Taming Queensland’s most marginal seat

Moreton candidates (from left) Greens’ Elissa Jenkins, ALP’s Graham Perrett and LNP’s Malcolm Cole. Photo: Guy Creighton


When the federal seat of Moreton was founded in 1901 as part of Australia’s Federation, it was much like the rest of the former colony that surrounded it.

The area was mostly residential with some light industry and farming.

Wide expanses of scrub and dry rainforest lay untouched, broken occasionally by mostly wooden homesteads, stations, or farms.

The roads were sparse and unsealed, the air clear – barring the scattered smoke from factories. It was quiet until the howl of a passing-by steam locomotive.

Just north of the electorate was where the first case of the bubonic epidemic took place a year before.

A major stud cattle station still occupied much of what is the suburb of Indooroopilly today.

It was a time of boundless promise in a new nation, tempered by the severe life of the 1900s, and a wish to harness this federated potential.

Brisbane was in many ways, then, harsh and untamed.

Nowadays, the high arch sandstone and wooden Queenslander architecture has gone the way of brick and mortar; the now sealed roads are populated with modern cars.

Although Moreton has domesticated itself with its modern buildings and technological sophistications, it harbours a political disposition that harks back to the days of federation.

An inexorable unpredictability that gives it the quality of seeming untamed.

After more than a century of humdrum voting, dissatisfaction to the status quo is simmering just below the surface.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Moreton lays claim to the title of ‘the most marginal seat in Queensland’.

Sitting Member of Parliament, Graham Perrett of the Australian Labor Party, holds the seat with a wafer thin margin of 1.1 percent.

Of course there are other reasons that casts light over the electorate’s current predicament.

The deposing of Kevin Rudd, Moreton’s electoral neighbour, in 2010 stirred malcontent amongst Labor voters, spurring a 12 percent swing against Perrett.

Vitiating the emissions trading scheme and the mishandling of the Mining Tax by Rudd, however, also contributed to the narrative of a government in disarray.

Despite Moreton voter’s disenfranchisement with Labor in 2010, a change in government or member would not take place.

While Perrett’s primary took a major hit, the Liberal National Party candidate Malcolm Cole only gained just over a two percent swing. Greens’ candidate Elissa Jenkins took most by surprise, garnering a swing of more than eight percent.

In the end, the move away from the major parties by voters would actually be Perrett’s saving grace. The Greens preferences meant Perrett would retain his seat, despite Cole claiming the majority of the primary vote.

“Elissa’s preferences is what got us over the line,” Perrett admitted.

“It was tough, but the reality is in 2010, people went to the polls and elected Julia Gillard as their Prime Minister.”

Nevertheless, a series of political scandals, contentious bills and leadership speculations have only hampered Labor’s showing in the polls, which has slowly but surely travelled south.

Perrett’s position going into the September 7 election will be tenuous at best.

And if the history of the seat is anything to go by, Perrett’s days in Canberra may already be numbered.

On political aspirations, Moreton has typically been conservative; the Liberal party and its predecessors held the seat for 86 years before Labor regained government and the seat in 1990.

Since then, the seat has been in the hands of whoever held government.

And if one were to run with this logic and believe in the resounding unity of the opinion polls, Moreton would most certainly be a Liberal seat again.

But severe public sector cuts have damaged the LNP brand in Queensland and an increasingly diversifying population has Perrett still in with a shot of holding his seat.

His chief opponent, Malcolm Cole of the LNP, will be hoping that he misses.

After losing on a slim margin in 2010, the former Canberra correspondent for the Courier Mail said his last campaign was marred with disorganisation.

“In 2010 it was all a bit rushed, people within the LNP suggested that I should run – I was only preselected two weeks before the prime minister called the election,” he said.

“[While] it was a rush, I think mentally, I was ready to do it.

Cole said the reasons for his candidacy were strongly driven by his economic views.

“Just being a business owner, I watched with a lot of frustration the way the government just wasted money that is just too hard to come by. I think the people were not being rewarded for working hard.

“And we seemed to have this great prosperity in our nation and I scratched my head, wondering how we could end up being in hundreds of billions of dollars in debt in a government that had only been in power for three years.”

Although failing to recognise the occurrence of a global financial crisis within this period, Cole’s views still holds currency with voters.

“I think that everything flows from good economic and budget management; not taxing people to the death, spending money in the right places such as education and the NDIS.

However, Perrett believes these views are at odds with Cole’s leader.

“Since we took government in 2007, we have doubled budgetary spending on education. Tony Abbott not only wants to cut funding to higher education but increase the tax to university students with part-time jobs.”

Education policy notwithstanding, Cole believes the 2010 election harnessed a good result.

“The margin for the seat was over 6 percent [before the election],” Cole explained, “It certainly wasn’t considered a target seat, and it wasn’t considered a seat that would be on play on election night, so we were very happy with the outcome.”

“Because I have grown up here I know the people. I had a good feeling from people that there was a mood for change. And so the result that we got was probably the result I expected to get.”

Cole received just over a four percent swing after preferences were counted, leaving him with 49 percent of the vote.

But responding to questions on the surge in popularity with the Greens in the same election, Malcolm was clearly sceptical.

“I think at the time everybody saw [the Greens] as this benevolent third force in politics. Of course less than a month later they were signing up into a formal coalition and have since dictated policy to the government such as the carbon tax,” he said.

“So I think that showed voters that voting for the greens is not an alternative to the Labor party.”

Round 2

After a narrow defeat at the last election, Cole is running again, now with more volunteers, a stronger personal resolve and campaign wisdom that can only be learnt from a lost election.

But, like his leader, Cole preferred not to delve into the specifics of his party’s policy.

In shying away from tangible announcements on higher education strategies, (although stating the LNP would repeal compulsory student union service fees) Cole instead chose to talk rhetoric on the economic future.

“At the moment, one of the best things we can do is get the government out of the student’s pocket,” he said.

“I think more importantly, the thing that students need most of all is a job to go to when they graduate.

“We’ve released our ‘real solutions’ plan – by freeing up regulation and getting government off the back of business – outlining our strategy to create one million jobs over five years and two million jobs over ten years.

“So the best thing we can do for students is getting the economy working.”

Honey, it’s not you; it’s your party

IN reply to a question on whether he thought Perrett had done a good job while in office, Cole said he would not get into a personal commentary on his opponent.

“What I will say is he’s been a member of a government that I think has done a bad job and he’s voted with the government to break promises.

“He’s voted with the government to give us the Carbon Tax and the Mining Tax, which in particular has turned out to be a complete debacle.”

However, Malcolm concluded, negativity was not part of his campaign.

“I focus on what I can offer people, and from that point of view, I feel that I have a good understanding of the needs of the people here, being a fourth generation local.

You winnin’, champ?

PRESSED on his view in the coming election’s outcome however, the L-NP candidate could not say he was confident.

“Moreton as a seat has a history of just hanging in with the government, I remember all through the Howard years that Gary Hardgrave [the previous Member for Moreton] was gone and that he would lose his seat every time. But he held the seat for 11 years.

“So to say whether I’m confident; I can’t.

“I think this electorate is a real toss of a coin; there are great swathes of traditionally Labor areas and vice versa.

“I think it could go either way.”

Green power

Another candidate throwing their hat in the ring for the second time in Moreton is Greens candidate Elissa Jenkins.

Jenkins, a media relations professional in the renewable energies sector, said she was a veteran campaigner despite her youth.

In her mid-30s Elissa has already run in five state and federal elections.

In 2004, Jenkins ran for the federal seat of Bonner, in 2005 she ran for the state seat by-election of Chatsworth and again in 2006 in the same electorate.

After receiving over 16 percent of the primary vote in Moreton in 2010, Jenkins is hoping to continue the momentum this time round.

“We were blown away by the support and the courage of the Moreton voters to vote for the Greens,” she said

“So what I’m bringing to the campaign this time is three tenets, tenets I believe Moreton voters have.

“They are compassion, love of community and courage. Courage is something I got from Moreton voters who took that leap to vote for me last time round.”

In their appeal to the student vote, Elissa said the Greens would implement universally free tertiary education.

“The Greens are really passionate about free lifelong education, and we believe that is something that can be practically implemented.

“We also have Senator Rachel Siewert right now pushing for $50 dollars a week more to be added to student allowance.

“So that’s kind of stuff that we believe students should have. They should be able to focus on their studies and not be forced to work.”

However ideal these policies may seem, this type of Greens policy has tended to inhabit the realm of emotional appeal more than it does of expediency

Tied hands

REGARDLESS of whether Elissa has a material chance on winning the seat, Greens’ policy offers a useful critique on the limitations of the major parties.

In considering Graham’s incumbency, Elissa concluded, “his hands are tied”.

“I think that those who support Graham Perrett really want to see education, health, social justice and environmental issues addressed and Graham unfortunately is part of party that is not prioritising those things.

“I suppose for me it’s really about the fact that things that I am passionate about are Green’s policy.”

All the same, the election will inevitably come down to funding, according to Jenkins.

“The Greens don’t take funding from big corporations to run their campaigns.

“So it always comes down to funding issues for the Greens. If I have the same level of funding as the two major parties to run a campaign, then I think I’d be at a commensurate level to win, but it’s part our philosophy to not take funding from those areas.

“If we had a level playing field, winning would be totally possible.”

A tough innings

Standing for his third election in office, Perrett will be hoping to buck the national trend of a Labor wipe-out.

Perrett and his colleagues, minus a few frontbenchers and whips, have survived months of media and insider fuelled leadership speculation only to face a galvanised constituency in September.

After six years in office, Perrett is ready to face the people once again.

“When I was first won the seat in 2007 it was very exciting, there were some big policy agenda items – obviously they were interrupted by the global financial crisis – but as a former teacher, the Building the Education Revolution program was something I was pretty proud of,” he said.

Perrett will be campaigning heavily on his government’s education track record with the introduction of the Gonski reforms.

Incumbency in review

Despite tensions of a hung parliament and a party with terminal confusion over who should lead it, Graham said he was happy with what he had achieved.

“Investing in education has been a major focus for me and we’ve already had over 430 bills though this parliament.”

“Putting a price on carbon, the National Broadband Network, the National Disability Insurance Scheme, investing in universities, passing the Murray-Darling plan, investment in education; we’ve got a lot through.”

In reply to Cole’s labelling the Mining Tax as a debacle, Perrett returned arguing the LNP’s own position was hypocritical.

“They voted against it saying it would destroy the mining industry, now they turn around and say we should have taxed harder.

“It’s a super profits tax, the spot prices of iron ore and coal are relatively low now, but it is trending north. So as the price improves so will the profits.”

But much like his opponents, Perrett is unable to stake his claim in the outcome of September’s election.

“It will be tough, it is a government seat, the only thing that has really focused people’s mind in Moreton, is the gutting of public servants in Queensland.

“Tony Abbott will be Campbell Newman on steroids when it comes to cutting, he has already said he is committed to cutting 20,000 public sector jobs and he’s committed to cutting the School Kids Bonus.”

Political jabs aside, all any candidate can do now is campaign until the voting booths close 6pm on September 7.

“When you’re in a marginal seat, everyday is a campaign so it really is no change for me,” Perrett concluded.

“The only difference it has made is my opponent has started turning up.”

The lucky country

Nevertheless, Australia is likely to be one of the few countries in the world that will be replacing its government when its economy is in excellent shape.

And while voters have justifiable reasons to vote against the government, the fact that an opposition may glide into office without any real scrutiny or releasing any serious policy costings is alarming.

Regardless of the outcome on election night, Moreton will very much be a seat to watch.

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