Seat of the week: Fisher

The scene of much unpleasantness in the previous parliament, the Sunshine Coast seat of Fisher gave Howard government minister Mal Brough a new point of entry to parliament at the 2013 election, six years after his defeat in neighbouring Longman.

Fisher covers the southern part of the Sunshine Coast, from Caloundra north to Mooloolaba on the coast and inland to Maleny and the Glass House Mountains. It originally extended inland to Gympie and Kingaroy when it was created in 1949, but assumed a progressively more coastal orientation due to the area’s rapid development. The seat was held by the National/Country Party for all but two terms from its creation until the Liberal National Party merger of 2008, and was a fiefdom of the Adermann family for its first 35 years, being held first by Sir Charles until 1972 and thereafter by his son Evan. Evan Adermann moved to the new seat of Fairfax in 1984, and Fisher was retained for the Nationals by Peter Slipper.




Labor’s first ever win in the seat came amid the debacle of the Joh-for-PM push of 1987, which had found an ardent proponent in Slipper. For the next two terms it was held for Labor by Michael Lavarch, who secured a 0.5% margin in 1987 and increased it to 2.0% at the 1990 election, at which time the Nationals’ stocks were low enough that they finished third behind the Liberals. A redistribution in 1993 made the seat notionally Liberal, prompting Lavarch to move to the new seat of Dickson. Slipper then made an unlikely comeback as a Liberal, and enjoyed double-digit margins between 1996, when the swing in his favour was 14.0%, and 2007, when Labor’s strong statewide performance under Kevin Rudd translated into a 7.9% swing in Fisher.

Slipper managed to win promotion to parliamentary secretary for finance and administration after the 1998 election, despite lingering memories John Howard may have had of 1987, but he was pushed aside to make way for Peter Dutton after the 2004 election. He became increasingly marginalised thereafter, and picked up a notably small swing of 0.6% when Queensland surged back to the Coalition in 2010. It was already evident by this time that Mal Brough had his eyes on the seat after being unseated in Longman in 2007, but his reported move to have Slipper deposed in his favour at the 2010 election fell foul of the terms of the LNP merger, which guaranteed endorsement to all sitting members.

With a clear expectation that Slipper would not again win preselection, Labor identified him as a weak link in the Coalition amid its battle to survive as a minority government. It was able to slightly bolster its position after the election by successfully nominating him for the deputy speakership, thwarting the Coalition’s desire to have the position go to Maranoa MP Bruce Scott. Shortly afterwards, Brough confirmed that he would contest preselection in the seat. The government went one better in November 2011 when it persuaded Slipper to take on the Speaker’s position at the expense of incumbent Harry Jenkins, resulting in his expulsion from the LNP and a fierce campaign against him from elements of the media. However, he stood aside in May 2012 after a staffer, James Ashby, launched legal action against him on grounds of sexual harassment, and presented evidence that Slipper had misused Cabcharge vouchers, for which he would later be convicted and then acquitted on appeal.

The matter soon embroiled Mal Brough, who initially dismissed suggestions he knew of Ashby’s actions in advance, before conceding he had met him on multiple occasions and sought legal advice on his behalf. In December 2012, a Federal Court judge dismissed Ashby’s sexual harassment charge on the grounds that it was an abuse of process in which Brough had been directly involved. None of this prevented Brough from winning a strongly contested LNP preselection held in July, after a vigorous local recruitment drive that reportedly doubled the local party membership. A surprise late entrant in the preselection race was James McGrath, who had been the director of the LNP’s hugely successful 2012 state election campaign and was thought to be set to secure preselection for the neighbouring seat of Fairfax, and had backing from Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey and Julie Bishop. Brough was nonetheless able to win the support of more than half the 350 preselectors in the first round, and McGrath was accommodated in the Senate.

Mal Brough first came to parliament in 1996 as member for the newly created seat of Longman on Brisbane’s northern fringe, and won promotion to the junior ministry as Revenue Minister and Assistant Treasurer in July 2004, and thence to cabinet as Minister for Families and Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in January 2006. However, his position was weakened somewhat by redistributions that strengthened Slipper in neighbouring Fisher, and he emerged as the highest profile victim of Labor’s strong performance in Queensland in 2007, which showed up in Longman as a swing of 10.3%. He then assumed the presidency of the state branch of the Liberal Party, from which he stood down in September 2008 due to dissatisfaction with the terms of the LNP merger. His win in Fisher at the 2013 election was achieved in the face of a strong challenge from Palmer United, whose candidate Bill Schock narrowly failed to finish second ahead of Labor, and would have finished about 2% short after preferences had he done so. Perhaps as a result of the Ashby/Slipper matter, Brough has thus far remained on the back bench.

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.

One comment on “Seat of the week: Fisher”

  1. This seat can be won by Labor one day, but the next election won’t be the election to do it. It’s safe LNP seat, but it’s not ultra safe like some of the seats that are based in the Gold Coast.

    A seat that should be retained by the LNP. But a swing should come back to Labor with Labor increase vote in Queensland and the collapse of the Palmer United Party vote with most of that vote should head to Labor.

    MP Mal Brough did well to hold Longman for four terms, as he was a very popular member. But his star appeal has faded alot since those days with the Slipper/Ashby affair. He is not seen as the future leader of the Liberal party since that debacle.

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