As anyone with a passing interest in Australian electoral matters can tell you, Queensland looms as the key battleground for this year’s federal election. Labor holds just six of the state’s 28 seats, and will be more than half way to a parliamentary majority if only it can even the ledger. The most marginal of the Coalition-held seats is Bonner, which extends from the bayside Wynnum-Manly area in the north-east to Mount Gravatt in the south-west. Bonner was created at the 2004 election from territory which had previously been in the Labor seats of Griffith (providing about 38,000 voters) and Bowman (28,000), and the Liberal-held seat of Moreton (18,000 voters); also included is the lightly populated area south of Tingalpa Reservoir, formerly in Fadden.
Historically, this area was part of Oxley until 1922 in Mount Gravatt’s case, and 1934 in Wynnum-Manly’s; both areas were absorbed by Moreton until 1955, when Wynnum-Manly was taken over by Bowman. Bowman covered the entire area from 1969 until 1977, when Mount Gravatt went back to Moreton. Griffith first poked its nose in at the 1996 election, first absorbing Mount Gravatt and then assuming an area between the two main centres in 1998. Moreton was a conservative seat until 1990, notwithstanding Jim Killen’s famous 120-vote victory when the Menzies government had its brush with death in 1961. It was henceforth held for two terms by Labor’s Garrie Gibson before being won by the present Liberal member, Gary Hardgrave, in 1996. Bowman has traditionally leaned towards Labor, but was held for the Liberals through the period of the Fraser government by David Jull (who returned as member for Fadden in 1984). It was thereafter won by the Liberals only at the 1996 election, at which Labor was reduced to two seats in Queensland. Another casualty on that occasion was Griffith, which had been fairly safe for Labor since a redistribution in 1977. The losing candidate was Kevin Rudd, who had better luck on his second attempt in 1998.
Labor’s unsuccessful candidate in Bonner at the 2004 election was Con Sciacca, a Keating government minister who held Bowman from 1987 to 1996 and again from 1998 to 2004. With a notional Labor margin of 1.9 per cent, Bonner was a greatly more attractive option for Sciacca than the redrawn Bowman, where the loss of Wynnum-Manly and the gain of the Redland Bay area from Fadden produced a notional Liberal margin of 3.1 per cent. Nonetheless, Sciacca was unable to hold the new seat, suffering a 2.4 per cent swing and losing by 795 votes. The successful Liberal candidate was Ross Vasta (left), a former restaurant owner and staffer to Senator Brett Mason who ran unsuccessfully against Kevin Rudd in Griffith in 2001. The following map shows the two-party preferred results for localities containing one or more polling booths; as with my earlier maps for Stirling, red indicates a Labor majority and blue a Liberal majority, and the size of the numbers varies as a rough indicator of the number of the votes cast.
This is broadly instructive in demonstrating Labor’s strength at the northern end of the electorate; however, its limitations are indicated by the following map showing the remarkable inconsistency of the swing. Most striking is the degree to which the variations correspond with the old boundaries, suggesting a greater influence of personal support for sitting members than urban electorates are normally credited with.
In particular, Labor suffered a mass exodus of support among Griffith voters who had lost the opportunity to vote for Kevin Rudd. By contrast, Con Sciacca was able to pick up a small swing from his existing constituents in the area that had been in Bowman, and in the Moreton area where Gary Hardgrave also appeared to enjoy strong personal support. The strength of these variations can only partly be explained by demographic factors, specifically the greater concentration of voters in mortgage-paying households in the Griffith area (32.8 per cent on 2001 census figures, compared with 28.0 per cent in the Bowman area, 23.9 per cent in the Moreton area and 26.5 per cent nationally).
Ross Vasta’s main source of publicity since entering parliament has been his involvement in the scandal surrounding misuse of electoral printing allowances, which resulted in his office being searched by the Australian Federal Police in March. However, the printing job which was the subject of the investigation was reportedly not ordered by Vasta, and the main principals of the affair were his Brisbane Liberal colleagues Gary Hardgrave and Andrew Laming (the member for Bowman). The Prime Minister’s public backing of Vasta last month was seen to indicate that he would escape charges. His Labor opponent is Kerry Rea (left), who has been on Brisbane City Council since 1991. Rea’s Holland Park ward coincides with Bonner around Mount Gravatt, the remainder being in Griffith and Moreton. A member of the Left faction, Rea reportedly won preselection comfortably ahead of school teacher Chris Forrester. Forrester was Labor’s unsuccessful candidate at the by-election for the state seat of Chatsworth in August 2005, and initially aspired to run again at last September’s election. He was persuaded to withdraw in favour of Channel Nine sports commentator Chris Bombolas, who went on to defeat Liberal member Michael Caltabiano, as part of a deal that gave him factional backing in Bonner. Matthew Franklin of The Australian reported that this deal unravelled following a rebellion in local party ranks, where Rea had overwhelming support.