Defying the Rudd revival: Brisbane is the real bellwether seat

The return of Kevin Rudd was aimed at denting the Coalition’s chances in Queensland, however it now appears that Teresa Gambaro will hold on to the marginal seat of Brisbane. AAP/Alan Porritt

If any seat is going to indicate whether all the pain that Kevin Rudd put the Labor Party through in regaining the prime ministership was worth it, it will be the inner-city seat of Brisbane.

The seat of Brisbane is situated north of the Brisbane River, and wraps around and includes the Brisbane CBD, hugging the Brisbane River before spreading north, west and east like a drop of water on cement. It is composed of inner suburbs, ranging from the settled and family-based Ashgrove, to the nearby recently gentrified and trendy suburbs of Paddington and Red Hill, to the chic (or some may call bohemian) New Farm.

The seat’s changing landscape is partly reflected in the high proportion of units, flats and rented accommodation. Brisbane is also more mixed in multicultural terms, which differentiates it from other outer and “suburban” seats around Brisbane. So too do the property values – several of its suburbs have median prices of over A$700,000; three are rated highly by real estate surveys and a couple of others are seen as “gems”.

Ashgrove, a prosperous middle class suburb just 4km from the GPO, has gone through a renaissance in the past decade. At one stage, it had one of the highest proportions of renovations in the state. Its shopping precinct now boasts three major grocery outlets (all redeveloped), seven banks and a multitude of other services. Developments a kilometre east in Newmarket have also been commonplace. Brisbane has Queensland’s highest proportion of high-income households at 52.8%.

You get the picture. The seat of Brisbane is for those upwardly mobile, on the move, and increasingly a place sought to live in for both families wanting access to good private schools (54% attend private schools) and services. There are professionals needing to be close to the city and young people wanting to be close to where the action is in terms of restaurants and nightclubs (Brisbane includes The Valley where these are in abundance). All this is helped by good public transport – bus, rail and, in some parts, river ferries.

Because of these features, Brisbane is a real bellwether seat. In terms of demographics, style and culture, it reflects the aspirational Australian character of the future.

If the Rudd revival was going to work anywhere and make an electoral difference, then Brisbane is that seat. It is presently held by Liberal Teresa Gambaro on the second narrowest margin of any Liberal seat in Queensland of just 1.13%.

That Brisbane was a Labor seat from 1961 to 2010 (except for a brief Liberal gap between 1975 and 1980) further reinforces its symbolic value as a must-win for Labor. Indeed, Labor can trace its hold over the seat back to 1903. Failure in Brisbane will likely mean that its onslaughts in other marginal Liberal-held seats in Queensland such as Longman and Forde (which they need to win so desperately) are also likely to fail. It may also indicate that Labor will be threatened in its own nearby marginal seats of Moreton and Petrie.

It is interesting to note that Brisbane encapsulates state seats such as Ashgrove, Brisbane Central and Stafford: seats that were once very safely held by Labor. However, all of these fell in the Campbell Newman-led LNP 2012 state election landslide. Even Brisbane Central, held by former premier Peter Beattie from 1989 to 2007, fell.

Importantly, Newman himself won the seat of Ashgrove with a larger-than-average swing of 14.55% on primary votes. The other state seat of Clayfield has mostly been a non-Labor stronghold - for a time marginal - and is now held very comfortably by state treasurer Tim Nicholls. Helped by a redistribution, the LNP won Brisbane at the 2010 federal election with a 5.7% swing.

Gambaro, Assistant Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in the last term of the Howard government, previously held the more outer suburban seat of Petrie, which she lost in 2007 to Labor’s Yvette D'Ath. Gambaro is highly recognisable in the community, something that is no doubt helped by the fact that the Gambaro family are well-known local restaurateurs. However, Gambaro is not taking anything for granted. She has now proclaimed she would vote for same-sex marriage if there was a conscience vote in parliament. This reflects the diversity of the seat.

Given the current state of the opinion polls and that the tide seems to running against Labor in Queensland, Brisbane will most likely remain in LNP hands. If Labor fails to win Brisbane then its whole strategy of reinstalling Rudd as leader on the basis that he would be able to clawback marginal Liberal seats like Brisbane will have been shown to be an abject failure.