Brisbane Central by-election preview

The by-election to fill Peter Beattie’s vacancy in the state seat of Brisbane Central will be held tomorrow. With the Liberals sensibly declining to field a candidate, it is unlikely to be terribly exciting, despite inevitable wild talk about the Greens’ chances. The Nationals were at one point making noises about filling the void with a candidate of their own, apparently convinced that this would add weight to their argument that they should still be considered a going concern in the urban south-east. However, the plan was abandoned when they failed to find a suitable candidate in time. More and better coverage from Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo; tune in here tomorrow evening for half-hearted live coverage of the count. The candidates in ballot paper order:

Erik Olaf Eriksen. Beyond the fact that he polled 171 votes as a candidate for Clayfield at the state election last September, Eriksen’s identity is a mystery.

Mark A. White (Family First). Hoping to monopolise the conservative vote, White is described as a “telecommunications manager and father of six”.

Ian Nelson (One Nation). Nelson is also One Nation’s lead Queensland Senate candidate, and is presumably running to boost his profile. More on Nelson’s outlook on life can be ascertained from videos viewable here and here.

Anne Boccabella (Greens). The Greens website describes Boccabella as “a long-time community activist with 28 years experience as a successful small business owner”.

Ronald Davy. The other of the two independents in the field is no less an enigma than Eriksen.

Grace Grace (Labor). So good they named her twice (she in fact acquired the name through marriage, her maiden name of Grace Farfaglia bespeaking her Italian heritage), the Queensland Council of Unions general secretary was immediately mentioned as a possible replacement for Beattie along with Michael Dart, chief-of-staff to Sports Minister Andrew Fraser, and Milton Dick, party state secretary, who both promptly withdrew. Steve Wardill of the Courier-Mail reported that Grace’s nomination was fast-tracked by the party’s administrative committee after Anna Bligh chose a short time-frame for the by-election campaign, prompting familiar sounding grumbling from local party members. Wardill said it was “understood Ms Bligh and Mrs Grace posed together for candidate photographs in New Farm Park … before the by-election date was even announced”. The process was apparently driven by factional arrangements that effectively secured the seat for Unity (also known as the “old guard”), a sub-faction of the Right distinct from the AWU-dominated Labor Forum.

UPDATE: Still more from Mark Bahnisch at Larvatus Prodeo, this time with videos.

Peter out

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has announced his intention to retire as of Thursday. He will hand the reins to long-established heir presumptive Anna Bligh, who will follow Carmen Lawrence and Joan Kirner to become Australia’s third female premier. This means a by-election looms in Beattie’s seat of Brisbane Central. While this is hard to get excited about (it is all but certain that the Liberals will not field a candidate), it’s interesting to note that Beattie’s margin fell from 25.0 per cent to 19.6 per cent in 2004 and then to 14.8 per cent in 2006. Of greater interest is the symbolism involved in two state premiers recently deciding to quit while at the top of their game, and the contrast presented by the present incumbent of The Lodge.

Gaven by-election live

. Primary Swing 2PP Swing
LABOR 36.8 -10.8 46.6 -8.4
NATIONALS* 42.5 3.7 53.4 8.4
Greens 7.8 -0.1
Others 12.9 7.1 95% COUNTED
* Nationals swings compared with Liberal in 2004

Monday 4.00am. A slightly puzzling article from Jamie Walker and Emma Chalmers in the Courier-Mail (join in the fun and suggest your own alternative title for the paper in comments), which tells us that the swing "is expected to blow out from 7.5 per cent", and that Labor is "bracing" for it to pass 8 per cent. But the ECQ’s two-party figures, which are correctly quoted in the article, already have it at 8.3 per cent. Another eyebrow-raiser is the assertion that there are "3500 postal and pre-polling votes still to be counted", which if literally correct will mean more than 6000 non-polling booth votes have been lodged, compared with 3198 at the Chatsworth by-election and 3455 at Redcliffe. It may be that they know something I don’t, but for the time being I will conclude that the 3500 figure includes the 2692 that have already been counted. The figure of 95 per cent in the table above is based on this assumption.

Sunday 1.30pm. Might as well keep going. Postals and pre-polls are in, leaving only about 200 absent and declared institution votes remaining. Postals accounted for more than 8 per cent of the total and have run badly against Labor, the 13.6 per cent two-party swing being worse than any booth. Pre-polls have gone the other way, swinging only 1.5 per cent, but there were less than a quarter as many. My calculations have done their job, because the 8.3 per cent swing now indicated by the ECQ compares with the 8.1 per cent projected on this site last night and the 7.3 per cent you would have heard about in the media.

8.42m. You don’t get rid of me that easily. Two points worth making: first, a uniform swing of 8 per cent at a general election would cost Labor 20 seats and reduce it to 43 seats out of 89, two short of a majority. Since by-elections are always a free kick for the opposition, it does not seem that the Beattie government’s plight is severe enough to cost it power at the election due early next year. Secondly, the turnout for this by-election has been quite remarkable: 23,217 votes lodged at polling booths compared with 22,418 at the 2004 election. How often does a by-election produce a turnout higher than at the previous general election? By way of comparison, 16,381 votes were lodged at the recent Victoria Park by-election in WA, compared with 22,911 at the state election of barely more than a year ago. No doubt this is testament in large part to the continuing population explosion on the Gold Coast. Beyond that, I wouldn’t care to speculate.

8.11pm. One more thing: great job by the ECQ. Granted that they had fewer booths to keep on top of than at any by-election I have seen, but this is the first time I have seen each booth come in one at a time, and not in unmanageable and suspense-destroying spurts.

8.09pm. The ECQ has “final for election night” in big red writing at the top of the page, so I guess that’s it for the evening. You have as always been a wonderful audience, and I will continue to keep an eye out for comments thread activity for another hour or so.

8.01pm. Not sure if we’ll be seeing any pre-polls or postals this evening (we did for the Victoria Park by-election in WA a few weeks ago). I’ll hang around a bit longer to find out.

7.59pm. Notional preferences now in from Pacific Pines as well, and this time I could be bothered. A further drift of preferences away from Labor has added 0.1 per cent to the swing.

7.55pm. Notional preferences at Nerang PYC have favoured Labor less than average, but not by enough that I can be bothered altering the table at this point.

7.51pm. Still waiting on notional 2PP in Nerang PYC and Pacific Pines, but you get the picture. The Nationals have won the seat with a swing of about 8.0 per cent, similar to that achieved by the Liberals in last year’s Redcliffe by-election (8.3 per cent) but substantially less than that from the Chatsworth by-election (13.9 per cent) held on the same day.

7.49pm. The ECQ seem to have docked the Greens a vote in favour of the Nationals in the Nerang booth. Wonder what happened there.

7.46pm. With notional figures in from all but two booths, preferences have swung back a little in Labor’s favour. They now favour Labor 15.5 per cent to 14.5 per cent, with 70 per cent exhausting (compared with 60 per cent in 2004).

7.41pm. Pacific Pines is now in and has registered a fairly typical 8.6 per cent swing against Labor.

7.4opm. Unless I’m doing something wrong here, further notional 2PP results suggests that preferences are actually favouring the Nationals. The table has been adjusted again and the swing has increased further.

7.33pm. First notional 2PP results are in, and they suggest 17 per cent of preferences are going to Labor, 16 per cent to the Nationals and 66 per cent exhausting. So Labor are doing less well than suggested by my initial figures, which have now been adjusted.

7.28pm. Nerang PYC, worth 8 per cent of the total, has swung 6.6 per cent on 2PP, lower than average but still enough to cost Labor the seat if uniform.

7.26pm. In answer to an earlier question to myself, Greens candidate Glen Ryman has chipped in in comments to say Daren Riley is broadly of the right, so it’s unlikely his preferences would rescue Labor. Both his and the Greens’ vote have faded a little from the 10 per cent ballpark mentioned early, and they’re now on more like 8 per cent.

7.24pm. The only outstanding booths are Nerang PYC (8 per cent) and Pacific Pines (11 per cent).

7.2opm. The biggest booth, Helensvale North, is now in, and if there was any hope left for Labor it’s probably gone now. The swing was 8.5 per cent. The one possible wild card is that preferences will fall very differently this time, although I don’t see why they would.

7.18pm. Bit of a delay in my table update there. Booths just mentioned are now up.

7.15pm. Gaven and Helensvale have also swung against Labor by enough to cost them the seat – 8.1 per cent and 7.4 per cent.

7.12pm. Two fairly large booths may have put it beyond Labor’s reach. Nerang West and Oxenford are both worth about 10 per cent and have swung against Labor by 7.3 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

7.10pm. Glen Ryman of the Greens and independent Daren Riley, of whom I know nothing, are both on about 10 per cent. Preferences of the latter could prove very important. One Nation and independent Phil Connolly (who was once a One Nation candidate) are doing less well, both on 2-3 per cent.

7.07pm. Not so good for Labor in Nerang, although it’s a small booth worth 5 per cent of the vote. Labor down 10.9 per cent and the Coalition up 7.0 per cent for a 10.1 per cent two-party swing, enough to put the Nationals back in the lead.

7.05pm. Bicentennial Hall was in fact the worst booth for Labor in 2004, with a margin of just 0.9 per cent.

7.02pm. Something to chew on: when will the notional 2PP from the Brisbane booth be in? How long can it take to count 29 votes?

6.58pm. The first substantial booth is in and unless my calculations are askew, it’s a very encouraging result for Labor. Bicentennial Hall was worth 7 per cent of the total in 2004 and while Labor are down 9.6 per cent on the primary vote, the Coalition are down 2.5 per cent as well. My two-party calculation is a swing of less than 3.9 per cent, less than the Nationals will need to win the seat.

6.55pm. Another clarification while we wait: until notional two-candidate details are in from the ECQ, calculations in the above table will assume the same preference distribution as 2004 – 22 per cent to Labor, 18 per cent to the Coalition and 60 per cent exhausting.

6.48pm. Teething problem number one now sorted.

6.45pm. The first figures in are actually those lodged in Brisbane, of which there are a mere 29. So it wouldn’t do to read much into the results above just yet.

6.42pm. A caveat to the bit about early results flattering Labor: I am referring to the raw figures you will get at the ECQ. The results in the table above will be adjusted to take booth variations into account.

6.40pm. A quick preview while we wait. There are nine booths in the electorate, the smallest number I have ever encountered. Labor recorded majorities in all of them in 2004, but its majorities were noticeably smaller at the far north end (Helensvale North and Oxenford) and the far south (Bicentennial Hall and the three Nerang booths). The three best booths for Labor were the three in between, at Gaven (15.8 per cent Labor majority), Helensvale (8.3 per cent) and Pacific Pines (10.8 per cent). The two largest booths, Helensvale North (15 per cent of voters) and Nerang West (12 per cent), were also two of the best for the Coalition, with Labor majorities of 2.1 per cent and 2.6 per cent respectively. So it can be presumed that the early results will tend to flatter Labor.

6.10pm. Welcome to the Poll Bludger’s live coverage of the Gaven by-election. First results should be in at around 6.45pm.

These foolish things

Just one more sleep until the April Fools’ Day by-election for the Queensland state seat of Gaven, which as usual will be covered live on this site shortly after polls close at 6pm local time. The campaign period has been well-served for opinion polls, with today’s effort in the Gold Coast Bulletin adding to an overall picture of a likely Labor defeat, though with a less bruising swing than at last year’s Chatsworth and Redcliffe by-elections. No minor party figures are available in the online article, although the paper’s editorial refers to "the apparent collapse of the Greens vote" – though there is little doubt they are reading too much into results from a small sample (UPDATE: Gaps now filled thanks to Greens candidate Glen Ryman’s contribution in comments). The overall sample was 420, with 18 per cent of those surveyed failing to indicate a preference.

Labor 34 34 39 37
Nationals 11 41 43 43
Liberal 33
Greens 9 11 7 6
Others 13 14 11 14
Sample 230 300 265 345

Some recent developments on the campaign trail:

• Andrew Fraser reports in today’s Australian that Peter Beattie has indulged in a last-minute $50 million spending spree, designed to saturate the media with good news in the brief period after the end of the Commonwealth Games. The shopping list includes a new police precinct for the local area complete with 22 new officers; a new school; an upgrade of nearby Robina Hospital; and an announcement that $100 million will be spent on "power-related projects on the Gold Coast".

• Cyclone Larry, which has only dropped off Queensland’s front pages in the past few days, also fit in nicely with Beattie’s campaign media cycle. Furthermore, Mark Ludlow of the Financial Review reports that media monitoring data shows Beattie was mentioned 4165 times in the media in the past week, compared with just 86 mentions of Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg. Ludlow also reports that "predicted swings of 15 per cent against the government have now been scaled down to about 10 per cent, courtesy of Mr Beattie’s performance after Cyclone Larry".

• A Labor radio advertisement that uses barnyard animal noises to mock the Nationals has provoked an angry response from the party, no doubt because they are sensitive to its likely impact in the wholly urbanised electorate.

• After earlier hedging their bets, the Greens have decided to direct preferences to Labor after receiving an undertaking that the government will "do all they can" to purchase 70 hectares of environmentally sensitive land from building company CSR Hynix.

• Independent candidate Phil Connolly will face court next month after police allegedly found an unlicensed semi-automatic rifle on his property.

Gaven by-election preview

Voters in the Queensland seat of Gaven will head to the polls next Saturday to replace Labor member Robert Poole, who embarrassed his party when he indulged in a non-business trip to Thailand and informed Premier Peter Beattie he would not be back until June. When Beattie demanded he return immediately, Poole instead chose to resign. Beattie has opted to get the by-election over with as quickly as possible, ostensibly because any later date would have to be after Easter, and is apparently unfazed by the symbolism of a poll held on April Fools’ Day.

Given the circumstances, a Labor defeat would seem to be inevitable. The seat covers normally conservative territory (the corresponding federal electorates of Fadden, Forde and Moncrieff are respectively held for the Liberals by margins of 15.3 per cent, 13.0 per cent and 20.1 per cent), and Labor’s victories were a measure of their success on the Gold Coast at the 2001 and 2004 state elections. The 5.0 per cent margin is well below the swing Labor suffered at last year’s Chatsworth (13.9 per cent) and Redcliffe (8.3 per cent) by-elections, and the government is still seriously wounded as a result of the "Doctor Death" scandal and related troubles with the health system.

Yet for all that, three polls conducted in the past few weeks show Labor holding up surprisingly well. The following table provides results from two polls conducted by TNS and published in the Sunday Mail and Courier-Mail, and one conducted by and for the Gold Coast Bulletin, with the undecided distributed in each case and removed from the figures identifying the total samples. The first of these polls provides ample support for the view that Labor is only in the hunt because the Liberals meekly surrendered the right to contest the seat to the National Party, which no longer has a constituency on the Gold Coast.

. TNS 1-2/3 GCB 9/3 TNS 15-16/3
Labor 34 34 39
Nationals 11 41 43
Liberal 33
Greens 9 11 7
Others 13 14 11
Sample 230 300 265

The by-election has attracted an agreeably modest field of six candidates (all male), who are listed here in ballot paper order:

Glen Ryman (Greens). Ryman is identified in party literature as a "39 year old business analyst and father of three".

Daren Riley (Independent). Not much is known about Riley, except that he is a building industry worker and is (according to Emma Chalmers of the Courier-Mail) "locked in talks with One Nation candidate Steve Moir after deciding not to allocate preferences to the major parties".

Alex Douglas (Nationals). A GP who has worked in the local area for 18 years, Douglas is married to Gold Coast City Councillor and Nationals senior vice-president Susie Douglas. His wife has not figured in the recent controversies surrounding the council (see below).

Phil Connolly (Independent). Connolly is a funeral director who also ran as an independent at the 2001 and 2004 elections, and as the One Nation candidate for Surfers Paradise in 1998.

Steve Moir (One Nation). Moir also ran for One Nation in the seat of Mudgeeraba at the 2004 election.

Phil Gray (Labor). Gray is a former president of the Left faction Queensland Public Sector Union and was Robert Poole’s campaign manager in 2001 and 2004. The latter campaign is best remembered for a pamphlet that portrayed Liberal candidate and Gold Coast councillor Ray Stevens as a pig with his snout in a trough, which copped a rebuke from Peter Beattie.

Highlights of the campaign thus far have been as follows:

  • The government is facing local hostility over its plans to construct a cruise ship terminal at the Southport Spit. The Nationals are making mileage out of the controversy by accusing the government of "decreeing from Brisbane what will happen on the Gold Coast", and have promised to establish a Gold Coast Port Authority which Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg says will involve "local people making local decisions for the best local outcomes". Suzanne Lappeman and Tanya Kirkbride of the Gold Coast Bulletin describe the Nationals’ position as a risky move that could alienate Liberal supporters of the development.
  • There have been widespread calls for Gold Coast City Council to be sacked following a Crime and Misconduct Commission inquiry into allegations of bribery and failures to disclose election gifts and material personal interests. The claims involve local developers including Brian Ray, who was killed in a plane crash in Victoria last year, and their alleged efforts to establish a pro-development bloc on council. A TNS survey of 300 respondents published in the Courier-Mail on Monday found that 60 per cent of locals believed the council should be dismissed, which Local Government Minister Desley Boyle has vowed to do if even one councillor is "found to have acted inappropriately" by the CMC.
  • The Greens were initially refusing to rule out the possibility of directing preferences to the Nationals, although history suggests the threat was being played as a bargaining chip. Perhaps realising this, the Nationals began pushing the line that they would not cut deals with anyone, and that a vote for anyone but their own candidate would be a vote for Labor. Yesterday Greens candidate Glen Ryman said he was "very wary of the National Party’s credentials in terms of the environment", and rejected the possibility of a deal. All other candidates have ruled out directing preferences to either major party.
  • Suzanne Lappeman of the Gold Coast Bulletin reports that "the Labor Party is running a cut-price campaign in Gaven with party management refusing to invest money in a lost cause". The report says Labor plans to spend less than $100,000 on the campaign, compared with $200,000 to $300,000 by the Nationals.
  • The Nationals have felt compelled to humiliate themselves by branding Alex Douglas as a "Coalition candidate" in their election advertising, tacitly acknowledging that it is the Liberals who should really be contesting the seat.
  • Cyclone Larry has meant that locals have been spared visits from party leaders this week.
  • Gaven by-election

    The Poll Bludger has been a bit preoccupied lately, and failed to notice that a Queensland state by-election now looms in the Gold Coast seat of Gaven after Labor MP Robert Poole "chose to resign rather than do as Premier Peter Beattie demanded and return early from a trip to Thailand". The seat would naturally lean slightly towards the Coalition, but was won comfortably by Labor at the 2001 and 2004 landslides.

    Labor’s preselection will be held on March 18 (the day of the South Australian and Tasmanian elections) and it looms as a contest between the Left’s Phil Gray, Poole’s former campaign manager, and Labor Unity’s Liz Pommer, described by the Courier-Mail as "a 43-year-old career bureaucrat who has headed the Government’s efforts to control Schoolies week". The prize is none too tempting – Antony Green gives Labor no chance of retaining the seat, which seems a sensible assessment in view of the circumstances of Poole’s departure and Labor’s defeats last year in Chatsworth and Redcliffe. However, the victor will presumably get the opportunity to build their profile for another crack at next year’s state election.

    Absurdly, the National Party maintains its claim on Gaven within the context of the Queensland Coalition, despite uniformly humiliating performances in the rapidly-changing Gold Coast area throughout the current decade. A reader informs the Poll Bludger that the Liberals "had a candidate who was already campaigning until it was ruled that only the Nats would contest the seat, prompting the angry resignation of state Liberal Vice President Jim MacAnally". While this could potentially create the conditions for a successful independent challenger, the Nationals appear to have done well in preselecting Alex Douglas, a GP who has worked in the local area for 18 years and is married to Gold Coast City Councillor and Nationals senior vice-president Susie Douglas.

    UPDATE: Graham Young at Ambit Gambit brings us results from a TNS poll of Gaven voters published in today’s Sunday Mail showing Labor might not be as doomed as you would think. The reason – what Young describes as "the most cack-handed negotiations you have ever seen in your life" in which the Liberals conceded the seat to the Nationals. As Young puts it, and as the Poll Bludger has been arguing for some time, urban areas of south-east Queensland contain large numbers of "Liberals who will never vote National, and enough of these might vote third party and exhaust their preferences to give Labor a win". The poll has Labor on 26 per cent, the Liberals on 25 per cent and the Nationals on a derisory 8 per cent, the catch being that the Liberals are not allowed to field a candidate. However, a note of caution is in order given that TNS only managed to extract a response from about 230 voters in the rather small sample of 300, with 24 per cent registered as don’t know, informal or refused.