Margin: Labor 3.0%*
Region: Inner Southern Brisbane, Queensland
* Labor 1.8% at by-election on 8/2/2014
In a nutshell: Kevin Rudd’s former electorate was last lost by Labor during his failed first bid for parliament in 1996, but the Liberal National Party came close to reeling it in at the by-election held upon his retirement in February 2014.
Candidates in ballot paper order
Held from 1998 to 2014 by Kevin Rudd, the Labor-held seat of Griffith covers inner Brisbane immediately south of the Brisbane River, extending eastwards to Bulimba and Queensport, southwards to Annerley, and south-westwards to Carina Heights. The area is a mixed bag electorally, and includes the strongest Greens territory in Queensland around South Brisbane and West End, where the party had a breakthrough victory in The Gabba ward at the Brisbane City Council election in March.
Griffith has had an effectively unbroken existence going back to federation, but was called Oxley prior to 1934 – a name later revived for a new and unrelated Ipswich-based seat in 1949. For most of its history it has been highly marginal, having changed hands between Liberal and Labor in 1949, 1954, 1958, 1961, 1966, 1977, 1996 and 1998. The Labor margin narrowed to 3.0% at Rudd’s swansong election in 2013, and then to 1.8% at the by-election held to replace him on February 8, 2014. The last extended period of Liberal control was from 1966 to 1977, when Don Cameron gained it as part of the Harold Holt landslide, then retained it through the Whitlam years with help from a favourable redistribution in 1969. The next redistribution before the 1977 election shifted the seat heavily in Labor’s favour, resulting in Cameron’s move to the new Gold Coast seat of Fadden.
In Cameron’s absence, Griffith was won for Labor by Ben Humphreys, who held the seat throughout the Hawke-Keating years. The preselection held when he retired ahead of the 1996 election was won by Kevin Rudd, a former diplomat who had wielded great influence as chief-of-staff and director-general of the cabinet office through Wayne Goss’s premiership from 1989 to 1996. Rudd had established a factional association with the locally dominant Australian Workers Union sub-faction of the Right, which secured his preselection despite concerns about affirmative action obligations. In the event, Rudd fell at his first electoral hurdle amid Labor’s statewide rout of 1996, with Graeme McDougall gaining the seat for the Liberals with a swing of 6.2%. Rudd returned for a second attempt amid the far more favourable circumstances of 1998, and picked up a 3.9% swing to prevail over McDougall by a margin of 2.4%.
Rudd established a formidable electoral record during his time in Griffith, picking up 3.3% and 2.4% swings against the trend of the 2001 and 2004 elections. The electorate was substantially reshaped by redistribution in 2004, when it absorbed inner city areas at East Brisbane, South Brisbane and Dutton Park, while losing its eastern parts to Bonner. In what may have been an early portent of Rudd’s electoral impact, the booths transferred out of the electorate swung heavily to the Liberals in his absence, contribuing to a surprise Labor defeat in Bonner. Rudd enjoyed a further 3.8% swing as his party’s candidate for the prime ministership in 2007, and as its recently spurned ex-leader in 2010 he suffered what by Queensland standards was a relatively mild swing of 3.9%. The mood appeared to have hardened when Rudd had the opportunity to contest the seat as Prime Minister in 2013, with a 5.5% swing reducing the margin to 3.0%.
Kevin Rudd made an unheralded retirement announcement on November 13, 2013, initiating a by-election held three months later. This developed into a keenly fought contest between Labor’s Terri Butler, a Left-aligned industrial relations lawyer with Maurice Blackburn, and the Liberal National Party’s Bill Glasson, an ophthalmologist, former Australian Medical Association president and son of a former Nationals MP and state minister, who also ran against Rudd in 2013. With the collapse in support for the Abbott government after the 2014 budget still two months away, Butler fought off Glasson’s challenge with difficulty, emerging with an uncomfortable winning margin of 1.8%. In October 2015 she won promotion to Shadow Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Child Safety and Prevention of Family Violence.
The Liberal National Party candidate is Fiona Ward, a small business owner, former staffer to Mermaid Beach MP Ray Stevens and candidate for South Brisbane at the 2015 state election. The Greens candidate, Karen Anderson, is the manager of a legal practice, and ran in the Holland Park ward at the council election in March.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.