Seat du jour: Herbert

The Townsville-based electorate of Herbert was created at federation, when it extended north to Cairns and south to Mackay. The latest redistribution has maintained a long-running trend by drawing the electorate into Townsville, reducing its area from 1,997 square kilometres to 389 through the transfer of territory south of the city to Dawson. Support for Labor is stronger in and around the town centre than in the interior suburbs, especially after the latter produced particularly strong Liberal swings in 2004. The electorate ranks seventeenth out of 150 for number of voters over 55 and has the country’s eighth highest indigenous population, at 6.9 per cent (much of it concentrated in troubled Palm Island). Lavarack Barracks makes the electorate highly sensitive to defence issues: Antony Green noted before the previous election that one in eight jobs in the electorate was linked to defence. Adam Carr notes the influence of a booming tourism industry in contributing to relatively high incomes for a regional seat.

Herbert was mostly in Labor hands until the 1960s, and turned in a 34.2 per cent vote for Communist Party candidate Frederick Paterson in 1943 (Paterson went on to win the state seat of Bowen the following year, the only such success for a Communist candidate in Australian history). A watershed moment came with the victory of Liberal candidate Robert Bonnett in the 1966 landslide, which was followed by further swings against the trend of the 1969 and 1972 elections. The seat came back on Labor’s radar in 1980 when Ted Lindsay cut the margin below 1 per cent, before finishing the job with a 3.7 per cent swing in 1983. Lindsay held the seat until 1996, when a 9.0 per cent swing delivered it to unrelated Liberal candidate Peter Lindsay. Ted Lindsay came within 160 votes of pulling off a comeback in 1998, but Peter Lindsay has since consolidated with swings of 1.5 per cent in 2001 and 4.7 per cent in 2004. The local state seats of Thuringowa and Burdekin were among the 11 that fell to One Nation in 1998 (though their vote in Townsville was markedly lower), but their candidate for Herbert only managed 14.3 per cent at the 1998 election.

Before entering parliament, Peter Lindsay (left) was a Townsville councillor and owner of an electronics services business. Notably for a member whose electorate includes Lavarack Barracks, he spoke out in September 2002 against “the notion of a premature, pre-emptive strike by the US” against Iraq. Lindsay faced a preselection challenge the following year from Townsville oncologist Peter Fon, which according to former party vice-president Graham Young was orchestrated by members of the faction associated with Michael Caltabiano, then the state party president. Fon ultimately decided at the last minute that he would not challenge after all, citing the interests of the party. Lindsay was not troubled for preselection going into this election, and in January he won a long-awaited promotion to parliamentary secretary for defence – a portfolio no doubt chosen as a match for his electoral interests. Labor’s candidate is George Colbran (right), whose business background as the owner of eight local McDonald’s franchises has been used by Labor to refute claims of union dominance. He appropriately won preselection ahead of a local union official, Margie Dale of the Federated Clerks Union, whom he defeated in a local ballot by 211 votes to 75.

Herbert was among four Queensland marginals polled by Galaxy at the start of the campaign and again in the second last week, which both pointed to swings to Labor of around 5 per cent: enough to cost the Liberals Bonner and Moreton, but not Herbert and Longman. Newspoll has similarly conducted two marginal seats polls covering Herbert, Moreton, Bonner and Blair, one from October 29-November 1 showing a 9.6 per cent swing to Labor and one from November 12-15 showing an 8.6 per cent swing. Labor strategists quoted by Dennis Atkins of the Courier-Mail in early October suggested the Newspoll has been nearer the mark, with regional Queensland polling pointing to “two party preferred votes north of 55 per cent”. Madonna King also wrote in the Courier-Mail at this time that Liberal insiders were struggling to dispute Labor talk that Herbert and five other Queensland seats were “in the bag”. Two weeks later the Townsville Bulletin published a poll of 209 respondents conducted by consultants AEC Group, which showed George Colbran and Peter Lindsay each on 41 per cent of the primary vote with Colbran ahead 53-47 on two-party preferred. A similar poll published in early September produced a near-identical result.

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.

38 comments on “Seat du jour: Herbert”

  1. Herbert is probably not a must win for Labor but it could turn into one if some of the other lower hanging seats don’t go their way. Who ever wins it will probably be a late night for the candidates with a very slim majority.

  2. Amusing historical factoid: Fred Paterson, Australia’s only MP elected on the Communist Party ticket, once pointed at Joh Bjelke-Petersen across the chamber and said words to the effect of: ‘you are the only man in this house who has less chance of becoming Premier than I have’

  3. So, do we think this the 75th seat to fall? I think Labor wins without Herbert, I’ll put it at #78, with Bowman being the 79th and safest seat to fall. It won’t be the most marginal after the elecion though… that honour will belong to Bennelong, held by Maxine by under 100 votes… Howard to concede days before he knows the fate of his own seat 🙂

  4. After living in Townsville for 20 years, I can say that Herbert will go with government. If Rudd just falls short (either not to win government, or ends up as a minority government), Herbert will stay in the in Libs hands. However I’m not saying it will be seat #76, but it could happen earlier, just that I think the military link will make it want to follow the side that is going to be in power, even if the military is more like to vote for the Libs.

    If by the end of the week it looks like Labor will win, Herbert will go with the flow.

  5. Those booths on the far western boundary, south of the highway and east of the Bohle River, are the ‘Mortgage Belt’ booths in the electorate and the ones that swung strongly to the Liberals last time. These especially are the ones that will need to swing back strongly for the ALP to take it.

    Mr Speaker, my thanks also for for writing the Javascript for that toggling capability on William’s map, which to me is very impressive, and much more convenient than scrolling up and down to compare maps.

  6. Hi folks – I’ve written a few things on Herbert for the ABC (link), New Matilda (link) and the project I’m involved in, youdecide2007 (link to search page) It’s worth reading today’s Townsville Bulletin that showcases another example (link) of Peter Lindsay’s problem – loose lips. There’s some indiscipline creeping in. I think Herbert will go down to the wire, but bellwethers go with the governing party for a reason – I think Labor need to win seats like this.

  7. Therapy – it’s true that they historically tend to vote coalition en bloc, because of a perception that defence spending goes up under the right, and more recently because all these overseas deployments line soldiers’ pockets with extra, tax-free cash. Rudd’s tried to counter that with a promise of free clinics for defence families which might play okay both in Herbert and in Solomon. Truth is, though, that any Labor swing in Herbert has to outwiegh the Libs’ block vote at the base.

  8. Therapy: I used to know a solider and he said that the military will follow the side that spends more on military. Since I don’t live in Townsville any more, I can’t tell you if the Iraq War is still a favourite within Townsville, but I know 3 years ago it was certainly in favour and Latham lost military votes from it.

    With Labor been seen as weak on defence makes it a little harder to win those extra votes. Also note that the polling place that got 67 TPP for the Libs would include Lavarack Barracks. The Heatly area, on 53 TTP, is also a defence housing area but since that is more family based rather than single soldiers I would guess there is something similar to a doctor’s wife thing that happens there too.

    I think Labor launching their defence dental and health plan in Townsville was the best tactical strike at securing votes from the defence force.

  9. People who join the army are more likely to be conservative (ditto for police despite their high levels of unionisation). Note also how Anglo the military are. The only time I know of when soldiers’ votes were counted separately was in 1917 when they very strongly favoured the conservatives.

  10. So: Lib hold Herbert 55-45

    Nice try ALP

    PS why do all your seats have such silly names?

    Over here we have proper names such as Ealing North etc

  11. To me its not just government spending that makes the military vote conservative. There must be something going on with the mindset and education level as well. One former infantry officer I knew who served in Vietnam hates the Liberals but he was well educated and saw how cynically the Liberals sent soldiers off to foreign battlefields for political reasons. Several Labor candidates are ex military too. But that is not the norm for the rank and file. When you think about it, many joining the military are sufficiently committed to preserving our society that they will risk their lives for it. They are, by nature, “conservative”. Low average education level for enlisted personnel doesn’t help either.

  12. I met George Colbran in a business capacity several times. He’s a seriously competent person and it speaks volumes that such a figure is standing for the ALP.
    In a decent, rational and fair universe, Herbert is in the bag for the good guys.

  13. Okay as a Townsvillian may I just say this seat is in the bag for Labor, Lindsey just isn’t a strong competitor and Colbran has been campaigning very well and has made a name for himself here.

    Now may I talk about the perceptions of the “army” vote. Townsville is a big city and we have one of the biggest army regiments in Australia… HOWEVER it is not as important to the city as it once was and I really do think people are overstating the importance. It’s sort of like saying Canberra will vote the coalition because it has an Army training facility…

    Anyways the two biggest industries that this city works on is the Townsville City Ports and mining jobs through fly-in fly-out work(which is making the city boom)

  14. The polls have not changed much there as of late, means Labor will very likely win Herbert, along with Leitchardt (the Liberals will miss Enstch’s personal vote).

  15. LaborVoter – I agree that the mines and the Port are very important (as well as transport, state and federal public service, education (incl. Higher Ed) etc. BUT there are several thousand votes at the base, the vast majority of which are locked in for the Liberals. It just makes it that much more difficult for Labor aspirants,

  16. i work frequently with the Defence Force and i suspect there will be a swing to the ALP among serving men and woman. Officers are fully aware of the attempted politicisation of Defence and Tampa, SIEV X are still fresh in people’s minds (the ship crews knew what happened but they were silenced at the time). Enlisted troops are really pissed off about poor equipment, backpacks; boots, even rifles are of poor quality. And remember that Defence Force members are not that different to the rest of Australia, they are not mad conservatives but married people with mortgages and kids needing education. And they are young and watch Rove.

  17. You guys are hilarious. If you hold up your hand and count your fingers thats how many seats the ALP will gain in QLD. And thats at best.

  18. What did Mark Latham do to annoy Palm Islanders? (18.5% swing!)

    Was the last election after the death in custody there, with the community punishing federal labor for Peter Beattie, or something else?

  19. i would think that if the ALP was really to win with only one hands worth of seats in QLD (5 or 4 if ur pedantic) then they would be well on the way to winning the election… what point are you trying to make thommo?

  20. Thommo thats all we need mate.. thats all we need.

    Southerners should not try and understand Queenslanders, we are very grass roots kind of people where as you mexicans seem to go for the guy in the business suit and grease haired lawyers.

    I’ve voted One Nation, Greens, Liberal and Labor. “Left” and “Right” means absolutely nothing up here, it’s all about who is going to represent our views.

    Just because you mexicans don’t like how we vote, doesn’t mean we are voting wrong either, it’s ignorance on your part imho(eg. going on about 23% of Queenslanders voting for One Nation in the state election).

    We do like teaching the pollies a few lessons here and there as well, but I don’t think thats the case in this election, Labor should pick up 4 or 5 seats here however.

  21. Agree with Seajay 26. The local ADF ain’t going to help Lindsey. According to the local news even Pete has given stating he doesn’t care if he loses. Its natural ALP territory heading back to home!

  22. Does anyone have a informed opinion on the military vote?

    Here I get to mix with RAAFies at the supermarket and I stand by the gut feeling that a lot of them don’t like Brendan over his aircraft purchases.

  23. Looking at current polling, it’s very difficult to see the Liberal Party retaining this seat.

    You would have to say that there are less marginal seats in Queensland that will fall in addition to this.

  24. You guys voting Labor in what do you think he will do for our community??? Have you noticed that his maccas are going downhill??? everytime you walk in to one of them lately they are filty, tables are all dirty… staff aren’t working and all the rest. If he can’t run his businesses how the F***K do you think he can run our town?? He can’t even answer a simple question … all through the election he has answered “i have to speak to someone and will get back to you on that”. He is just a YES man and can even publicly speak…. Lindsey on the other hand is GOOD for the community and especially our defense force and since we are a defense force town we should stick with what we have. WHAT IS WRONT WITH ALL OF YOU.

  25. I think George will be an excellent member if he gets over the line. He will be a guy who actually gets things done; people would be stunned if they knew what he has already done for the community. You see, he does these things whilst not actively seeking public recognition for them. Lindsay is your typical pollie…only does things if there is a camera on hand or if there is some political mileage to be gained. I was enjoying reading the previous comments until those made by Karen. Pity she had to resort to foul language to make her point, and even then, the grammar and spelling were ordinary to say the least. (I am really filty about the way she spelt defense…what is wront with her!!) As they say, winners are grinners, and losers can please themselves. I guess this is how she chooses to please herself.

  26. Colbran is ahead at the moment by about 392 votes with more pre-poll votes and the military votes from Iraq yet to arrive. I suspect that the military vote will get Lindsay across the line.

    It is clear up here in Townsville that the Defence (or more specifically the army) guys vote Liberal. I have heard that the soldiers who were in under Labour have been telling the young guys many horror stories about how truly bad it was for the army under Labour – add to that there are soldiers trying pretty hard to get to go to Iraq and Lindsay should get a clear majority of their vote. Also note that at the booths near the main army base Lindsay got over 60% over the primary vote.

  27. Latest counting today has extended George Colbrans lead a little. I really think that Peter Lindsay would not particularly care if he lost the seat. He is now 63 (I think), and he has never sat on the Opposition benches. This would be really frustrating for him and given that Labor will more than likely be in for a minimum of 2 terms, he will really have little effect in Parliament if he wins this time, and therefore be of little benefit to the people of Herbert. His heart will simply not be in it.

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