Blair was created at the 1998 election to accommodate the hinterland beyond Ipswich and the Sunshine Coast. Two subsequent redistributions have seen it take over Ipswich from Oxley, the most recent gain being balanced by the loss of northern conservative rural areas including Kingaroy, Nanango, Esk and Kilcoy to Maranoa, Dickson and Fisher. Despite the compensating gain of safe Liberal Boonah Shire from Forde in the south, the exchange has produced a dramatic 5.7 per cent cut in the previously safe Liberal margin.
Ipswich gained its Labor orientation as a result of post-war industrial expansion, its host electorate of Oxley being won from the Liberals by Bill Hayden in 1961. Pauline Hanson memorably demonstrated that Labor could not take Ipswich for granted when she won Oxley in 1996, scoring 48.6 per cent as an independent after the Liberals disendorsed her for writing to a newspaper advocating the abolition of government assistance for Aborigines. Hanson was then done a poor turn when a redistribution created Blair from Oxley’s areas outside Ipswich, and she opted to contest the new seat rather than Oxley or (more sensibly) the Senate. Former Labor Senator John Black observed that Hanson had high hopes for the so-called religious Right, from the Lockyer and Brisbane Valleys and the South Burnett region, which he described as Queensland’s demographic equivalent of the US Appalachian Mountain states. The major parties’ mutual decision to preference each other at Hanson’s expense may have sealed her doom no matter which way she jumped, although she still came within 3.3 per cent of winning the seat. Liberal candidate Cameron Thompson won from third place on the primary vote, overturning first the Labor candidate on minor party preferences and then Hanson on Labor preferences.
Before winning the Blair preselection at the age of 37, Cameron Thompson (left) had worked for the ABC and as a staffer to Northern Territory Chief Minister Shane Stone and Queensland Treasurer Joan Sheldon. Among his competitors for preselection was Jim Killen, former Gorton and Fraser government minister and member for Moreton, making a quixotic bid for a comeback at age 72 in the hope of taking on Hanson. Thompson went on to absorb most of the disappearing One Nation vote in 2001, when he won an 8.5 per cent two-party margin over Labor. A redistribution ahead of the 2004 election clipped this by 1.8 per cent, but Thompson handsomely consolidated his position with a 4.5 per cent swing that was evenly distributed across the electorate. This was curiously reversed in the eastern part of Ipswich that was then in Oxley, as demonstrated by the booth and swing results maps shown above. Labor has again nominated its candidate from 2004, Shayne Neumann (right), after a preselection process that failed to attract the attention of the media. Neumann is a family lawyer and partner in the Brisbane firm Neumann & Turnour.
The Coalition has targeted Blair as part of its firewall strategy to grimly hang on in enough seats to retain a slender majority. A key element of this strategy has been a risky decision to fund a $2.3 billion Ipswich Motorway bypass at Goodna in the neighbouring electorate of Ryan. Former Queensland Liberal Party vice-president Graham Young wrote on his Ambit Gambit blog that Cameron Thompson was the only local politician who supported the option over the alternative of widening the motorway. The Prime Minister’s support for the Goodna option was put down to factional alignments, in which Thompson and the Santo Santoro faction were favoured over Ryan MP Michael Johnson and state Liberal leader Bruce Flegg, factional moderate and member for the affected electorate of Moggill. Blair has also been the target of a promised $700 million in Auslink funding for a second crossing of the Toowoomba Range, located in neighbouring Groom, and $215 million for the intersection of the Warrego and Brisbane Valley highways. In the second week of the campaign, the Courier-Mail reported that Blair’s special treatment was starting to cause angst in Coalition ranks, with Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce complaining he wouldn’t have minded a bit of that money in a few other places.
Blair was one of four Queensland electorates covered by a Newspoll marginal seats survey in the third week of the campaign, which showed a combined swing across the four of 9.6 per cent. Writing in the Courier-Mail in early October, Madonna King reported that Liberal insiders were struggling to dispute Labor talk that Blair, Bonner, Moreton, Herbert and Flynn were in the bag.