Queensland's reputation as Australia's most right-leaning state received a boost with its 2016 Senate result, when Pauline Hanson's spectacular comeback brought a second One Nation seat in her wake. In the era of six-year half-Senate elections, encompassing nine elections from 1990 to 2013, Labor only won a third seat with Kevin Rudd's statewide triumph in 2007, and the Greens have only won seats at their high water mark in 2010 and with the 2016 double dissolution. The Coalition also recorded the unprecedented feat, in Queensland or anywhere else, of winning four out of six seats in 2004, when the Liberal ticket won three seats and a fourth was won by the Nationals, whose lead candidate was a debutante Barnaby Joyce. The only occasion the Coalition failed to win a third spot was when One Nation won a seat in 1998.
The result at the 2016 double dissolution was orthodox in that the Coalition won five seats (in this case three Liberal and two Nationals) and Labor four, in common with New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia. Its unusual feature was in One Nation winning the final spot ahead of either the Greens or a micro-party, with a strong flow of preferences progressively pushing their second candidate ahead of other contenders including Family First and the Liberal Democrats. The allocation of long and short terms gave six-year terms to two Labor and two Liberal Senators, and one each from the Nationals and One Nation. Three-year terms went to two Senators from Labor, and one each from the Liberals, Nationals, Greens and One Nation. One of the long-term Liberals, George Brandis, resigned in March 2018 to become High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and was succeeded by Amanda Stoker.
The business end of the Liberal National Party ticket is occupied entirely by newcomers, following preselection defeats for Ian Macdonald and Barry O'Sullivan, the two incumbents who were allocated three-year terms. Macdonald put in a determined bid for another term, nominating for every Liberal-designated position on the ticket and promoting himself as the only candidate from north Queensland candidate. However, his defeat was widely anticipated, since he is now 73 and would have been 79 by the end of another six-year term, and was given to understand this would be his final term when he ran for preselection in 2016. Unsuccessful candidates for the position included Scott Emerson, the former minister in Campbell Newman's government who lost the seat of Maiwar to the Greens in the November 2017 state election. Conversely, the margin of O'Sullivan's defeat in the vote for the Nationals' designated second position was rated something of a surprise, and was suffered by a margin of one vote.
The new lead candidate is Liberal-aligned Paul Scarr, Brisbane-based executive for mining company PanAust. Scarr has a reputation as a moderate, having spoken against a motion calling for a Donald Trump-inspired suspension of immigration from Muslim countries at the party's state convention in 2017.
The Nationals-aligned candidate in second position is Susan McDonald, managing director of the Super Butcher chain of butcher's shops and member of a Queensland grazing dynasty. Her father, Don McDonald, was state and federal president of the National Party in the 1990s, and she herself was its state secretary for a period before the merger in 2008.
The Liberal-aligned third candidate is Gerard Rennick, an accountant who described himself as a “protectionist nationalist”, and said Australia should consider developing nuclear weapons to deter China and forge closer ties with Russia.
The two Labor Senators who were designated three year terms after the 2016 election were Claire Moore, who is not seeking another term after a Senate career going back to 2002, and Chris Ketter, who is recontesting. The preselection was conducted at the party's state conference last August, after the state party was hurried along by a national executive concerned the Liberal leadership crisis might initiate a snap election. In doing so it bypassed the ballot that was granted to the party membership under rule changes in 2013.
The top position on the ticket, which is reserved to the Left faction, is occupied by newcomer Nita Green, a former staffer to Senator Murray Watt who had backing from the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and United Voice. The selection of the Brisbane-based Green was contentious as party rules reserved a position for a regional representative, although she has committed to moving away from Brisbane when elected. There were further complaints from supporters of rival Left candidate Tania Major, a Cairns-based indigenous youth advocate and protege of Cape York leader Noel Pearson, who said they had been ambushed by a factional ballot process that allowed only a three-day nominations period before voting began. Other nominees for Left endorsement were Leanne Donaldson, who held the state seat of Bundaberg from 2015 until her defeat in 2017, and Julie McGlone, marketing executive for Tourism Australia.
The second position, which is reserved to the dominant Labor Forum sub-faction of the Right, has been retained by incumbent Chris Ketter. A former state secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, Ketter was first elected from the top position on the ticket in 2013, but was only granted fourth position at the 2016 double dissolution. The cancellation of the party membership vote last year saw off a challenge from Pat O'Neill, former army major and candidate for Brisbane in 2016, although he was reportedly unlikely to win in any case.
In third place is Frank Gilbert, a former Mackay councillor and candidate for Dawson in 2016, and a member of the Old Guard sub-faction of the Right.
The election marks a comeback bid for Malcolm Roberts, the second candidate elected from the One Nation ticket in 2016, after a High Court ruling in October 2017 disqualified him and four other Senators, in his case due to dual British citizenship acquired by descent through his British-born father. Roberts was formerly a mining engineer, and came to prominence in right-wing politics as the leader of the Galileo Movement, a climate skeptic outfit that drew support from such figures in the movement as Alan Jones, Ian Plimer, David Flint and Lord Christopher Monckton. His own statements regarding climate change attributed it to a conspiracy promoted by the United Nations and a “cabal” of bankers.
In second place on the One Nation ticket is Steve Dickson, who held the state seat of Buderim for One Nation for most of 2017, having previously been a Liberal National Party member since 2012. However, Dickson announced his withdrawal as a One Nation candidate after the closure of nominations, thanks to footage that emerged of him at a strip club in which he ventured on the sexual deficiencies of “Asian chicks”.
The Greens' lead candidate is the party's only Queensland incumbent, Larissa Waters, a former Environmental Defenders Office who became the Queensland Greens' first ever elected member when she won a Senate seat at the 2010 election, which remains the party's best performance to date. She was re-elected as the party's lead candidate at the 2016 double dissolution, but her career was interrupted early in the life of the Section 44 crisis, four days after Scott Ludlam's resignation in July 2017 over his dual New Zealand citizenship. Waters' difficulty arose from her birth in Canada, to Australian parents who returned shortly afterwards, and her erroneous belief that her Canadian citizenship entitlement had expired because she failed to take active steps to secure it before she returned 21. She was succeeded on a recount by the second candidate on the ticket in 2016, former Australian Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett, but returned in December after Bartlett made way for her, in keeping with the party's convention that outgoing Senators relinquish their seats to their preselected successors ahead of the election. Waters easily won the preselection vote ahead of Ben Pennings, anti-Adani campaigner and lord mayoral candidate. Bartlett will run for the party in the lower house seat of Brisbane.
Another incumbent seeking re-election is Fraser Anning, who was elected as a candidate of One Nation but will contest the election at the head of his own outfit, Fraser Anning's Conservative National Party. Anning is a former Gladstone hotel operator who was the third candidate on the One Nation ticket in 2016, and came to the Senate in November 2017 after winning the party's second seat on the countback that followed Malcolm Roberts' disqualification. He quit One Nation on the day he was sworn into the Senate, although on his own account he was effectively expelled. Anning has since gained considerably publicity by positioning himself still further to the right of One Nation, attending a rally in Melbourne led by neo-Nazi activist Blair Cottrell in January, and responding to the Christchurch massacre in March by saying the killings illustrated “the link between Muslim immigration and violence”. A day after the latter incident, Anning was egged by 17-year-old William Connolly while addressing the media and supporters in Melbourne, prompting an attack on Connolly by Anning's supporters.
Also in the field is Clive Palmer, the mining magnate and former National Party official who achieved short-lived electoral success in 2013 through the Palmer United Party, resulting in his own election to the lower house seat of Fairfax and the election of three of his party's candidates to the Senate. Internal dissolution and Palmer's business troubles reduced the party to a very marginal presence by the time of the 2016 election, but he has lately poured millions of dollars into publicising his comeback bid through a new vehicle, the United Australia Party. Palmer originally declared himself set on contesting the Townsville-based lower house seat of Herbert, though he may have underestimated enduring hostility towards him there over the collapse of his company Queensland Nickel, leading to many job losses and a failure by Palmer to pay workers' entitlements. He announced he would instead contest a Senate seat at the end of the first week of the election campaign.