The road ahead: Dunkley, Inala and more

With dates set for a federal and a Queensland state by-election, a review of looming electoral events.

House of Representatives Speaker Milton Dick has announced the Dunkley by-election will be held on March 2, with nominations to close on February 8 and be decared the following day, and the Poll Bludger’s guide to the by-election is now up and running. It is the first of my guides to feature historical results charts for the primary vote as well as two-party preferred (among many other things), which I hope is of use to somebody because it involved a lot of work.

In a report on the by-election in The Age yesterday, David Crowe related that “this masthead reported last week that Labor officials privately believe the Coalition has the edge”. I am not clear if this refers to a report from Broede Carmody, saying only that the officials “expect a swing against them”, or one from Paul Sakkal saying “both parties are privately downplaying their chances”.

The other by-election on the way is in Queensland for Annastacia Palaszczuk’s safe Labor seat of Inala, which Premier Steven Miles has confirmed will be held simultaneously with the local government elections on March 16. Seemingly assured of Labor endorsement is Margie Nightingale, former teacher and policy adviser to Treasurer Cameron Dick, who has the support of the Right. Lydia Lynch of The Australian reports the Liberal National Party is “due to preselect its candidate within a fortnight” – I will hold off doing an election guide until then.

The council elections are of substantial interest in their own right, with Brisbane City Council in particular being both the most powerful and the most partisan local government jurisdiction in the country. The conservatives have been dominant since Campbell Newman became Lord Mayor in 2004. The current incumbent, Adrian Schrinner, won by 56.3-43.7 after preferences in 2020, a swing to Labor of 3.0% from 2016. His Labor opponent this time is Tracey Price, a lawyer and sewing shop owner.

The Liberal National Party’s dominance on council reached new heights with the elections of 2016 and 2020, both of which saw them win 19 out of 26 council wards, leaving five for Labor and one each for Greens and an independent. The Greens have high hopes of expanding their footprint after their federal breakthrough in 2022, to the extent of talking up the possibility of displacing Labor as the council opposition. Considerably more detail on the elections is available courtesy of Ben Raue at the Tally Room.

Also looming are Tasmania’s periodic Legislative Council elections, presumably to be held on May 4, which this year encompass two of the chamber’s fifteen seats: Prosser, covering rural territory immediately north of Hobart, and the self-explanatory seat of Hobart. These are of particular interest this year because former Greens leader Cassy O’Connor has abandoned her seat in the lower house to run for Hobart, which if successful will win the Greens its first ever seat in the chamber. The seat will be vacated with the retirement of Rob Valentine, who has held it as an independent since 2012. Prosser is held for the Liberals by Jane Howlett, one of the chamber’s four Liberal members, who won narrowly in 2018 and may struggle amid the government’s declining fortunes. Labor likewise holds four seats, the remaining seven being independents.

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.

15 comments on “The road ahead: Dunkley, Inala and more”

  1. This analysis from Kos Samaras

    Federal election preview – The Dunkley by-election. Scheduled for March 2nd. Why is it a preview?

    1. It’s an outer suburban electorate. Within its boundaries reside proportionally some of the highest number of voters with a TAFE qualification. A group that has been jumping off Labor and onto the LNP over the last 12 months.

    2. Labor holds another dozen seats like Dunkley, with much lower margins and all situated in more precarious political geographies.

    3. In 2022, Labor’s strength was in the north of the electorate, but fast forward to 2024 and well over half of all borrowers within suburbs like Carrum Downs are suffering negative cash flow.

    4. Labor’s strength in 2022, could be its greatest vulnerability in 2024. These suburbs have lower levels of diversity as compared to safer Labor seats in Melbourne. The lack of diversity, coupled with high numbers of TAFE qualified voters is a problematic mix for Labor at the moment.

    5. In 2022, the Right wing minor party vote in Dunkley was over 14%. The LNP will need to consolidate this group of voters to prove they have a pathway through seats like this. In 2022, the attrition to minor parties inflicted more damage to the LNP in a large number of east coast seats than Labor. Public polls place both major parties roughly at their 2022 result. So nuance does matter and hence, what happens to the minor party vote will be critical.

    6. Labor would consider a minor negative swing a win. Given this is a by-election and the seat contains all the above attributes, a minor negative swing would be a confirmation that not much has changed since 2022. Naturally, a massive negative swing will tell a different story. This aside, if they lose this seat, it’s extremely bad news because of the point I have made – there are a dozen Labor held seats that are situated in more challenging political geographies.

  2. Brisbane where I live is interesting politically in that the Liberal ( not really any N amongst the ranks) council always comes across as fairly moderate , just full of young business like ex private school kids, like a lot of moderate liberals not very inspired or forward thinking but relatively harmless. It seems to have helped the state government by allowing non aligned people here to vote centre right in the council and virtually exclusively ALP at state level . Brisbane voters are wary ( it seems ) of the country party dominated state LNP so a big result for the libs in Brisbane may well be good for the state ALP. The thing is the council allows the libs a chance to come across as moderate which is like a dream for centrist voters yet as Candoe Newman showed, that chimera disappeared when he swept in the the state scene. My final thought is that is Miles is reenergising the state ALP to the chagrin of the local right wing courier newspaper. Mr Crisifulli is a pretty uninspiring leader with plenty of Candoe baggage who seems to be just complain a lot with heavy support from local right wing media, I wonder if LM Schrinner might make a run for state parliament, it has worked before.

  3. I keep vascilttiang over whether I think the Greens are going to win big in March or bomb out. Right now I think they’re going to go pretty well. As far as I can tell they are campaigning HARD where they other contenders aren’t really putting in much effort. OPV may turn out to be insurmountable obstacle though, perhaps.

  4. Victoria at 10.17 am

    “2. Labor holds another dozen seats like Dunkley, with much lower margins and all situated in more precarious political geographies.”

    That is a gross simplification and as such an exaggeration.

    Dunkley in 2022 was the 17th most marginal Labor seat. Of those the first five (Gilmore, Lyons, Lingiari, Bennelong and Higgins) do not resemble Dunkley. Three of the next four might at a stretch be counted (Robertson, Tangney and Boothby but not McEwen). Among the next eight there are three in or around the Hunter which are unlike Dunkley, plus Parramatta and Reid in Sydney which might also, at a stretch, be considered similar. The others are Blair, Werriwa and Hasluck. If you count two of those, generously, that is seven seats like Dunkley at a stretch, most of which have sophomore MPs.

    So only seven and not “all situated in more precarious political geographies”, as Samaras claims, unless any seat outside Victoria is by definition considered more precarious for Labor than the Libs.

    Pendulum at:

    For an informed assessment read Dr Bonham:

    “Overall federal voting patterns in Dunkley seem to have had a lot to do with (i) the national voting pattern (ii) whether either major party leader is Victorian and (iii) candidate factors. Local issues and demographics will have been in the mix but it is interesting how strongly candidate factors have stood out.

    To try to throw Dunkley into the same ‘outer suburban’ box as western Sydney and north-western Melbourne would be completely mistaken; this seat has not behaved like those in recent elections and even swung to Labor in 2019.”

  5. ‘David Crowe related that “this masthead reported last week that Labor officials privately believe the Coalition has the edge”.’

    Yeah, yeah: and in the run-up to the 2022 election, Sam Maiden kept telling anyone who’d listen that her private sources in the Liberal party were optimistic about their chances.

    It turned out they were leading her up the garden path. Ms Maiden was mightily miffed.

  6. For Queenslanders, ‘Inala’ evokes ‘Struggle Street’.

    But the battlers’ suburb has produced not only Annastacia Palaszczuk (from adjoining Durack), but also Labor premier Wayne Goss.

    Oh, and Chris Bailey from pioneering punk band, The Saints. Know your product!

  7. Kos: “… voters with a TAFE qualification. A group that has been jumping off Labor and onto the LNP over the last 12 months.”

    Just the last 12 months? Aren’t they the fabled ‘Tony’s Tradies’?

  8. I think the point he’s making is that they’ve gotten considerably worse for Labor than they were at the last election – e.g. that they’re a swinging bloc, and they’re now swinging the other way.

    I disagree with Kos about a great many things in his hack hat, but his analysis in his pollster/analyst hat is something that tend to take very seriously.

  9. What will be key is whether the Victorian branch of the Liberal party will be able to run an effective campaign. Things in the backroom are still in a state of flux and I think if they had a choice they would not have wanted to go to a by-election at this time. But they are in better shape then they last year at the Aston by-election.

  10. They do seem to have been able to pick a stronger candidate than the eclectic sort they’ve been preselecting for a lot of recent Victorian races, so it’ll be interesting to see.

    I think the Hobart race in the Legislative Council is going to be curious – O’Connor might be high-profile but she’s also a divisive figure even among progressives on a scale that doesn’t usually involve managing to get elected/re-elected in the first place. She would’ve been better to stand aside for a Valentine-like lefty independent and try and say, nudge Anna Reynolds into state politics; as a candidate, I think O’Connor will lose (and it won’t be close) and that it’ll be really difficult to guess who’ll come out on top given her candidacy.

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