More fun in Queensland

The Poll Bludger’s brief is state and federal elections, but there is one municipality in Australia that is sufficiently large and partisan to be of interest to observers focused on the national scene. That of course is Brisbane, which faces the polls next Saturday, March 27. Brisbane City Council has a bailiwick covering the broader metropolitan area, council wards more than half the size of state electorates, quadrennial elections and responsibilities including public transport and water and sewage. As for partisanship, it seems remakable to an observer of council politics elsewhere that the 2000 election produced clear-cut Labor versus Liberal contests in every ward but Richlands, where independent George Pugh outpolled a poorly performing Liberal Party without causing any trouble for Labor (he is now running again). All of which makes it feasible to condense the results into a Mackerras pendulum:

Labor wards Liberal wards
** (30%) RICHLANDS
* (19%) CENTRAL
** (17%) DEAGON
* (17%) DOBOY
** (17%) DUTTON PARK
* (14%) GRANGE
** (14%) RUNCORN
THE GAP (5%) *

A number of points of clarification are required here. Firstly, where there is an asterisk the results given are two-party preferred figures I have arrived at by calculating the Labor vote as a percentage of the overall major party vote, with independent preferences ignored (the remainder were two-horse races). This is because those cheapskates at Brisbane City Council expect me to fork out $20 for a full distribution of preferences for the ward elections (and I have no doubt that this is a big money-spinner for them), and Poll Bludging is not as lucrative a caper as some of you out there might imagine. The six wards that produced the highest independent vote (11.3 per cent or higher) have been given a second asterisk, so these should be treated with extra care.

It will also be noted that the "Lord Mayoralty" result gets its own entry as the position is filled by direct election and not by the councillors. The council website does in fact give preference outcomes from the 2000 mayoral election, so this figure can be taken seriously. That election marked a fourth successive victory for Labor’s Jim Soorley, who was replaced by Deputy Mayor Tim Quinn when he resigned in early 2003. The Deputy Mayor is chosen by the councillors from among their own number (Maureen Hayes of Grange ward got the nod after Quinn’s elevation), with Quinn having previously served as ward councillor for Dutton Park. Quinn will face Liberal candidate Campbell Newman, son of former Tasmanian federal ministers Jocelyn and Kevin, who has drifted northwards during a career first in the military and then with privatised grain handlers Grainco. Also in the field are high-profile Greens candidate Drew Hutton, hoping to generate momentum for his Senate campaign later this year, and independents Russell Hall, Derek Rosborough and Nick Kapsis. Hall is a renowned local architect and should do rather a lot better than either Rosborough, who made little impression with his campaigns for the Senate and the Northern Territory House of Representatives seat of Namadji, and Kapsis, a "psychic mathematician" whose recent involuntary hospital admission due to psychiatric problems apparently does not disqualify him.

The Poll Bludger will not pretend to be familiar with the state of swings and roundabouts in each particular ward and can only talk in generalities in predicting results. The state election suggests that further Liberal losses and swings against Labor of over 10 per cent are unlikely (though anything’s possible), so McDowall, Jamboree and Acacia Ridge appear at face value to be of the most interest. Liberal victories in all will even out the numbers from 18-8 to 15-11. To this may be added the four seats which are not being recontested by the victors from last time, all held by Labor. Incumbents Terry Hampson in Marchant and Sharon Humphreys in Morningside are not seeking re-election, while Dutton Park and Moorooka were vacated early last year, the former by Quinn upon his elevation to the lord mayoralty and the latter by retiring councillor Mark Bailey. Since these vacancies occurred in the final year of the term they were filled by direct nomination of the Labor Party and not with a by-election, so new members Helen Abrahams and Steve Griffiths have not yet received public endorsement.

A complicating factor for Labor this time is the Greens, who are fielding candidates in 17 wards, 13 of them Labor-held. This compares with the 2000 election when their only candidate (in Wynnum-Manly) polled a thoroughly unremarkable 5.7 per cent, though true to form they are talking up their chances of a strong showing this time. The Greens’ best performances at the state election were in Ashgrove (16 per cent), South Brisbane (20 per cent) and Mount Coot-tha (23.5 per cent), so presumably most of their joy will come from a clump of wards surrounding the CBD including Toowong, Central, The Gap, Grange, Dutton Park and East Brisbane. Since optional preferential voting is in operation at council as well as state level Greens victories are unlikely, although Hutton is talking up their chances of influencing outcomes through their still-to-be-announced preferences strategy. Here they face their usual dilemma – hoping to put fear into a Labor Party that knows they can’t follow through on their threats, as preferences to Liberal are out of the question and their supporters usually ignore how-to-vote cards anyway.

As for the Lord Mayor position, the Liberals’ best card is the it’s-time factor after a decade of Labor domination. But three weeks after an election which saw the Liberal Party win a solitary seat out of the 40 on offer in the Brisbane area, it would be a very brave Poll Bludger who would tip anything other than a victory for Quinn and another clear Labor majority on council.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Many thanks to correspondent Geoff Keed for his input, in particular for pointing out a now-corrected error above where I said Jim Soorley had been elected three times rather than four.

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