On the night of the Queensland election, I ran a live blog at the Gatton Star website. In an evening of swings, movements and fast-moving drama, I eventually called it as a win for Ian Rickuss in Lockyer and a defeat for the LNP in Queensland. I got some matters wrong in the short term, including the outcome of Lockyer, though it looks as if I will be ultimately proved correct in the coming week.
The seat of Lockyer contains the town of Gatton and the Lockyer Valley council area as well as an odd panhandle that extends across south of Ipswich and north of Jimboomba. The constituencies of the two parts of the electorate don’t have much in common and there are no direct roads linking the two.
In the 1980s this was a safe Nationals seat under Tony Fitzgerald (not THAT Tony Fitzgerald). Ian Rickuss, now 60, has held it for the LNP since 2004. In between, One Nation won the seat twice, in 1998 and 2001 under different candidates, both who left the party while in office. Rickuss has made the seat his own (apart from 2006 when he just edged out Labor’s John Kelly), winning the seat comfortably in three other elections.
This time round he was challenged by another 60-year-old. Pauline Hanson is two months older than Rickuss but looks a lot younger. Yet she has been around longer than Rickuss and is far more in the public eye. Hanson has been one of the most well known figures in Australian politics for almost 20 years.
Ipswich Labor councillor Paul Tully (who sidelines as an impressive election analyst) remembers Hanson from her short days as an Ipswich councillor in 1994. Hanson was hard-working and concentrated on local issues not federal ones, recalls Tully, but she lost office in a snap 1995 local election when the borders of Ipswich changed. She rocketed into wider public conscience in 1996 when she won the safe Labor federal seat of Oxley.
Hanson ran as a Liberal who was not expected to win. She was disendorsed for comments she made arguing against special assistance for Indigenous people. She won the seat in a huge swing and expanded on her beliefs in a notorious maiden speech. Hanson entered parliament as an independent but her folksy populism and demonisation of minorities struck a chord with voters who felt abandoned by the political classes.
Hanson lashed out at Asians and Aboriginals and multiculturalism and the big end of town and there were many who believed she was “just saying what others thought”. The big parties and their followers in the media called her views reprehensible but their attacks just brought more supporters into her tent.
Her controversial statements, and her instantly recognisable redhead look, brought intense media scrutiny, examined in Margo Kingston’s Off the Rails. That book was set in the chaotic 1998 election where Hanson, now a party leader of One Nation, abandoned Oxley and ran for the rural seat of Blair. That election followed the Queensland election where One Nation took 20% of the vote so Hanson was riding a wave.
Hanson won the popular vote in Blair with seven thousand votes more than the Liberal’s Cameron Thompson, however Thompson won on Labor preferences. A similar result ensued when Hanson ran as a senator for Queensland in 2004 where a Liberal, Russell Trood pipped her for the final seat, again on Labor preferences.
Fast forward 11 years and history is playing itself out the same way a third time. Her announcement in December in a farmer’s field at Crowley Vale she was standing for the seat of Lockyer attracted the most media I’ve seen at an event in the Lockyer Valley and the only time I’ve seen Sky News here.
She was happy to play on her celebrity status and immediately garnered warm praise from people across the electorate who saw her as the perfect anti-politician. Hanson painted herself as the farmer’s friend who would fight for ordinary people. Any time I wrote a story about her, the feedback was electric, intense – and mostly favourable.
When I put out an opinion poll of the candidates, she took 41% of the 2000 people that voted. My poll was unscientific and I didn’t think it amounted to a winning lead (for starters, I had no idea whether poll voters were in Lockyer) but it was clear she would do well in the election. The ECQ failed to pick this up, and in their calculations they thought it would be a race between Rickuss and the Katter Party’s Dave Neuendorf, who was runner-up in 2012.
Hanson did a preference deal with Neuendorf, who is also on KAP’s state executive. She picked up the majority of Neuendorf’s 2000 votes and also did well out of the Greens and PUP’s 1000 votes.
But she wasn’t expected to pick up Labor preferences and that’s why on election night I called it for Rickuss. Labor put One Nation last in whatever seat they ran candidates in. Labor’s candidate in Lockyer Steve Leese did well in the election, polling 7500 votes finishing third only 500 votes behind Hanson, who was 2000 behind Rickuss.
Over the following couple of days, it was clear Labor voters weren’t following the script and almost 70% preferenced Hanson ahead of Rickuss. It looks as if that figure will see her fall just short again. As of close of counting on Friday, Rickuss leads by 183 votes with 91% counted and his lead has steadied around the 200 mark for several days. Labor say they placed One Nation last because of its racist views but that is nonsense. Race was not an issue in the election and One Nation’s policies were indistinguishable to the Katter Party which Labor preferenced ahead of the LNP.
What Labor’s how to vote card showed was they feared Hanson more than an LNP plodder and didn’t want her involved in any negotiations to form government. New LNP leader Lawrence Springborg (a likelihood I correctly predicted before the election, if not the result itself) muddied those negotiations by suggesting the LNP government remain in caretaker mode until a possible by-election in Ferny Grove is decided.
Labor have taken that seat and are on track to get 44 seats. With Nicklin independent Peter Wellington they will have 45 seats and a majority in the 89-seat parliament. They may offer Wellington the speaker role trusting he would do the right thing with a casting vote in any 44-44 event.
The two Katter Party MPs Shane Knuth and Robbie Katter have not shown their hand yet. Bob Katter is instinctively conservative and couldn’t bring himself to support Gillard’s minority government so the likelihood is they will lean to the LNP. Neuendorf and his fellow executive may take a different view.
Springborg is on the same page as Katter ruling out asset sales and may also support the KAP’s policy of an inland highway and railway line through the Galilee Basin while scrapping Brisbane’s BAT (bus and train) tunnel which Katter contemptuously describes as existing only to get punters home to their televisions ten minutes earlier.
Springborg is also talking up the benefits of incumbency and the “caretaker government” (though it is defeated Campbell Newman who, scarily, is still the caretaker). Springborg is betting on the Ferny Grove by-election in Ferny Grove where PUP candidate Mark Taverner was an undischarged bankrupt. Taverner took 3% of the vote but it is not clear whether his preferences went to Labor or the LNP. Labor won by about 400 votes, a margin that may convince the ECQ to call another election or the LNP to take it to the court of disputed returns.
Antony Green argues Labor’s Mark Furner deserves his place in parliament, until such a case would be heard. This would give Labor the numbers to form government.
Springborg will turn Ferny Grove into a referendum on his leadership, if it happens, and he has the backing of the Courier-Mail but crucially he would be doing it as an opposition leader not as an incumbent.
Annastacia Palaszczuk argues Springborg does not have a mandate as Premier and she is right. But she must make her move to claim power this week, once the results are declared.