Margin: Liberal National 16.5%
Region: Toowoomba/Darling Downs, Queensland
Outgoing member: Ian Macfarlane (Liberal National)
In a nutshell: Dumped in the post-leadership change reshuffle and thwarted in his bid to switch from the Liberals to the Nationals, Ian Macfarlane is bowing out at the election from his Toowoomba-based seat of Groom.
Candidates in ballot paper order
ANTONIA van GEUNS
Dominated by the city of Toowoomba about 100 kilometres west of Brisbane, the electorate of Groom has never been held by Labor in a history that goes back to federation, taking into account the electorate’s pre-1984 incarnation as Darling Downs. Toowoomba is located near the electorate’s eastern boundary and accounts for about 80% of its voters. From there the electorate extends to Jondaryan and Pittsworth in the west, Goombungee in the north, and sparsely populared rural areas further afield. The seat is to be vacated at the coming election by Ian MacFarlane, the member since 1998.
Darling Downs was held by the prevailing conservative movement of the time from 1901 to 1936, when Arthur Fadden gained it for the Country Party. When parliament expanded in 1949, Fadden moved to the new seat of McPherson, and an agreement between the coalition parties reserved Darling Downs for the Liberals. It was then held for the Liberals by Reginald Swartz until his retirement in 1972, when it was recovered for the Country Party by Tom McVeigh. McVeigh remained with the seat upon its name change to Groom in 1984 and retired in February 1988, at which point the seat again went back to the Liberals with a by-election victory for Bill Taylor. Ian Macfarlane came to the seat when Taylor retired in 1998, polling 33.1% against 18.0% for One Nation and 15.2% for the Nationals.
Recognisable for a distinctive voice resulting from damage sustained to his larynx following a cancer operation in 2004, Macfarlane progressed quickly to cabinet rank after the October 2001 election. He attained further seniority in his shadow portfolios after the 2007 election defeat, and assumed an expanded industry portfolio when the Abbott government was elected in September 2013. However, he was dumped to the back bench when Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister in September 2015 in the name of renewal, despite having supported Turnbull in his leadership challenge. Macfarlane then sought to jump from the Liberal parliamentary camp to the Nationals, a decision that was endorsed by a 102-35 vote of his local Liberal National Party electorate council, but then scotched by a 14-12 vote of the party’s state executive. Two months after this rebuff, Macfarlane announced his decision to bow out at the election.
A preselection in April was won by John McVeigh, who has held the state seat of Toowoomba South since 2012 and served as Agriculture Minister through the period of the Newman government. McVeigh is the son of Tom McVeigh, who held Groom and its predecessor electorate of Darling Downs for the Nationals from 1972 to 1988. He reportedly won a comfortable victory in the local party ballot over David van Gend, a prominent social conservative and founder of the Australian Marriage Forum. McVeigh had been endorsed by Ian MacFarlane, while van Gend’s backers included former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, Senator Joanna Lindgren and former Senator Ron Boswell.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.