Seat of the week: Kennedy

One of the election’s surprises was the tough fight Bob Katter had getting re-elected in his north Queensland family fiefdom of Kennedy.

Teal numbers indicate majority for Liberal National Party. Grey indicates Katter’s Australian Party. Click for larger image. Map boundaries courtesy of Ben Raue at The Tally Room.

Bob Katter’s seat of Kennedy covers 568,993 square kilometres of northern Queensland, accounting for over 30% of the state’s surface area. It covers two disconnected coastal areas, one being a 250 kilometre stretch of the east coast from the southern suburbs of Cairns through Innisfail to Toomulla 35 kilometres north Townsville, the other being the thinly populated Gulf of Carpentaria coast from the Northern Territory border to the southern part of Cape York Peninsula. The remainder encompasses rural and outback territory including Mount Isa and most of the Northern Territory border.

Kennedy was one of 16 seats out of 75 which Labor won at the first federal election in 1901, and it remained in Labor hands until Nationalist candidate Grosvenor Francis was elected unopposed after sitting member Charles McDonald died during the 1925 election campaign. This prompted the change in the Electoral Act which causes the poll for a given electorate to be cancelled and held at a later time if a candidate dies during the campaign, which most recently had effect in Newcastle at the 1998 election. Francis retained the seat at the 1928 election, but it returned to Labor when Jim Scullin’s government came to power in 1929. It next changed hands in 1966 when the national anti-Labor swing combined with the loss of retiring veteran William Riordan’s personal vote delivered a narrow victory to the Country Party candidate, Bob Katter Sr.

Katter’s majority increased at each of the next five elections, and he was further boosted when the 1969 redistribution removed Labor-voting Bowen and added Charters Towers. The 1984 redistribution was less kind, returning the seat to the marginal zone by pushing it into the southern reaches of the Cape York Peninsula. It returned to Labor for one term when Katter retired in 1990, the winning member being Rob Hulls, later to return to politics in Victoria as a senior figure in the Bracks-Brumby government. Hulls was defeated at the 1993 election by Bob Katter Jr, who had represented the local area in state parliament since 1974. Katter cemented his position with a double-digit swing in 1996, and his primary vote increased further after he parted company with the Nationals ahead of the 2001 election.

Katter comfortably topped the poll at next three elections, although he faded from 47.1% to 39.5% in 2007 before rebounding to 46.7% in 2010. The 2010 election result left him as one of three rural independents holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, and he appeared to play the most adroit game of the three in unenthusiastically declaring his hand for the Coalition after the determination of the other two to back Labor had rendered it a moot point. He then set about expanding his political empire with the establishment of Katter’s Australian Party, which polled 11.5% at the Queensland state election of March 2012 amid a collapse in support for Labor and elected two members: his son Robbie Katter to the seat of Mount Isa, and former Liberal National Party member Shane Knuth to his existing seat of Dalrymple.

However, the rise of Katter’s Australian Party was firmly checked at the 2013 election, at which its vote across Queensland was just 3.7% and its bid to get country singer James Blundell elected to the Senate was singularly unsuccessful. Most disappointingly of all for the party, Katter struggled to win re-election in Kennedy for the first time, his primary vote down 17.4% to 29.3% against 40.8% for Liberal National Party candidate Noeline Ikin, the former chief executive of the Northern Gulf Resource Management Group. Katter prevailed after preferences by a margin of 2.1%, down 16.2% from 2010. The poor performance was variously attributed to the advertising budget and related electoral success of the Palmer United Party, and a poorly received preference deal with Labor. The terms of the deal delivered Labor preferences to Blundell in the Senate, and Katter preferences to Labor in six Queensland lower house seats it was desperate to win, though in no case would it do so.

Seat of the week: Indi

A review of the circumstances which caused Tony Abbott to enter the government formation process a female cabinet minister short.

Bordered to the north by the Murray River, the electorate of Indi covers an area of northern Victoria including Wangaratta, Benalla and the border town of Wodonga. It produced one of the biggest boilovers of the 2013 election with the defeat of cabinet minister-in-waiting Sophie Mirabella at the hands of conservative independent Cathy McGowan, whose win marked the first time since 1931 that the seat was not in the hands of one of the main coalition parties. Indi has existed without interruption since federation and only ever won by Labor in 1910, 1914, 1928 (when Labor’s Paul Jones was elected unopposed after Country Party incumbent Robert Cook forgot to nominate) and 1929, from which time it shifted decisively to the conservatives. It was thereafter fought over between the Country Party and the Liberal Party (together with its predecessor the United Australia Party), the member from 1937 to 1949 being Country Party titan John “Black Jack” McEwen, who moved to the new seat of Murray with the expansion of parliament in 1949. The Nationals last held the seat in 1977, when their incumbent Mac Holten was defeated by Liberal candidate Ewen Cameron on Labor preferences. The Nationals contested in 2001 when Cameron’s successor Lou Lieberman retired, but managed only 12.3%.

The new Liberal member in 2001 was Sophie Panopoulos, a barrister and Australians for Constititutional Monarchy activist. Panopoulos married in 2006 and assumed her husband’s surname of Mirabella. Mirabella became noted for her aggressive parliamentary style, and was promoted to shadow cabinet in the innovation, industry, science and research portfolio when Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009. McGowan’s challenge to Mirabella arose out of a local activist group called Voice for Indi, which initially declared itself set on “improving the political process in the electorate” rather than mounting an electoral challenge. The group says it resolved to field a candidate after Mirabella gave their concerns short shrift, informing them that the real concerns of her constituents aligned with her party leader’s oft-repeated soundbites.

The candidate nominated by Voice for Indi was Cathy McGowan, a rural affairs consultant and former regional councillor for the Victorian Farmers Federation who had once worked for Liberal member Ewen Cameron. With McGowan to rally behind, the organisation proved adept at fund-raising and use of social media, and it soon became apparent that it was succeeding in tapping into a perception that Mirabella was a Melburnian careerist with an insufficient connection to the local area. McGowan’s profile was further lifted when retiring New England independent Tony Windsor told the ABC’s Insiders program that the “nasty” Mirabella was the person he would least miss in politics, and that McGowan was an “excellent independent” whose campaign he might lend support.

Also lending McGowan support was Ken Jasper, who served Wangaratta and surrounding areas in state parliament for 34 years, retiring as member for Murray Valley at the 2010 election. McGowan appeared to benefit from friction between the coalition parties spilling over from the contest for Mallee, which the Liberals were seeking to win upon the retirement of Nationals member John Forrest. Reports indicated that local Nationals had been quietly told they would not face disciplinary action if they lent support to McGowan.

McGowan went on to prevail after polling 31.2% to Mirabella’s 44.7%, which was down from 51.8% in 2010. This left McGowan well clear of the Labor candidate on 11.6%, down from 28.2%, and she was narrowly able to close the primary vote gap after picking up 79% of Labor and minor party preferences.

NB: Hat tip to Ben Raue at The Tally Room, whose Google Earth maps I’m using for the electoral boundaries displayed in the map above. Raue does tremendous work on his blog and deserves donations. Note also that you can get a slightly bigger image of the above map by clicking on it.

Seat of the week: Warringah

There are roughly as many seats in the House of Representatives as there are weeks until the next election. Time to get get cracking then on the 2016 election guide. Taking it from the top …

Tony Abbott’s electorate of Warringah covers Sydney’s affluent northern beaches from Manly north to Dee Why, extending inland to Balgowlah, Mosman, Middle Cove and Forestville. Out of the 150 federal electorates, it ranks fourth highest for median family income after Wentworth, North Sydney and Curtin. Warringah accommodated the entire northern beaches as far as the Hawkesbury River from its establishment in 1922 until 1949, when the creation of Mackellar caused it to be reoriented around Mosman and Seaforth. A relatively static population has since seen it expand back to the north over successive redistributions, recovering Manly in 1969 and being anchored on the north shore of Port Jackson thereafter.

Warringah has been never been held by Labor, and has only once slipped from Liberal control since the party’s foundation in 1944. That occasion was in March 1969 when one-term member and instant loose cannon Edward St John raised concerns in parliament over then Prime Minister John Gorton’s indiscreet behaviour with a female journalist, prompting him to resign from the party pending expulsion. St John contested as an independent at the election the following October, but was only able to poll 20.6% against 50.2% for Liberal candidate Michael Mackellar. Mackellar went on to serve in the Fraser government as minister first for immigration and then for health, resigning from the latter role in 1982 over a failure to declare to customs a television set he brought into the country.

The mid-term retirement of Mackellar in February 1994 initiated a by-election at which the seat safely passed to its present incumbent, Tony Abbott. Abbott had famously studied to become a priest after leaving school, but soon became set on a course for parliament via student politics, a stint as a journalist with The Bulletin, and the position of press secretary to Opposition Leader John Hewson. After securing a safe seat in parliament at the age of 36, Abbott became a parliamentary secretary with the election of the Howard government in 1996, winning promotion to cabinet as Employment Services Minister after the 1998 election and then to workplace relations in 2001 and health and ageing in 2003.

Abbott first publicly declared his leadership ambitions after the Howard government’s defeat in 2007, but he withdrew from the contest when it became clear he would not have the numbers. In late November 2009 he was one of a number of front-benchers who quit as part of a revolt against leader Malcolm Turnbull’s support for the government’s emissions trading scheme, which initiated a leadership spill. Presumed favourite Joe Hockey was unexpectedly defeated in the first round, and Abbott prevailed over Turnbull in the second 42 votes to 41. Abbott’s first year in the leadership saw Kevin Rudd deposed as prime minister in favour of Julia Gillard and Labor lose its majority at the August 2010 election, but he was unable to secure the necessary support of independents in order to form government.

Despite weak personal approval ratings attributed to his abrasive political style, Abbott’s hold on the party leadership was consolidated during Labor’s second term by crushing opinion poll leads on voting intention, which eventually wrought the downfall of a second Labor prime minister on Abbott’s watch in June 2013. Abbott became Australia’s twenty-eighth prime minister after the Coalition easily defeated Labor and its newly returned leader Kevin Rudd at the ensuing election on September 7, gaining a national two-party swing of 3.4% and securing what appears at the time of writing to be an absolute majority of 16 seats.

UPDATE (Essential Research): The new government’s first opinion poll is testament either to the absence of a honeymoon bounce, or the particular pollster’s tendency towards constancy in its results. The poll is from Essential Research and is the normal fortnightly rolling average, which it to say half of it was conducted over the weekend of the election itself. It has the Coalition on 44% (45.6% at the election on current figures), Labor on 36% (33.6%) and the Greens (9%). The published 53-47 two-party preferred (the current election result being 53.4-46.6) is weaker for Labor than the primary vote shifts suggest it should be, which may be because they are still using preference allocations from 2010.

Further questions finding 38% thinking the election of micro-parties to the Senate “good for democracy” against 25% for bad, although I’d like to see more specific questions in relation to this topic. Forty-four per cent believe the lack of a Coalition Senate majority will make for benefit against 30% for worse. Respondents were asked about various aspects they might expect to get better or worse under the new government, including the surprising finding that cost of living and interest rates are expected to be worse. Other questions relate to the country’s economic outlook, all of which you can see here.