Seat du jour: Griffith

Kevin Rudd’s former electorate was last lost by Labor during his failed first bid for parliament in 1996, but the Liberal National Party came close to reeling it in at the by-election held upon his retirement in February 2014.

Held from 1998 to 2014 by Kevin Rudd, the Labor-held seat of 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. The area is a mixed bag electorally, and includes the Greens’ strongest support base in Queensland around South Brisbane and West End, the scene of the party’s victory in The Gabba ward at the Brisbane City Council election in March. Griffith has an effectively unbroken existence going back to federation, but it was called Oxley prior to 1934, a name that was later revived for an unrelated new Ipswich-based seat in 1949. It has been highly marginal for much of its history, having changed hands between Liberal and Labor in 1949, 1954, 1958, 1961, 1966, 1977, 1996 and 1998. The Labor margin narrowed to 3.0% at Rudd’s swansong election in 2013, and then to 1.8% at the by-election held to replace him on February 8, 2014. The last extended period of Liberal control was from 1966 to 1977, when Don Cameron first gained it as part of the Harold Holt landslide, then retained it through the Whitlam years with help from a favourable redistribution in 1969. The next redistribution before the 1977 election shifted the seat heavily in Labor’s favour, resulting in Cameron’s move to the new Gold Coast seat of Fadden, and Griffith being won for Labor by Ben Humphreys.




The Labor preselection held when Humphreys retired ahead of the 1996 election was won by Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat who had wielded great influence as chief-of-staff to Wayne Goss during his tenure as Queensland Premier from 1989 to 1996. Rudd established a factional association during this time with the locally dominant Australian Workers Union sub-faction of the Right, which secured his preselection despite grumblings that the state branch was failing to meet affirmative action obligations. In the event, the statewide rout suffered by Labor in 1996 saw Rudd fall at his first electoral hurdle, with Graeme McDougall gaining the seat for the Liberals with a swing of 6.2%. Rudd returned for a second attempt amid the far more favourable circumstances of 1998, and picked up a 3.9% swing to prevail over McDougall by a margin of 2.4%.

Rudd established a formidable electoral record during his time as member for 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 transferred out of the electorate swung heavily to the Liberals in his absence, contribuing to a surprise Labor defeat in Bonner. 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%. The mood appeared to have hardened when Rudd had the opportunity to contest the seat as Prime Minister in 2013, with a 5.5% swing reducing the margin to 3.0%.

Kevin Rudd made an unheralded announcement of his decision to retire from politics on November 13, 2013, initiating the by-election held three months later. This developed into a keenly fought contest between Labor’s Terri Butler, a Left-aligned industrial relations lawyer with Maurice Blackburn, and the Liberal National Party’s Bill Glasson, an ophthalmologist, former Australian Medical Association president and son of a former Nationals MP and state minister, who also ran against Rudd in 2013. With the collapse in support for the Abbott government after the 2014 budget still two months away, Butler fought off Glasson’s challenge only with difficulty, and emerged with an uncomfortable winning margin of 1.8%. In October 2015 she won promotion to the position of Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Child Safety and Prevention of Family Violence.

The Liberal National Party candidate is Fiona Ward, a small business owner, former staffer to Mermaid Beach MP Ray Stevens and candidate for South Brisbane at the 2015 state election. Greens candidate Karen Anderson is manager of a legal practice, and ran in the Holland Park ward at the council election in March.

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.

5 comments on “Seat du jour: Griffith”

  1. I’d expect this seat to go back to “normality” at the election.

    Labor should return the first on primary vote, and the Greens should rise to about 15% looking back at state and council results for the same areas.

  2. Liam

    Yes I would agree the Greens vote will go to 15%. However the area is gentrifying and it really is not the usual ALP voting haven it once was.

    West End is obviously greens territory and this will spread down towards Greenslopes, Holland Park. Morningside is still mixed byt it is becomingthe haven of the super rich or at least super rich wannabes.

  3. Based on the BCC elections the Greens vote is already higher than that and I suspect the momentum from the unexpected Gabba win will help push that too. I’m calling:
    LNP: 42
    LAB: 36
    GRN: 22

  4. It’s fascinating to watch the Greening of inner Brisbane; a phenomena which extends across the river from West End, the Gabba, Annerley and Dutton Park through to Paddington, Bardon and Auchenflower.

    This influence and the splitting effect it was having on the ALP vote in Queensland explains Labor’s recent deft move to reintroduce compulsory preferential voting (on the tail of the LNP’s expansion of parliamentary seats). Clearly this was designed to save deputy premier and member for South Brisbane, Jackie Trad, from a potential defeat at the hands of Greens voters exhausting their ballot at number 1.

    The obvious difference federally is compulsory preferential voting (not in existence at BCC elections). Butler has worked the electorate well in her time as local member – she displays her Left credentials very well for the western end of the electorate, but moderates that with her lawyer credentials which play out well in the eastern end of the electorate. She has an army of supporters who would sacrifice their first born if it meant returning her to parliament.

    So while the western and eastern ends appear to be growing further apart (Green v. Blue) the unifying thread is that the electorate as a whole is increasingly urbane, Gen-X and Y, young families and professional. It is aspirational but socially progressive – exactly like Butler and I think this is probably what eventually worked against Glasson in his two attempts at winning the seat.

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