Kevin Rudd has been all over North Queensland like a tropical rash during this election campaign. But well over the half-way mark, the PM hasn’t yet crossed the Brisbane line.
The Townsville electorate of Herbert has, since 1975, been as reliable a bellwether as the South-Coast NSW seat of Eden-Monaro, and Peter Costello told assembled Cairns businesspeople last week that if the Libs lost the Cairns-based seat of Leichhardt they’d lose the election. But the Prime Minister hasn’t yet touched down in either city, let alone the region’s outlying areas.
So why hasn’t Howard gone north to help the troops?
It could be a partial confirmation of a Coalition firewall strategy. A troubled three-cornered contest in Leichhardt, ALP momentum in Herbert and the unassailability of Bob Katter in Kennedy may mean that the Libs have written off these sunshine seats, and that the PM has decided that defending ‘new marginals’ in Queensland like Ryan is more important.
The omens in the north aren’t good for the Government. To take the example of Herbert, in the last week it has been the second-biggest mover in betting markets. After spending most of the campaign as the underdog, Labor’s McDonald’s-restaurant-owning George Colbran is firming as a narrow favourite across the bookies, according to the calculations of pseph blogger Simon Jackman. The betting pools on outlying seats aren’t likely to be big at this stage, a poll published this morning (Monday 12 November) in the Townsville Bulletin shows that Colbran has maintained his solid lead over the sitting Liberal MP Peter Lindsay. This backs up earlier, leaked ALP polling that had the Maccas mogul a long way in front before the campaign had even started.
It’s striking, too, that Lindsay hasn’t yet been able to announce matching funding for popular local causes like Townsville’s bid to host a V8 Supercar race. With billion-dollar promises at Federal level coming thick and fast this election, Colbran’s $20 million commitment to infrastructure for the race seems like small change, but so far Lindsay hasn’t moved to neutralise it.
You might think he’s saving a flurry of announcements for the closing weeks of the race, but he’s already made a number of promises on roads and walkways that haven’t been pre-approved by The Boss, and which he’s pushing to voters on a ‘trust me, I’ll lobby’ basis. Could it be that he’s being denied the pork-barrel dosh that the Libs are throwing about in south-east Queensland seats? If so, has a decision been made that Herbert’s gone for all money?
In Leichhardt, any competitive rancour in the campaign has been between conservative contenders. Poor old Charlie MacKillop the Libs’ choice to replace retiring MP Warren Entsch copped it first from the Nationals’ Ian Crossland, who suggested the electorate was no place for a woman. Then Family First’s Ben Jacobsen demanded that she reveal her sexual orientation to voters, before his own Party reeled him in.
The ALP’s candidate for Leichhardt, Jim Turnour, is coming from a long way behind, but the loss of Entsch’s personal vote, the absence of Mark Latham, the chaos among the conservative candidates and the electorate’s 30-year habit of voting for the Party of government might all work in his favour. Sensibly, he hasn’t weighed in on the Right’s bunfights.
The PM may make his way up to warmer climes further into the second half of the campaign, but the longer he leaves it, the more he risks creating an impression that the Coalition have strategically withdrawn from the tropical north, and are now prioritising the fight for their few heartland seats in Queensland’s south-east corner.
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