Kevin Rudd’s final speech in parliament last night was delivered in his customary egocentric fashion. There will be many think pieces on Rudd’s career and his legacy, but perhaps the more interesting immediate questions stem from the upcoming by-election campaign in his electorate of Griffith, located in Brisbane’s inner south.
As with most by-elections closely following a federal election, voters tend to punish the incumbent party that holds the seat. The timing of Rudd’s resignation does the ALP more harm than good, particularly during the first week of the new parliament. This paradoxically takes the attention away from new Labor leader Bill Shorten, but the result will act as his first definable test as leader.
Rudd built up a strong reputation as a local member in Griffith over many years. However, resentment has grown among locals, and voters showed signs of discontent during the election campaign. Several polls indicated he trailed his LNP opponent, Bill Glasson, by a reasonable margin.
Though Rudd retained his seat at the election, one under-reported statistic acts as a significant predictor for the by-election result. Glasson surprisingly won the primary vote by just under 2%, a significant margin against a sitting prime minister who demonstrated strong local support during previous trips to the polls.
Glasson and the LNP achieved a significant 5.4% swing away from Rudd on a two-party preferred basis, reducing Labor’s vote to 53% after preferences – making the seat eminently winnable for the LNP. This statistic is more impressive when compared to the result in the neighbouring seat of Moreton, where sitting ALP member Graham Perrett slightly increased his margin in a seat he was expected to lose.
If Glasson does contest the seat for the LNP, his strong campaign in the federal election suggests that he has a high chance of winning the seat. Throughout the campaign, Glasson had a number of high-profile Liberals campaign on his behalf, including deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, former leader Malcolm Turnbull and Queensland premier Campbell Newman. The LNP also had an efficient and organised grassroots campaign focusing on local issues as well as national issues such as health care.
During the campaign, Glasson told The Conversation’s Michelle Grattan that should he lose the contest in the federal election he would have to “ask my wife” whether he could re-contest a potential by-election. Should he do so, campaigning would be easier this time given his name recognition in the community, and the temptation to run an easy negative anti-Rudd campaign.
Conversely, there are numerous challenges for the ALP as they decide what strategies to employ for this poll. Will the ALP choose a candidate that is an experienced political performer?
One early tip had been local Morningside councillor and former Brisbane council opposition leader Shayne Sutton, who has had long-held designs on a move to federal politics. However, this morning she ruled out a run.
It is more likely that the ALP will choose a fresh candidate, with an eye to building a profile ahead of the next federal election. For good or ill, however, the spectre of Rudd will cast his shadow throughout the ALP’s campaign.
One aspect that might work in the ALP’s favour is a possible backlash against Campbell Newman. While opinion polls remain largely unchanged at state level, there is a growing perception that these numbers are soft, given it is so far out from a state election.
With this in mind, there is a chance that the ALP may run a “vote for the LNP is a vote for Newman” campaign in the hope of maximising their opportunity to retain the seat.
Though Rudd declared that the voters of Griffith are “good people… a great community”, the timing of his resignation suggests otherwise. The way the voters of Griffith will likely show discontent is filled with irony. They cannot punish Rudd, but instead they will punish the ALP by handing the seat over to the LNP.
This will not only add to the perception that the former prime minister is egotistical, but it may well be the statistical embodiment of this behaviour and add a final footnote to Rudd’s complex legacy.
UPDATE: This piece was amended on November 14 to reflect the possible ALP contenders for the by-election.