Welcome to episode ten of Seat du jour, an opportunity for you to read about and (hopefully) discuss the individual contests that will determine the May 18 election. So far the series has taken us to Banks, Corangamite, Chisholm, Reid, Bass, Pearce, Lindsay, Gilmore, Dickson and La Trobe.
Today we look at the Queensland seat of Herbert, which the Coalition is desperately hoping to recover after Labor snared it by 37 votes in 2016. Herbert accounts for most of Townsville, a city noted for defence facilities including Lavarack Barracks and an RAAF base, which accordingly ranks third in the country for number of persons working in defence. Relatedly, a concentration of people in their twenties gives the electorate the country’s third youngest median age. Labor’s win in 2016 was the its first since the Hawke-Keating years, the party having fallen just short at earlier high points in 1998 and 2007.
The seat has existed since federation, although it encompassed Cape York and extended south to Mackay on its creation, and did not become entirely dominated by Townsville until 1984. Labor held it more often than not until 1966, which began a period of Liberal control that lasted through the Whitlam years but ended when the Hawke government came to power in 1983. Ted Lindsay held the seat for Labor throughout the Hawke-Keating period before falling victim to Labor’s statewide rout in 1996, then came within 160 votes of making a comeback in 1998. It was then held for the Liberals until 2010 by Peter Lindsay (no relation to his predecessor), who survived by 343 votes in 2007 and bequeathed the seat in 2010 to Evan Jones.
Jones maintained the seat for another two terms through to 2016, when Labor achieved exactly the 6.2% swing needed to account for the LNP margin after the blowout of 2013. Their successful candidate was Cathy O’Toole, a Left-aligned former chief executive of a regional Queensland mental health not-for-profit. The new LNP candidate is Phillip Thompson, a 30-year-old Afghanistan veteran who has been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia and Queensland Young Australian of the Year. It was earlier anticipated the field would also include Clive Palmer, but he instead opted to run for the Senate. He had perhaps been dissuaded by portents of his candidacy’s uncompetitiveness, such as a Newspoll finding in January that credited him with 8% of the primary. The party has instead endorsed Greg Dowling, famous as an Australian international and Queensland state-of-origin rugby league player.
A more recent Newspoll survey, conducted on April 20 from a sample of 529, showed Palmer’s United Australia Party on 14%, and a dead heat on two-party preferred. The other primary votes from the poll were Labor 29% (30.5% in 2016), LNP 31.1% (35.5%), One Nation 9% (13.5%) and Katter’s Australian Party 6.9% (10%). Media accounts of the Liberals’ strategic thinking have consistently reported they are confident of regaining the seat, as indeed they must to balance expected losses elsewhere. The issue driving the Liberals’ hopes is the proposed Adani coal mine, the difficulty of which for Labor was illustrated when Cathy O’Toole signed a pledge to support the project early in the campaign. Shorten would only offer that Labor had “no plans“ to review the environmental approvals recently provided by the federal government.