of the print media (Greg McMahon might be about to change this in Bundaberg – see below). Even Family First has disappointed by deciding to run only in country seats. On the other side of the divide, the Greens have had the Traveston Crossing dam to campaign against and, if demographer Bernard Salt’s comments in today’s Australian Financial Review are on the money, an increasing constituency of "sea-changers and tree-changers" who are "leaving the metropolitan areas for the coast and taking on distinctly Green values as they do so". They would thus be disappointed that the polls have their primary vote going backwards, although they can console themselves with the knowledge that the polls underestimated their vote in 2004.

Just as I was preparing to post this entry, another poll hit the news stands – this time a TNS survey published in tomorrow’s Sunday Mail, covering 200 voters in each of Bundaberg, Chatsworth, Noosa and Broadwater. The extremely small sample size is not the only reason to disbelieve the result in Bundaberg, where Labor supposedly leads 58-42. The 62-38 Labor lead in Chatsworth also seems excessive. Broadwater probably errs in the other direction, the 54-46 Coalition lead pointing to an 8 per cent swing against Labor. More persuasive is the narrative of Cate Molloy splitting the Labor vote as an independent in Noosa and opening the door for a Liberal win. Results after distribution of the undecided are as follows, with Cate Molloy denoted by an asterisk (the primary vote figure for Noosa actually indicates those who selected "Independent Candidate").

Noosa 25 40 9 26* 45* 55
Bundaberg 47 35 18 58 42
Chatsworth 55 36 9 62 38
Broadwater 38 48 14 46 54

As if to demonstrate the adage that a Queensland election really is 89 by-elections, the past week has provided a gold mine of material for Campaign Updates in the election guide. Unfortunately, the effort required has prevented the promised expansion of electorate summaries from proceeding as quickly as Poll Bludger readers deserve. Nevertheless, Keppel, Cairns, Hervey Bay, Broadwater, Aspley, Burleigh and Bundaberg have all been brought up to speed since the last update. The Campaign Update entries are as follows:

Bundaberg (Labor 5.3%): Burnett MP Rob Messenger has enjoyed immense prestige for his role in uncovering the Bundaberg Hospital "Doctor Death" scandal, and he heavy-handedly drove the point home when Peter Beattie visited the hospital on Thursday. After struggling to get a word in amid Messenger’s heckling ("you stand in a hospital where you have blood on your hands"), Beattie cut short a press conference called to announce that the hospital would receive a $41 million upgrade. The previous day, Lawrence Springborg and Bruce Flegg had been in town to promise that an entirely new hospital would be built at a cost of $250 million, which did not go down as well as they would have hoped. Yesterday, The Australian carried a devastating article from Michael McKenna which reported that the idea was hurriedly cooked up by Messenger without reference to Flegg, who conceded to an unnamed source that the election announcement left him "standing there like a stunned mullet" with "no time to research". The proposal was also criticised by high-profile victim support group leader Beryl Crosby, who said staffing rather than facilities were the issue, and that Beattie’s cheaper proposal was a "much better option". Messenger also copped a blast from Crosby three weeks ago after he covertly taped a support group meeting he attended, which he claimed was necessary because members of the group had been threatening to sue him for defamation. On the other side of the ledger, Labor candidate Sonja Cleary’s cause has been damaged by the announcement that former party branch secretary Greg McMahon will run as an independent. McMahon is an associate of Brian Courtice, the former federal member for Hinkler, whose wife Marcia Courtice was defeated for preselection in controversial circumstances. It was also reported in the Courier-Mail on Wednesday that Cleary had suffered a "damaging blow" when the Coalition raised her position on the district hospital council at the time a letter was written in support of Jayant Patel. The current newsworthiness of the letter is debatable, given that it was published in the News-Mail letters column in March 2005 under the name of council chairman Viv Chase, who was questioned about it at the commission of inquiry the following August.

Robina (Liberal 8.8%): The Liberal Party preselection to replace recently deposed leader Bob Quinn will be held tomorrow, and it is causing as much friction as would be expected of a short-notice contest for the party’s second safest seat. There was initial speculation that leadership aspirant Michael Caltabiano might be tempted by a safer haven than his very shaky electorate of Chatsworth, though he quickly rejected this as "ridiculous". Sean Parnell wrote in The Australian yesterday that the front-runners are 24-year-old Aaron Debattista, backed by the Bob Tucker faction that includes Bruce Flegg, and 28-year-old Mark Powell, supported by Flegg’s leadership rival Michael Caltabiano and his federal allies, Senator Santo Santoro and Moncrieff MP Steve Ciobo (Powell’s former employer). Other candidates include Ray Stevens, former Gold Coast mayor and 2004 Gaven candidate, and what Parnell describes as "relative unknowns". The outcome will have a crucial bearing on the numbers for any post-election leadership showdown, providing Caltabiano can hold his seat of Chatsworth. UPDATE (20/8/06): Ray Stevens wins.

Broadwater (Labor 4.1%): Peter Beattie has announced that the controversial cruise ship terminal proposed for Southport Spit will not proceed because of concerns raised in an environmental impact study. The announcement has displeased Gold Coast mayor Ron Clarke and been greeted warily by the anti-development Save The Spit Alliance. The site in question is on the cusp of Broadwater, Southport and the less electorally interesting Surfers Paradise, and was of sufficient interest to the broader region to have been a major issue in the Gaven by-election campaign. Writing shortly afterwards, Peter Cameron of the Gold Coast Bulletin reported that "National Party scrutineers at some booths were astonished on Saturday night that Greens preferences went to their candidate, Dr Alex Douglas … The message will not be lost on the Coalition which is certain to intensify its opposition and tactics to the cruise terminal on The Spit".

Hervey Bay (Labor 4.0%): Media attending Lawrence Springborg’s opening of Nationals candidate Jan Rohozinski’s electorate office were quick to pounce when they noticed three "young children" left unattended in a nearby car emblazoned with Rohozinski’s campaign logo. Campaign workers quickly drove it away, and it was not clear whether the car or its occupants were hers. Rohozinski has also made the papers by refusing to resign from her position on Hervey Bay City Council in accordance with a contentious provision forbidding sitting councillors from running at Queensland state elections. It appears that her position will be vacated automatically when the Electoral Commission processes her nomination, but most councillors observe the formality of resigning beforehand.

Southport (Labor 10.0%) and Kawana (Labor 1.5%): Among Labor’s bonanza of health promises is a new hospital at Kawana on the Sunshine Coast and an upgrading of existing plans for a hospital at the Griffith University Gold Coast campus, in the electorate of Southport. It had earlier been decided that the Sunshine Coast hospital would be located at nearby Sippy Downs, but this was withdrawn following allegations the then Health Minister, Gordon Nuttall, had favoured a developer with links to the Labor Party, which is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Crime and Misconduct Commission. The Griffith University facility will now have 750 beds rather than 500 and will be delivered two years earlier than originally scheduled, at a cost of $1.23 billion rather than the original $500 million.

Gympie (Independent 10.0% vs Labor): Elisa Roberts, an independent who won the seat as a One Nation candidate in 2001, announced on July 19 that she would not contest the election, then said she might reconsider a week later, then said she had "made her decision" not to run another week later, and has now said that she will run after all. Also running is Labor’s candidate from 2001 and 2004, Rae Gate, this time as an independent. Like most locals, Gate is not pleased with the Traveston Crossing dam proposal that will inundate between 450 and 600 farms in the electorate.

Caloundra (Liberal 1.3%): The Coalition has criticised Peter Beattie’s decision to allow Labor candidate Tony Moor (who according to AAP has only been a party member for three weeks) to continue his medical practice if he is elected, in light of Labor’s attacks on Bruce Flegg for doing the same thing.

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.

14 comments on “Highlights of week one”

  1. Small issue – but when I looked at the C-Mail’s published version of the Galaxy poll yesterday, it actually said Coalition 40 (Lib 24, Nat 16) and Other 7.

  2. Those local polls are also confused by the inclusion of options that aren’t on the ballot paper. Like asking Liberal and National in every seat. Interesting result, but how much are they confused by the structure of the questions.

  3. I looked at http://www.springborg.com and most of his “Key Values” really do have a major *cringe factor* about them (like land clearing, hardline law and order policies, reducing gun control, increased sentencing, drug laws, same-sex relationships).

    It is a complete turn-off for young voters, women and educated urban professionals.

    The coalition really shot themselves in the foot when they decided to run Nationals (and not Liberals) in places like Southport, Hervey Bay and Bundaberg.

    Urban voters would of at least given the Liberals a fair hearing in those seats.

    But when a nutter Nationals candidate is imposed on them – the evidence is that they stick with Labor.

  4. On the point about Family First, they pose a potential danger to Nats in the bush and regional areas. And for that matter to Coalition candidates on the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, if they run there, as there are large blocs of evangelicals on both coasts. With optional preferential, any splintering of the conservative vote risks turning close seats into effective first past the post contests, which has led to Labor wins in unlikely places in the past.

    FF are also cool on allocating preferences to the Nats, because they don’t like Springborg taking a relatively soft line on the legalised brothel question. So they are sending round a candidate questionnaire.

    FF might be able to direct their preferences more tightly than ONP, but it depends on how many troops they can muster on election day. And the culture of “Just Vote One” has been pretty successfully entrenched in Qld since Beattie began pushing it some elections ago.

  5. Disunity is death in politics and in the Queensland election the Opposition is showing a fatal level of division. We have a splintering of unity on two fronts.

    1. Between the Nationals and Liberals. The coalition is shoddy and weak. The failed ‘New Liberals’ plan is fresh in the minds of most Qlders and Bruce Flegg and Springborg don’t seem to have the same entrenched relationship that had grown between Quinn and Springborg simply because of time and necessity. The ‘Who will be Premier?’ question is also highly damaging.

    2. The factional nonsense gripping the Liberals will lose them votes among those who care (if people do actually care). The Robina preselection is just another example of the Santoro faction trying to exert undeserved influence and swinging voters won’t like this. Though the Beattie government has screwed up plenty of times they do appear to be successfully united.

    For these two reasons the Coalition have consigned themselves Opposition for perhaps another two terms.

  6. Another small issue – your Gympie info box still lists Roberts as the Outgoing Member.

    It sounds like she’s been caught at an indecisive moment. It reminds me of something Antony wrote last year:

    It appears that fixed general election dates have given MPs more opportunity to consider their future rather than be rushed to re-nominate by the calling of a snap election.

  7. The other problem with the Sunday Mail polls is:
    – They include the Democrats, who are de-registered
    – They don’t include Family First, who are registered.

  8. I think Jon and Dave have summed up my thoughts on the progress of the Coalition campaign. The selection of Nationals candidates in city seats was never a smart idea (I still maintain that if Labor hadn’t chosen a union hack in the Gaven by-election, they might have held the seat against Alex Douglas because of this), and the who-will-be-leader fiasco was a stuffup of massive proportions, and one that I think effectively finished them.

    I’m cynical about the impact that Family First and the Greens can have in Queensland, where the unicameral parliament prevents them from having any hope of winning seats. I really don’t think that either of them will have much effect on the campaign, and I suspect what preferences they do send to the major parties will probably cancel each other out.

    The question of the independents, on the other hand, is much more interesting. I suspect that all the incumbents will retain their seats, except for (possibly) Elisa Roberts, due to her flip-flopping on recontesting her seat and the Traveston dam. In this climate, I’d put my money on a couple more appearing, and I wouldn’t count on the lack of hype surrounding any individual independent as a sign that no new ones will win. Queensland has been very friendly to conservative independents for years, and the likes of Ray Hopper (2001) and Trevor Perrett (1989) both came out of nowhere to win.

  9. I think FF pose a significant threat to the Nats in the seats they need to win in the regions and on the coasts, because they’re dirty on Springborg for not wanting to stamp out legal prostitution (yes, folks, that’s the #1 issue for Queensland families!) and disinclined to allocate preferences. Even if they do, they more than likely don’t have the people to staff all sorts of very remote booths.

    So optional preferential means that they may reduce the Nats’ primary significantly through their votes exhausting. That’s more problematic for the Nats’ chances in trying to take seats off Labor, but it’s not impossible it could lead to a Nats loss if their vote comes from nowhere in a seat.

    More reasoning on this explained here, and commentary on the independents. The independents are again mainly a problem for the Nats, not for Labor.


  10. My apologies to Mr Bowe if I have taken “Even Family First has disappointed by deciding to run only in country seats” out of context, however I point out that Family First does have a candidate in the Brisbane electorate of Mansfield.

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