Griffith by-election: February 8

The definitive end of the Kevin Rudd era likewise means the end of the longest federal by-election drought in over 60 years, in what looms as a fascinating early test for Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten alike.

Friday, February 7

Interesting to observe a run on Bill Glasson in the betting markets, following reports showing Labor internal polling had him on 47% of the primary vote. After being at $6.25 a few days ago, a Glasson victory will now only get you $3.75, with Labor’s Terri Butler out from $1.10 to $1.25. However, Labor sources now tell Troy Bramston of The Australian they have pulled ahead in their most recent polling, with Glasson down to 44% and Butler with 42% of the primary vote and 53% of two-party preferred. At the same time, Andrew Fraser of The Australian relates Labor concerns that voters are “suffering extreme electoral fatigue and may stay at home”. On the other side of the equation, Joanna Heath of the Financial Review reports Liberals have “all but given up hope”. I find myself believing the Liberals on this occasion, and will be requiring rather more than $3.75 before I take a punt on them.

Wednesday, February 5

With the campaign in its final week, Labor seems keen to dispel the notion that it has the matter in hand to the extent that Centrebet should be offering $1.10 on their candidate Terri Butler, against $6.25 for the LNP’s Bill Glasson. Among others, Dennis Atkins of the Courier-Mail has spoken of Labor internal polling conducted early last month showing Bill Glasson’s vote up to a formidable 47% from the 42% he recorded at the election. Phillip Coorey of the Financial Review puts considerably more meat on the bones of Labor polling talk, offering personal ratings for the two candidates, the party leaders and Campbell Newman. These indicate that both Glasson and Butler are viewed very favourably, but with Glasson quite a bit better known, scoring an “unsure” rating of 18% compared with Butler’s 40%. Bill Shorten is viewed neutrally, which he might be pleased with given this is Kevin Rudd’s turf. Both the Coalition leaders are viewed unfavourably, Campbell Newman especially. However, the numbers do not encompass voting intention, a Labor source merely offering that “the primary vote for Dr Glasson continues to be in the high 40’s”. This is said to be very much a “personal vote” for Glasson, who told attendees at his campaign launch on Sunday that voters should be concerned only with “selecting the next member for Griffith”. This came as news to Julie Bishop, who several times during her speech said they would be doing so for the seat of Griffin.

Friday, January 17

With the closure of nominations yesterday, 11 candidates have emerged, with Bill Glasson copping last place on the ballot paper. In order: Timothy Lawrence (Stable Population Party); Geoff Ebbs (Greens); Christopher David Williams (Family First); Karel Boele (Independent); Anthony Ackroyd (Bullet Train for Australia); Anne Reid (Secular Party); Terri Butler (Labor); Melanie Rose Thomas (Pirate Party); Travis James Windsor (Independent); Ray Sawyer (Katter’s Australian Party); Bill Glasson (Liberal National Party).

Tuesday, January 7

The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Bronwyn Bishop, yesterday set February 8 as the date for the by-election, hence my bumping of this post to the top of the blog. Nominations close on Thursday, January 16, with the ballot paper draw to be held the following day. As foreshadowed in the previous entry, Labor’s candidate will be Terri Butler, to face Bill Glasson of the LNP and Geoff Ebbs of the Greens. Clive Palmer has announced that the Palmer United Party will not be fielding a candidate, preferring instead to focus its energies on the anticipated Western Australian Senate re-match. Here’s how I reviewed the situation in an overview of the electoral year ahead for today’s Crikey:

The first of these is the byelection to choose a successor to Kevin Rudd in his inner-southern Brisbane seat of Griffith, which was yesterday set for February 8 by Bronwyn Bishop in her capacity as Speaker. It’s been a mere eight weeks since Rudd’s surprise resignation placed this particular item on the agenda, but that’s been more than enough time to require that the original conventional wisdom about the contest be cast aside.

Although Griffith’s inner-city orientation makes it one of Labor’s most reliable seats in Queensland, the party has known it to be loseable since Rudd himself failed to carry it on his first attempt in 1996. The circumstances of the byelection also granted the Liberal National Party something of a head start.

Labor’s administration had no advance warning of Rudd’s intentions, whereas the LNP found itself ready to go with the candidate it had optimistically recruited to take the fight to Rudd in September, former Australian Medical Association president Bill Glasson. That was certainly how betting markets initially read the situation, with Sportsbet making an opening offer of $1.75 on Glasson against $2.10 for a then-unnamed Labor candidate, who has turned out to be Maurice Blackburn lawyer Terri Butler.

It also seemed safe to assume that the deck would contain a wild card in the shape of the Palmer United Party, fresh from polling over 11% in Queensland at the federal election and facing the apparently golden opportunity of an electorate primed for a protest vote by the inconvenience of a byelection.

Both those bets are now off, almost literally in the first instance — coincidentally or otherwise, Kevin Rudd’s resignation coincided precisely with the Abbott government’s end-of-year dive in the polls, which has been accompanied by a blowout in Sportsbet’s price on Glasson to $4. Clive Palmer has also surprised by staying out of the fray, arguing his considerable resources can be better marshalled elsewhere.

Thursday, November 27

Tony Moore of Fairfax reports that February 1 is looming as the likely date of both the Griffith federal and Redcliffe state by-elections. Bill Glasson has confirmed he will run as the Liberal National Party candidate, while two candidates have emerged for a Labor preselection to be held on December 14, with Virgin Blue pilot Jeremy de Lore putting his name forward together with Maurice Blackburn lawyer Terri Butler, who appears to have the nomination sewn up. Sportsbet’s market for the seat has moved heavily towards Labor over the past fortnight: a Labor win is now paying $1.50 after starting at $2.10, while the LNP is out from $1.75 to $2.50.

Sunday, November 17

Bill Glasson has confirmed his intention to stand as the Liberal National Party candidate. However, two of the Labor front-runners identified in the post below – Di Farmer and Shayne Sutton – have both announced they will not contest the Labor preselection, for which nominations open tomorrow. Farmer had been rated particularly highly as a preselection prospect, but has cited family reasons for her decision not to put her name forward. The remaining Labor contender out of the three is Terri Butler, an industrial relations lawyer and member of the Left. Dennis Atkins of the Courier-Mail said on Insiders this morning that the Right was “scrambling around” for a new candidate in place of Farmer. A local operating under the handle of @GriffithElects is helpfully following events as they unfold Twitter.

Sportsbet has a market open on the by-election, rating the LNP favourites at $1.75 with $2.10 for Labor, $9 for the Palmer United Party and $34 for the Greens.

Thursday, November 14

Kevin Rudd’s announcement that he will resign from parliament at the end of the week provides the occasion for a) renewed debate about his political legacy, which I will leave to others to pursue (in some cases for the rest of your lives), and b) the breaking of the longest federal by-election drought since 1951. The looming contest for Rudd’s inner southern Brisbane seat of Griffith will be the first by-election in over four years, and almost certainly the first contested by both major parties in nearly six. Labor will be fighting to defend a margin of just 3.0%, following a 5.5% swing to the Liberal National Party on September 7. Antony Green calculates that the earliest possible date for the by-election is December 21, but with a date that close to Christmas out of the question, and school holidays generally being off limits, it is unlikely to be held any earlier than February.

The Australian reports that three names are being mentioned as potential Labor candidates: Di Farmer, who held the locally corresponding state seat of Bulimba until she joined Labor’s massive casualty list at the election of March last year; Terri Butler, a lawyer with Maurice Blackburn; and Shayne Sutton, a former Rudd staffer who serves Morningside ward on Brisbane City Council, on which she once led the Labor opposition. The Australian speaks of “growing support among the branches for Ms Farmer”, but Fairfax reports something similar of Butler, whose alignment with the Left would appear to stand her in particularly good stead in the green-left area around South Brisbane and West End. The Fairfax report says the trump card for Farmer, a member of the Right, is that she is likely to have the support of Rudd. Sutton on the other hand might be dissuaded by the need to abandon her seat on council in order to run, which would involve sacrificing a position worth nearly $150,000 a year for the sake of an uncertain electoral prospect.

As for the Liberal National Party, it is generally expected that their candidate at the recent election, Bill Glasson, will again take the field. Glasson is an ophthalmologist and former Australian Medical Association president whose father, Bill Glasson Sr, was a state National Party MP and minister in the Bjelke-Petersen, Ahern and Cooper governments. Bernard Keane of Crikey is among those who like his chances, presumably on the basis that Labor will be hit hard by the loss of Rudd’s personal vote. This point is well illustrated by charts displayed to the right, which track the two-party vote in the electorate going back to 1984. The bottom chart shows the difference between Griffith and Queensland state results with adjustments made to cancel out the effects of redistributions. This suggests either that some manner of demographic shift happened to coincide with Rudd’s tenure as member commencing in 1998, or that he personally was responsible for a solid improvement in Labor’s vote – albeit that the effect wore off somewhat at the most recent election (on which basis I might hypothesise that Rudd, like John Howard before him, suffered from a perception that he would shortly be gone from parliament in any case). Further evidence of a strong personal vote for Rudd was provided by the result of the 2004 election, when a large area of Griffith was carved off to create the new seat of Bonner. The affected areas swung heavily to the Liberals in Rudd’s absence, contributing to a surprise Labor defeat in the new seat.

Nonetheless, swings to governments at federal by-elections are exceedingly rare, even for newly elected governments in the apparent bloom of their honeymoon. The first by-election held after the election of the Rudd government was in Gippsland in June 2008, following the resignation of Nationals member and Howard government minister Peter McGauran. Labor’s two-party preferred vote as measured by opinion polls of the time was tracking in the high fifties, but they nonetheless emerged on the wrong end of a 6.1% swing despite having devoted considerable energy to their campaign. An ascendant Hawke government was similarly disappointed when it failed to poach Griffith’s highly marginal neighbouring seat of Moreton at a by-election in November 1983. An exception was the Liberals’ strong win in Lindsay in October 1996, but this appeared to be specific to the circumstances of the by-election, with voters responding unfavourably to the pedantic Labor legal challenge that caused Jackie Kelly’s election win to be declared void.

What follows is the entry for Griffith from my 2013 federal election guide, slightly modified for the occasion and with a map showing the most recent booth results (click to enlarge).

Griffith covers inner Brisbane immediately south of the Brisbane River, from South Brisbane east to Bulimba and Queensport, south to Annerley and south-west to Carina Heights. Prior to 1934 it was called Oxley, that name later being revived for an unrelated new Ipswich-based seat in 1949. Highly marginal historically, Griffith changed hands between Liberal and Labor in 1949, 1954, 1958, 1961, 1966, 1977, 1996 and 1998. Don Cameron won the seat for the Liberals with the 1966 landslide and then had his position strengthened by redistribution, which helped him retain the seat through the opposition years from 1972 to 1975. A redistribution at the 1977 election shifted the seat heavily in Labor’s favour, resulting in Cameron switching to the new Gold Coast seat of Fadden and Griffith being won for Labor by Ben Humphreys.

The Labor preselection which followed Humphreys’ retirement at the 1996 election was won by Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat who wielded great influence as chief-of-staff to Wayne Goss during his tenure as Queensland Premier from 1989 to 1996. In doing so he established a factional association with the locally dominant AWU sub-faction of the Right, which secured his preselection despite grumblings that the state branch was failing to meet affirmative action standards. However, the statewide rout that Labor suffered in 1996 saw Rudd fall it his first electoral hurdle, with Graeme McDougall gaining Griffith for the Liberals off a 6.2% swing. Rudd returned for a second attempt amid the far more favourable circumstances of 1998, picking up a 3.9% swing to prevail over McDougall by a margin of 2.4%.

Rudd established a formidable electoral record in Griffith, picking up 3.3% and 2.4% swings against the trend of the 2001 and 2004 elections. The electorate was substantially reshaped by redistribution at the 2004 election, absorbing inner city areas at East Brisbane, South Brisbane and Dutton Park while its eastern parts were hived off to the new seat of Bonner. In what may have been an early portent of Rudd’s electoral impact, the booths which were transferred out of the electorate contributed to a surprise defeat for Labor in Bonner by swinging heavily to the Liberals in his absence. Rudd enjoyed a further 3.8% swing as his party’s candidate for the prime ministership in 2007, and as its recently spurned ex-leader in 2010 he suffered what by Queensland standards was a relatively mild swing of 3.9%.

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.

89 comments on “Griffith by-election: February 8”

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  1. If Glasson nominates for the libs I would tip him to win.
    The Rudd factor I think is overrated to a degree but still there somewhat. The Abbott govt, whilst generally off to a very ordinary start, won’t have pissed off the disengaged masses too much at this stage.
    So coalition for me if Glasson nominates and ALP if he doesn’t.

  2. I think Glasson has this in the bag unless the ALP put up a high calibre candidate.

    It would be very difficult to watch Griffith returned to the Liberals.

  3. Henry, the problem with that, as William says above and as I said last night, as that the precedents mostly show that those factors don’t seem to count for much in by-elections. Even very popular new governments rarely win by-elections in opposition held seats. The most recent examples are Gippsland in 2008, and Wannon, Bruce and Moreton in 1983. Bruce and Moreton were more marginal than Griffith now is, and the Hawke government was more popular than Abbott now is, yet there swings to the Liberals in both seats. Lindsay in 1996 was, as William notes, not really a precedent because of circumstances in which Labor forced the by-election. There are some state precedents the other way: Burwood and Benalla in Vic and Earlwood in NSW.

    I’m not convinced that Rudd had a lot of personal vote to lose. He was badly on the nose in Qld by election day and the -5.5% swing he got was bigger than in other Brisbane-area seats. (Brisbane -3.2, Lilley -1.9, Moreton +0.4, Oxley -2.0, Petrie -3.0, Bonner -0.9, etc).

  4. Glasson will win easily, the people of Griffith will be mighty angry at being back at the polls, similar to that State seat in NSW a few weeks ago.

    Good riddens to Rudd, he racked up massive debt, was ego driven, trampled people and was forcussed on himself 100% of the time, despite claims otherwise.

  5. Does Rudd still have a personal vote given he copped a 5.5% swing against him while the Queensland swing generally against Labor was about 1%?

    Am I missing something?

  6. The Sydney Morning Herald was running a story that Jessica Rudd was being groomed as the Labor candidate, but the woman herself looks to have kyboshed that.

    She actually probably would be a decent candidate for the seat, but in the circumstances it’s probably best that she doesn’t run.

    I’d be surprised if Labor doesn’t hold this seat, but it will be the most competitive by-election for a decade or more (maybe Ryan and Aston in 2001?).

  7. There might not be many precedents at federal level, but there’s a one with plenty of parallels at state level: Anna Bligh was the member for South Brisbane, which is in the Labor/Green-friendly western part of the federal seat of Griffith. She retained the seat with a margin of 4.7% in 2012, and at the subsequent by-election there was a further 3-point swing against Labor on two-party-preferred. (That’s under optional preferences… not sure how to convert it to CPV.)

  8. If they do go with Di Farmer I would suggest that she probably has a bigger personal vote in the area than Rudd has. She managed to keep the swing in Bulimba down to less than half the state average in the Qld wipeout, even though the area she represents is demographically becoming more Lib-friendly. She only lost by a handful of votes and I think the voters of the area would like to see her back in – she was one of the few truly community-engaged politicians left

  9. William, can you explain further the ‘state benchmarked 2pp’ graph? It’s very hard to believe Rudd did better in, say, 2001, than Labor at state level in the same booths, given the election results in that year. That’s presumably not what it’s saying?

  10. Very belated response to Peter Brent: what the graph shows is the Labor vote in Griffith minus their vote in Queensland at the federal election in question. State election results don’t come into it.

  11. Griffith Qld ‏@GriffithElects 3h
    A spokesperson for Katter Australia advised @NoFibs today it is standing a candidate in by-election #Griffithvotes Selection being finalised

  12. Sportingbet has

    Labor $1.18
    LNP $4.25
    Greens $51.00

    The LNP, Newman, Abbott are all very much on the nose here.

    NB. Better odds for Labor without Rudd which disputes the hypothesis that Rudd ‘saved the furniture’.

  13. muttleymcgee@17

    Despite the headline grabbing outliers, Labor was sitting on an average 46-54 TPP before the switch to Rudd. There was a boost after the switch to 50-50 TPP and it fell back to 46-54, which is pretty much the election result.

  14. slight movement in the betting markets

    Sportsbet has

    Labor $1.20
    LNP $4.00
    Greens $67.00
    PUP $21

    I thought PUP was not fielding a candidate?

  15. Got a letter, postal vote application, and delightful 6 page booklet outlining what a tip top, all round very nice guy Bill Glasson is yesterday.

    Mentions of Tony Abbott: 0
    Mentions of the LNP: 1 (on the letterhead)

  16. [NB. Better odds for Labor without Rudd which disputes the hypothesis that Rudd ‘saved the furniture’.]

    I wouldn’t have said so. Rudd was hated less than Gillard, simple as that.

    Nevertheless, I’m willing to accept that the good people of Griffith prefer a fresh face over Rudd.

  17. smssiva@19

    I thought PUP was not fielding a candidate?

    I guess the bookie figures that (i) as a relatively new and crazy outfit PUP can’t be trusted not to change their mind and run (ii) they might be able to fleece some clueless rube anyway. Or they may have just copied the PUP odds from their 2013 election odds without checking.

  18. So far (January 10) only three candidates (nominations close January 16th). That’s a pretty low candidate number for a by-election. What’s the usual number of candidates in a federal by-election in recent years?

  19. @docantk 24

    Going entirely by memory… its usually a whole lot more than that.

    Was it Bradfield or Higgins back in ’09 that had aout 30 candidates, almost all of them from the Christian Democratic Party?

  20. @Asha Leu 26

    Bradfield. There were 22 candidates, nine of which were from the Christian Democratic Party. The other thirteen candidates were made up of the Liberals (who won the seat without having to rely on preferences), the Greens, the Sex Party, the DLP, Nuclear Energy, Climate Change, Liberal Democrat, One Nation and four independents.,_2009

  21. After reading through Pyne’s bloody ridiculous ideas about education, I’m here, as a teacher, to finally declare myself firmly apolitical.

    I have no love whatsoever for the ALP and, while I had some joy at their removal from office, the current government is as bad as what we got rid of — for different reasons. Are they worse overall? I’m not sure yet. Certainly with regard to ideas about education.

    While I have often muttered about the prescribed nature of our cross-curricular priorities that exist in the imperfect, but basically OK, Aus Curriculum, Pyne’s ideas sound like a piece of satire from The Onion.

    Anzac Day? What, you mean other than the day off and the special assemblies and other events in the leadup?

    Teaching about the benefits of Western Civilization? Words fail me. They really do.

    Roll on Griffith. I’ll be hoping for a comfortable Labor win in this one. Might shock some sense into this government and, eventually, Malcolm Turnbull into action.

  22. I guess apolitical is the wrong word as I have some very firm political opinions. Disenfranchised and fed up might be more accurate terminology.

  23. Nempsy

    Although not a teacher, I can appreciate your feelings on this matter.

    This Kevin Donnelly character has really blown any thought of being unbiased with some of his inane comments.

    The whole issue, as with most things Pyne does, is a giant political stunt.

    I commend you.

    It must feel good to be able to vote with such conviction on this issue.

  24. Didn’t Kev promise to serve his full term as member for Griffith even if he lost the election?

    Seems the punters never learn if they vote Labor MP in again.

  25. [Fun electoral fact: if she wins, Terri Butler will be the 100th woman elected to the House of Representatives.]

    Not-so-fun fact: Sean Tisme is a pest.

  26. Redcliffe poll & Miranda b/e suggest this could be very ugly for Libs. Are media expectations still in last year’s mind set that it will be close due to loss of KR personal vote & an Abbott honeymoon?Perhaps Libs should start managing media expectations down quickly.

  27. Gotta give Ray Sawyer credit.

    He stood for Katter in Fairfax in 2013, had no helpers, had to rotate pre-poll and polling day booths handing out HTV by himself and did it all with a smile. Top bloke, dud party. 🙂

  28. Sportsbet has shortened the odds for Libs from $4 to $3.50. Labour is still at $1.20. PUP is still being given odds!

    Labour $1.20
    LNP $3.50
    Greens $67.00
    PUP $34

  29. [Sportsbet has shortened the odds for Libs from $4 to $3.50. Labour is still at $1.20. ]

    The less seen of Rudd in Griffith the shorter the odds for labor are. Libs blew out once Rudd went overseas.

    I’d say this shortening is due to Rudd saying he will be back in Oz on Feb 8 and will campaign in Griffith then.

    Best he stay away, but who will tell him that?

  30. Labor to win this in a canter.

    Glasson was completely stuffed the moment the LNP reverted to type and floated the $6 charge for GPs. His association with the medical profession then became an enormous liability.

    When will they ever learn? The ALP won the argument on medicare long ago. Its a permanent victory, and its a permanent rejection of LNP values by the public. Accept it, or lose.

  31. Based on the polling information it is really hard to believe that either Glasson’s primary vote is in the mid to high 40’s or the LNP has any chance of winning Griffith.

    We will know on Saturday and it may be the mest poll guide we have had for a while.

  32. Of course Glasson would win easily from 47% but I really doubt these reports, I think Labor is massaging expectations down to make their comfortable victory look more impressive. Candidates, especially non-sitting MPs, don’t have much of a personal vote

  33. What a very articulate candidate is Terri Butler. Very impressed with her efforts on some TV clips such as her comments on SPC Ardmona.

    In fact, to be a little apartisan, it’s rare to see two such high quality candidates for the main parties in any seat.

  34. Here is the official* guide to what the result will mean, and how it will be interpreted:

    A Liberal party gain: A slap in the face for Bill Shorten, raising early questions about whether he’s cutting through given the manna from heaven in the form of a diabolical start by the new federal government on many policy fronts. At the same time, it will be seen as a strong endorsement of Glasson’s personal popularity in the electorate, and his tenacity in returning to the fray despite the tide of history favouring oppositions in such by-elections.

    A Labor win but with a TPP swing against the party: A milder version of the above.

    A Labor win holding steady at the result of the last election: A rather blah result meaning little.

    A Labor win with a swing of up to 4 per cent: A cautious thumbs up for Bill Shorten; a modest rebuke to both Campbell Newman and Tony Abbott. A powerful endorsement of an excellent candidate who quickly found a strong public voice.

    A Labor win with a swing of 4 to 8 per cent: A big thumbs up for Shorten, Butler and Labor generally. Serious concerns for state and federal Libs. A stronger version of previous.

    A Labor win with a swing of anything over 8 per cent: Deep soul searching for state and federal conservative governments. Whoops of joy from Labor supporters.

  35. After the ones that came out before the 2013 election, I can’t say I put much stock into these seat-level polls. I’m still tipping Labor to comfortably win the seat.

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