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").
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.