A byelection was held in the Queensland state seat of Redcliffe on February 22, following the resignation of the sitting Liberal National Party member, Scott Driscoll, over fraud allegations.
The result was a 17% swing to Labor, and the election of the Labor candidate Yvette D’Ath. The Greens were also hurt by this swing; they failed to reach the 4% threshold to get electoral funding.
LNP candidate Kerri-Anne Dooley ran for Family First at the previous state election, which indicates the close ties between the religious right in Queensland and the LNP. More than 6000 registered voters did not vote, but of those that did 35% still voted LNP as their first choice.
D’Ath was the federal member for Petrie, until her loss to the LNP at the federal election last year.
This election shows that voters were angry over the actions of the outgoing MP and dissatisfied with the actions of Premier Campbell Newman’s LNP government, with its slash and burn approach to reducing the size of government.
Before election day, especially during pre-polling, at which 23% of voters cast their ballot, there was an incredible level of campaigning from groups who were not running candidates.
These included the Queensland Not For Sale organisation, comprising mainly Electrical Trades Union and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union members; the public hospital doctors, who are facing major changes to their contract terms and conditions; the United Firefighters Union; the teachers unions; and several other groups disaffected by the actions of the Newman government.
On election day, each of the 13 polling places saw chaotic scenes as members of all of these groups, plus the political parties, jostled for the attention of the voters. At some booths, reportedly up to 70 members of these groups were approaching voters on their way in.
The usually tolerant attitude between booth workers on election day was largely absent in this polarised election, and many voters were quite intimidated by the circus atmosphere.
The chaos was increased by the presence of Newman and his family. Newman went to all booths and was greeted with boos and jeers from the majority of booth workers. He did try to answer a few criticisms, but appeared more interested in creating a disturbance that he could use in the media.
An example of this was his false claim that the firefighters were not real firefighters at all. This apparently baseless claim had huge coverage in the media, with the result that many in the community now believe it.
For the first time the ALP red shirts outnumbered the LNP blue at every booth. But these were mainly factional players, MPs and staffers from all over Brisbane, and only a few ordinary ALP members who worked on the day.
The reasons for the drop in the Greens’ vote are not clear, but there was obviously a focus on punishing the LNP, and the various protest groups all encouraged votes to the ALP, not the Greens.
The Greens mounted a strong campaign and for the first time in Redcliffe, staffed every booth in reasonable numbers, and had conducted many roadside stalls and leafleted almost 10,000 homes.
The Greens’ candidate, John Marshall, a tradesman painter and teacher, performed well at the candidates debates showing a good grasp of social justice and environmental issues, but finished in fourth place in a field of nine.
A strong local candidate, Len Thomas, who was endorsed by the Palmer United Party, came third on 11%.
The Greens will also be hurt by Newman’s proposed changes to electoral funding, which will raise the threshold to 6-10% before a candidate is eligible for electoral funding.
The Redcliffe ALP victory brings Labor’s seats in parliament to eight out of 89, so it will not affect the dominance of the Newman government.