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.