Margin: Liberal National 5.7%
Region: Far North, Queensland
In a nutshell: The Cairns and Cape York seat of Leichhardt flipped from Liberal to Labor when Warren Entsch temporarily bowed out in 2007, then flipped back on his return in 2010.
Candidates in ballot paper order
PETER LEONARD ROGERS
NED KELLY GEBADI
Held for the Liberals and then the Liberal National Party for all but one term since 1996 by Warren Entsch, Leichhardt consists of the northernmost part of Queensland, including Cairns at its southern extremity along with Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait Islands. Naturally marginal Cairns provides about two-thirds of the voters, the remainder coming from conservative-leaning rural areas along the coast immediately to the north, and Labor-voting indigenous communities beyond. The electorate ranks sixth out of 150 for percentage of indigenous persons, behind the two Northern Territory electorates, neighbouring Kennedy, Durack in northern Western Australia, and Parkes in interior New South Wales.
The electorate was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, prior to which its territory was mostly accommodated until 1934 by Herbert, and thereafter by Kennedy. Herbert and then Kennedy were in Labor hands from 1928 to 1949, but Leichhardt was narrowly won by the Country Party as the Coalition swept to power under Bob Menzies. However, Labor won the seat at the next election in 1951, and it remained with the party until David Thomson’s win for the National Country Party amid Labor’s statewide debacle of 1975. Thomson was unseated by Labor’s John Gayler in 1983, who bequeathed the seat to Peter Dodd in 1993. When Labor was routed across Queensland in 1996, Warren Entsch won the seat for the Liberals for the first time, polling 31.8% to the Nationals candidate’s 20.4%. Entsch suffered only a 0.5% swing at the 1998 election, compared with a statewide swing of 7.2%, and subsequently built his margin up to double figures with swings of 2.3% in 2001 and 3.6% in 2004.
Warren Entsch came to politics after serving in the Royal Australian Air Force from 1969 to 1978, then working as a maintenance fitter and welder, real estate agent, farmer and grazier and company director. Entsch rose no higher in government ranks than parliamentary secretary from 1998 to 2006, but his local popularity was vividly demonstrated when he bowed out for a term in 2007, and Labor swept to victory in his absence on a swing of 14.3%. This was the second biggest swing of the election, after Forde in Brisbane’s outer south. The result also underscored the local eclipse of the Nationals, whose candidate polled only 4.0%. Incoming Labor member Jim Turnour managed only a single term before falling victim to the statewide collapse in Labor support in 2010, which cost them seven out of their 15 Queensland seats, and the return from retirement of Warren Entsch.
Entsch was director of Cairns construction company CEC Group and the Australian Rainforest Foundation during his three-year interregnum, but talk soon emerged of a political comeback, first in relation to the 2009 state election and then for his old seat. He easily accounted for Labor’s margin of 4.1% with a swing of 8.6%, and added a further 1.2% to his margin in 2013. With this accomplished he served for a term as the Coalition’s chief whip, before relinquishing the position to Philip Ruddock after the 2013 election victory. Entsch has gained attention in recent years for his liberal views on same-sex marriage, which have brought him into conflict with some of his more conservative colleagues. The Australian identified him as supporting Malcolm Turnbull in the September 2015 leadership challenge.
Labor’s candidate is Sharryn Howes, who worked in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet from December 2008 to July 2014, and now works for the Ngoonbi Co-Operative Society in Kuranda.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.