Date of election: November 28, 2020
Margin: Liberal National 20.5%
Outgoing member: John McVeigh (Liberal National)
Candidates in ballot paper order
The by-election in Groom follows the retirement announcement by John McVeigh on September 18, citing his wife's illness. McVeigh came to the seat in 2016, having previously been the state member for Toowoomba South since 2012. His father, Tom McVeigh, held the seat for the National/Country Party from 1972 to 1988 (it was known until 1984 as Darling Downs), but it passed to the Liberal control at the by-election following his retirement. Rivalry between the Liberals and Nationals has been the principal point of interest in a seat that has never been held by Labor, either as Groom or its pre-1984 incarnation as Darling Downs. The previous member, Ian Macfarlane, attempted to defect from the Liberals to the Nationals in 2015, but the move was thwarted by the Liberal National Party administration in 2015. Unlike his father, John McVeigh has sat in the Liberal party room throughout his time in federal parliament.
Around 80% of the voters in Groom live in Toowoomba, 130 kilometres to the west of Brisbane. The city is located at the eastern end of an electorate that extends to Jondaryan and Pittsworth in the west, Goombungee in the north, and sparsely populared rural areas further afield. The seat has effectively existed since federation, although its name was changed from Darling Downs in 1984. This was in recognition of its first two members, William Groom and Littleton Groom, who held the seat until 1936, the latter succeeding the former after he became the first federal parliamentarian to die in office in August 1901. The younger Groom held the seat until his death in 1936, which was followed by a by-election at which the seat was won for the Country Party by Arthur Fadden, later to serve as Prime Minister for six weeks in mid-1941.
The seat thereafter went back and forth between the Liberal Party and the National/Country Party, first with Fadden's move to the new seat of McPherson in 1949. An agreement between the coalition parties reserved Darling Downs for the Liberals, and it was next held for the party by Reginald Swartz. The next three-cornered contest came with Swartz's retirement in 1972, when Tom McVeigh gained the seat for the Country Party. The Liberals ineffectually challenged McVeigh in 1984 and 1987, then won the by-election that followed his retirement in 1988. Bill Taylor held the seat for the Liberals until his retirement in 1998, and it remained in Liberal hands when Ian Macfarlane won it on Taylor's retirement in 1998. The Nationals ran against Macfarlane in 1998 and 2001, but polled poorly both times.
Macfarlane served in cabinet through the last three terms of the Howard goverment, and again with the election of the Abbott government in 2013. However, he was relegated to back bench in the name of renewal when Malcolm Turnbull deposed Abbott in 2015, despite having supported Turnbull in his leadership challenge. Macfarlane then sought to jump from the Liberal parliamentary camp to the Nationals, but the Liberal National Party's state executive narrowly voted down the arrangement. He announced his decision not to seek re-election shortly after, and was succeeded at the 2016 election by John McVeigh.
A Liberal National Party preselection ballot on October 25 was won by Garth Hamilton, a mining engineer. Hamilton was one of eight nominees for preselection, his strongest rivals being Rebecca Vonhoff, a Toowoomba councillor, Bryce Camm, president of Australian Lot Feeders, and David van Gend, a doctor and firebrand social conservative. The latter had support from religious conservatives and party figures including Eric Abetz, Matt Canavan and Howard-era Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, although the prospect of his candidacy excited some alarm among hardheads, notwithstanding that Hamilton too is associated with the party's right. Van Gend reportedly led in the first round of the preselection vote, but Hamilton emerged a narrow winner as support consolidated behind him with the exclusion of other candidates. Nothing came of suggestions the preselection might be contested by either James McGrath, defusing a looming preselection stoush with fellow Liberal Senator Amanda Stoker, or Matt Canavan, who faced the complication of being a member of the Nationals.
Unusually for such a clearly unwinnable seat, Labor is fielding a candidate in the shape of Chris Meibusch, a community lawyer and unsuccessful candidate for the Toowoomba mayoralty in March. The other candidates out of a small field of four are Sandra Jephcott of Sustainable Australia and Craig Farguharson of the Liberal Democrats, with no participation from One Nation or, still more unusually, the Greens.