By-Elections: ALP Starts Favourite In Griffith, But Shouldn’t

MANY POLITICAL PORTENTS will be read into the outcomes of two Queensland by-elections next month; the first cab off the rank is Kevin Rudd’s federal seat of Griffith, which will go to the polls on 8 February. Held by a defensible margin of 3%, orthodox political wisdom suggests the ALP starts as favourite in Griffith; it doesn’t deserve to, however, although its prospects there are probably better than those in the vacant LNP state seat of Redcliffe.

Only once since Federation has a government taken a seat off an opposition at a by-election: in 1920, the vacant Labor seat of Kalgoorlie was picked up by the governing Nationalist Party in what remains the sole federal precedent for what the Liberal Party will seek to achieve in Kevin Rudd’s old electorate.

Even so, other results at state level make this impossible-sounding feat seem rather more realistic; straight to mind comes the state seats of Burwood and Benalla in Victoria, vacated in the aftermath of the shock 1999 state election result by Jeff Kennett and his former deputy (and National Party) leader Pat McNamara respectively; at by-elections in early 2000, both seats were won by the Labor Party in stunning landslide upsets; indeed, I can’t find evidence that Labor had ever held Benalla prior to that point (although a reader may be able to correct me if I’m wrong about that).

I start my remarks thus because virtually every political commentator in the country has written the Liberal Party off in Griffith, suggesting its candidate — eye surgeon and former AMA chief Bill Glasson — is dead in the water. The punters apparently think so too, with Labor candidate Terri Butler starting at $1.18, as opposed to Dr Glasson’s odds of $4.25.

And of course, the contest in the vacant LNP seat of Redcliffe — to find a replacement for disgraced ex-MP Scott Driscoll — is likely to occur in February as well, although the date remains a matter of conjecture for now.

Much will be written about these two contests; should Labor win either or both, it will be trumpeted in certain sections of the press as a harbinger of doom for the Abbott government, the Coalition’s prospects at any fresh Senate election ordered by the Court of Disputed Returns in WA, and virtually every conservative state Premier or leader will somehow see their prospects evaporate before their eyes in the ALP’s resurgent wake north of the Tweed River.

I think it’s a bit more prosaic than that.

If we start with Griffith, the Liberal Party starts with a very big positive: it has a high-profile, recognisable, local candidate in Glasson, who has been actively campaigning in the electorate for a considerable period of time and who ran Rudd close at the September election last year.

By contrast, Labor has selected a relative unknown — and a candidate from its Left faction, to boot — in a move that doesn’t seem designed to replace a candidate of Prime Ministerial authority (whatever you think/thought of him) on a like-for-like basis.

In fact, for a party as obsessed with minorities and quotas and token gestures as Labor has become in recent years, even its selection of a woman — in part precisely on gender considerations — may do it more harm than good.

I think — on balance of probabilities — Griffith is a 50-50 proposition. To me, the real determinant will lie in how electors in that seat resolve the inherent question that lies between Kevin Rudd’s lost personal vote on one hand as opposed to the blatant misinformation and filthy politics federal Labor has engaged in since Shorten’s ascension as “leader” on the other.

The Kalgoorlie precedent may, at the end of the day, remain intact. But anyone using it as a form guide should do so at their peril.

My post tonight is really only intended to signal the “commencement of battle” in these two seats; we will follow anything interesting that occurs during the two campaigns, and of course analyse the results once all the votes have been tallied.

Having said that, however, I think Labor has a better prospect of victory in Griffith than it does in Redcliffe.

Queensland politics being what it is these days — not least in the post-Fitzgerald era of hypersensitivity to corruption, or even the accusations of it that Queensland Labor flings around like confetti — suggests that whether the good burghers of Redcliffe elect a LNP member to replace Driscoll or not, they are able to separate out the difference between an MP who’s a crook as opposed to a government full of crooks.

Contrary to the diatribe about “Little Bjelke” Queensland Labor seeks to perpetuate whenever a journalist is in earshot of its MPs (or whenever its apparatchiks are anywhere near Twitter or Facebook), there is nothing corrupt about the Newman government.

Yet since the fall of the National Party in Queensland in 1989, Labor has campaigned on little else; like WorkChoices at the federal level, the ALP in Queensland needs to find a new slogan. Even to detract from the colossal task of fixing Labor mismanagement Newman has had to embark upon, Labor’s single trick doesn’t cut it.

And in fact, a local campaign that plays to memories of then-Premier Anna Bligh’s baseless and unfounded accusations of corruption — directed at Newman personally — will backfire badly against the ALP, and to this end the by-election could prove a useful test bed for the statewide re-election campaign the LNP must fight in a little over 12 months.

The LNP will probably be assisted in Redcliffe by Labor’s selection of the beaten federal member for Petrie, Yvette D’Ath, who was unpopular as a federal member and will be unpopular as a state ALP candidate. Requiring a 10% swing to win the seat — even coming off the LNP’s 2012 high water mark — D’Ath hardly seems the ideal contender for Labor to field.

Time, of course, will tell, and we’ll keep an eye on these two contests as they progress.


Hell No, He Won’t Go: Rudd Plays Politics

HAVING MADE such grand and pompous noises about quitting politics last week, Kevin Rudd appears to be playing politics with his actual resignation; the former Prime Minister should go now to allow his electorate of Griffith some closure, and stop treating his constituents like political playthings.

First things first: today I’ve got a YouTube clip for readers to listen to as we sometimes do, and this one’s a beauty; given it pretty much sums up the Rudd attitude to remaining in Parliament, it’s to be hoped the idiot hurries up and gets on with it.

I noticed late last night the reports that Rudd — despite the great fanfare he generated last week in announcing his resignation to Parliament — had failed to follow through and actually resign to Speaker Bronwyn Bishop as he is required to do.

This has become topical owing to the timing of the resultant by-election in his seat of Griffith: the Liberals would like to get the matter resolved this side of Christmas, which requires Rudd to formally pull the pin today.

The ALP is said to prefer a by-election early next year in the belief the delayed timetable will favour its chances of retaining Griffith under a new candidate.

And it’s pretty obvious that by dragging his feet, Rudd is playing the game.

Some will argue that what Rudd is doing is his right: that when it comes to leaving Parliament voluntarily, during a parliamentary term, it is entirely up to him when he officially resigns.

Yet I would counter that very strongly with the observation that Rudd intimated almost a week ago that he would go; in spite of the cretin’s penchant for grandiose but empty gestures and posturing, his announcement to Parliament — timed to catch deadlines for the following day’s editions of every newspaper in the country — obliges him to go now.

According to articles appearing in News Limited publications today, the excuse being offered up for the delay in finalising things is that the imbecile Rudd is finishing dealing with¬†“constituency issues.”

At the risk of sounding cavalier about it, the very fact of his departure renders the authenticity of such an excuse hollow at best.

Perhaps it’s indelicate to point this out, but at the time of the Rudd announcement in the House of Representatives, he made it clear that his resignation would be formalised “by the end of the week,” meaning by last Friday.

All the excuses in the world will convince nobody that he isn’t party to a stitch-up.

Now that Rudd is using his electorate as a political football it is to be hoped — should he fail to get out today in time for a 21 December by-election to be declared — that through the festive season and through the alcoholic Christmas haze Labor clearly believes will adequately stupefy Griffith voters into voting for its next union-endorsed hack, locals in the inner-Brisbane seat send the message that enough is enough.

It will be interesting to see if Rudd tenders a formal resignation at a “creative” time today — such as 4.59pm, or similar — to really thumb his nose at the Liberal Party, giving the game away in the process.

And it is interesting that not a single ALP figure has tried to use the need to preselect a replacement candidate as a justification for Rudd’s delay in quitting, and this tends to underline the point that the whole thing is a co-ordinated exercise.

The sooner Rudd leaves Parliament, the better, and he should get on with it.

Take the job and shove it, indeed.


A “Ruddwatch” Reprise: Kevin O’Nepotism Rides Again

FIVE WEEKS AGO — canvassing the need in this column for Kevin Rudd to quit Parliament and leave his beleaguered party in peace — we discussed the prospect of him being replaced as the ALP candidate in Griffith by his daughter, Jessica. Rudd said he wanted to find a seat for her. Now he has.

I am reposting on this subject because I have found, during the day, that a lot of traffic has been coming into this site from searches around whether Kevin Rudd’s daughter, Jessica, might replace him as Labor’s candidate in his marginal Brisbane seat.

Readers can access one of our “Ruddwatch” pieces — “Kevin O’Nepotism Rides Again” — which deals with exactly this question¬†here.

And certainly, whilst reports are mixed, there is nonetheless ample suggestion emanating from some sections of the ALP today that Rudd may well have done the deal to attempt to send Jessica to Canberra via his own seat.

I stand by the comments I made in the original article, and encourage those who didn’t see the article when it was first posted to click through the link and read it.

But now the spectre of another Rudd in Parliament is a very real possibility, I have a few additional points to make.

The 30-year-old Jessica Rudd — unlike her nihilistic father — articulates a politics based well to Labor’s left, which, indeed, would sit comfortably with the Greens; I don’t think this is the kind of outlook that needs to be cultivated in Australian Parliaments, and I don’t care whose daughter she is.

In any case, Jessica lives in Beijing: this is not some high calibre “star” being recalled to sit in Parliament based on a lengthy career of success in business or some other service; this is someone who is based elsewhere for personal reasons, and who has severed her active connection to the electorate some in the ALP now apparently seek to inflict her on.

So much for the notion of a “local” member.

And to be entirely blunt about it, what — apart from being the daughter of Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein — has Jessica Rudd done to merit a seat in Parliament at all?

No, I didn’t think so.

We’ll see how this plays out, but if Jessica Rudd is the ALP candidate facing the LNP’s Bill Glasson come by-election time, her presence on the ballot will aid Glasson — not the ALP.


BREAKING: Kevin Rudd Quits Parliament

IN NEWS that will surprise most political observers — myself included — former Prime Minister and serial leadership troublemaker Kevin Rudd has resigned from his seat of Griffith, and thus Parliament, bringing down the curtain on a public career spanning decades. The decision is the right call.

This column, as readers know, has less time for Kevin Rudd than perhaps any other figure currently associated with the ALP, although at times Heavy Kevvie has been given a run for his money by his colleagues on that count.

The news this evening that he is set to quit Parliament, however, is the right call on every conceivable measure, and we congratulate him for making it — even if that sentiment is grudgingly expressed.

Rudd’s announcement that he is quitting — essentially for family reasons — ends a parliamentary career that began in 1998, and of course extends back at least another ten years prior to that on account of various roles he held in and around the Labor Party in Queensland and that state’s Goss government in particular.

The decision necessitates a by-election in Rudd’s marginal Brisbane seat of Griffith, likely to be held early in the new year, and the early call would have to be that the LNP’s Bill Glasson — who ran Rudd close in September — must be regarded a near-certainty to wrest the seat from the ALP.

This column will in no way miss Rudd, and the country will be the better to be deprived of his continuing “attention” to its needs.

I will be back later tonight with more comprehensive analysis of the Rudd resignation, but I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t say it…

Good riddance.

Shifting Sands: Could Kevin Rudd Lose His Own Seat?

WITH LABOR’S apparent standing in opinion polls worsening the further this election campaign progresses, many commentators are now considering the question of Kevin Rudd’s own political mortality. Approaching a near-certain election loss, his survival in Griffith is simply a question of degrees.

I’m back in Melbourne, although it will be a day or so until things return to “normal;” readers will see a bit more of me now but it still may take a little time for our conversation to fully resume.

Even so, I have been watching political proceedings whilst away like a hawk, and note — interestingly — that commentators in the mainstream press are now openly pondering the question of whether Kevin Rudd might lose his seat of Griffith.

It’s a question we’ve considered at The Red And The Blue before, mostly in relation to the prospect of Rudd’s resumption of the ALP leadership before the event; and whilst I have re-linked to that article only recently, I think it more than appropriate to do so again.

Labor — federally — appears to be poised not just to lose this election, but to lose it badly; with a Nielsen poll released today showing the Coalition gaining a point after preferences to lead 53-47, the aggregate of the national polls is now almost precisely that.

At 53-47, the Coalition wins by at least 20 seats — probably more.

I’m not going to discuss — for now — the plethora of automated telephone poll findings from key individual constituencies that are beginning to appear; it is, however, noteworthy that one of these was conducted in the Prime Minister’s electorate of Griffith.

The merits or otherwise of automated polling not being up for discussion (this time), it is interesting that this poll showed Rudd losing the seat to his LNP challenger, Brisbane eye surgeon Bill Glasson, by a 48-52 margin.

The thing I want to look at here is the voting history of Kevin Rudd’s electorate.

There is a myth in political circles that this is, traditionally, a Labor seat, and to be fair I have at least once in the past described it as being “usually Labor.”

But as regular readers will have also heard me say, this is an electorate that tends to be won by the Liberal Party (or its non-Labor predecessors) whenever the conservatives win resoundingly at the federal level overall.

Created at a redistribution in 1934, Griffith has been held by the ALP for 58 of the 79 years since; the electorate has always broadly covered territory in the inner south and east of Brisbane, and whilst redistributions over the years have greatly altered its borders, the electorate’s political complexion has remained surprisingly constant.

For the ensuing 30 years, the voting pattern of the seat followed the thesis; it was won by the Liberals in 1949 when they won office for the first time under Bob Menzies, and remained in the Liberal fold for five years until Menzies very nearly lost office in 1954.

Four years later — with Menzies re-elected in a landslide in 1958 — Griffith was again picked up by a Liberal for a single term until Menzies suffered another electoral near-death experience, the 1961 election being won by just two seats (and ultimately decided by Communist preferences in another Brisbane seat, Moreton).

In 1966 — the biggest election win by the Liberal Party in its history, if measured on its share of the two-party vote, which stood at 56.9% — Griffith was won back for the Liberals by Don Cameron, who held it against the savage national swing to the ALP in 1969, the election of the Whitlam government in 1972,and Whitlam’s narrow re-election in 1974.

When an election following the dismissal of the Whitlam government took place in December 1975 — resulting in the biggest election win for the Liberal Party if measured on the parliamentary majority secured (91 Coalition, 36 ALP, majority 55) — the conservatives, obviously, already held the seat.

But after a redistribution favoured Labor in the seat ahead of the 1977 election, Cameron shifted electorates and Griffith was won for Labor by former Hawke/Keating government minister Ben Humphreys.

And in 1996 — with the Liberals scoring their biggest-ever win if measured on numbers of seats (94 Coalition, 49 Labor, 5 “Others”) — the Labor candidate replacing the retiring Humphreys was beaten by a Liberal alderman from the Brisbane City Council.

That Labor candidate was Kevin Rudd.

I apologise to those who follow such things closely as I do for the history lesson, but all readers will see the clear pattern: 1958, 1966, 1975 and 1996 are the four standout wins in Australian political history by conservatives, rivalled in scope only by the obliteration of the Scullin government in 1931 and Malcolm Fraser’s first re-election in 1977.

Griffith may indeed return a Labor member about 70% of the time, but it has been won by non-Labor representatives before, and as often for multiple terms as once only.

And it has rarely been, on paper, a “safe” seat: even now, the 8.4% margin Labor holds it with falls short of the accepted 10.1% or higher that constitutes “safe seat” status, despite regular media reporting that describes otherwise.

Which brings us back to Rudd, who entered Parliament in 1998 on his second attempt.

Rudd is not a typical case, when looking at Griffith from a historical perspective.

For one thing, he’s the only person from Queensland to ever become Prime Minister by winning an election as the leader of a political party; for another, it is likely that the 58.4% result he recorded in 2010 was inflated by a “sympathy factor” in the washout of his dumping as Prime Minister in an internal Labor Party coup.

I contend he is insecurely seated in the first place: the seat’s history is proof enough of that.

But in spite of Rudd throwing everything at Queensland to find electoral gains to offset losses elsewhere in the country, all evidence points to the ALP going backwards — perhaps very badly — in the Sunshine State.

The recruitment of Rudd nemesis and former Premier Peter Beattie as a candidate has been an unmitigated disaster to date; there is ample polling data to show Beattie is, at the minimum, partially responsible for driving the decline in Labor’s fortunes in Queensland.

And with a consensus now emerging among the mainstream press and commentariat that (barring unforeseens) Labor is looking down the barrel of losing 20 seats in a fortnight’s time, it raises the question of how badly Labor has to lose in order for Rudd to suffer the indignity on his own patch.

Complicating the question is the indisputable fact that Rudd is in no way a popular leader; across published polls his falling numbers now closely resemble those of Tony Abbott, which in any case have been steadily rising for the past month and are beginning to overtake Rudd’s in some polls and on some indicators.

It’s a consideration that will count against Rudd in his own seat as much as nationally: it’s clear that the messiah-like “popularity” he enjoyed during his time on the outer was fool’s gold, and his absence from Brisbane to campaign around the country will cripple his ability to counter this among the very people on whose his political survival depends.

But if Rudd loses in Griffith, it will be a very different scenario to the other two Prime Ministers who have suffered the humiliation of being thrown from Parliament at an election whilst still holding the office.

John Howard’s loss in 2007 occurred in a seat that had, over decades, been steadily redistributed geographically south and west and away from the Liberal Party’s citadel of North Shore support in Sydney.

And Stanley Melbourne Bruce’s defeat in the outer Melbourne electorate of Flinders whilst PM, in 1929, is commonly attributed the fact he was a poor local member: Bruce is known to have shown scant interest in, or regard for, constituent matters, and it cost him.

It is said that Rudd is a very good local MP, at least in terms of his attention to local issues — even in spite of his Prime Ministerial duties.

And Labor has held the seat in the past when the tide for the conservatives overall was high; 1977 is a case in point. 1955, with Menzies scoring 54% of the vote, is another.

But the growing swing to the Coalition nationally, coupled with the rising unpopularity of Rudd personally and obscured by the extent to which his margin is built on sympathy from 2010, tends to suggest that as long as the swing is on — as it seems to be — Rudd may well be about to come to the involuntary end of his political career.

Personally, I’m not going to pick it. Not yet, in any case.

But if I were Glasson, I’d at least be giving some cursory thought to where I might stay during sitting weeks in Canberra, and to ensuring personal affairs were in order whilst there is still plenty of time to do so.