The ghost of Peter Slipper will still haunt Fisher

Former speaker Peter Slipper is virtually no chance to retain his Queensland seat of Fisher after a highly controversial last term in office. AAP/Dave Hunt

A number of seats in Queensland may go a long way to deciding the outcome of the federal election. However, it is doubtful that the seat of Fisher, located in the southern part of the Sunshine Coast, will be one of them. Instead, it will provide an interesting divergence given developments in the last parliamentary term.

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives Peter Slipper has been a constant presence in the seat of Fisher for nearly 30 years. He held the seat from 1984-1987 as a member of the National Party, before losing it to the ALP’s Michael Lavarch, later attorney-general under Paul Keating.

Slipper recaptured the seat in 1993, this time as a Liberal Party candidate. Before 2010, Slipper had been a fairly low-profile MP, barely noticed outside his local electorate. Despite the low profile, Slipper was re-elected on six consecutive occasions.

In 2010, Slipper gained national attention via a series of scandals. Local paper the Sunshine Coast Daily made substantial allegations against Slipper for misusing his parliamentary travel entitlements. This scandal was compounded when Slipper was nominated unopposed to succeed Harry Jenkins as Speaker of the House in November 2011. Concurrently, Slipper resigned from the Liberal Party.

Less than six months later, in April 2012, Slipper’s former staffer James Ashby claimed that his boss was sexually harassing him. The subsequent court case led to Slipper resigning as Speaker, and he returned to the backbench as an independent MP.

These developments have given the seat of Fisher a higher prominence than it has previously been accustomed to. Aside from Lavarach’s six year term during the Hawke-Keating years, the seat has always been held by conservative parties since its foundation in 1949, and this dominance was a foregone conclusion.

However, redistributions since 2007 have pushed the seat further south into the more working class areas of the Sunshine Coast Hinterland such as the Glasshouse Mountains and Kilcoy. This allowed Labor to make small but significant dents in Slipper’s comfortable margin, which the Liberals hold by a not insurmountable cushion of 4.1%.

In the hopes of improving this margin, the Liberal Party endorsed former Howard government minister Mal Brough, who unsuccessfully tried to oust Slipper as the Liberal Party candidate in 2010. Brough held Fisher’s neighbouring seat of Longman until he was surprisingly defeated in 2007 by uninspiring Labor candidate Jon Sullivan.

Former Howard government minister Mal Brough will likely return to parliament as the MP for Fisher. AAP/Petrina Berry

Throughout Slipper’s tenure, the ALP have struggled to maintain a significant presence in the electorate. Despite winning the state seat of Kawana (which encompasses a significant part of the Fisher electorate) in 2001 and 2004 during the height of Peter Beattie’s dominance, the ALP failed to transfer this success to a federal level.

This time around, Labor have pre-selected Bill Gissane, who has little name recognition in the electorate and will struggle to get any coverage during the campaign, which will be (and has already been) dominated by the personalities of Slipper and Brough.

Similarly, the minor parties also suffer from these difficulties. In Fisher, the Greens could benefit from a lack of choice on their side of the ideological spectrum. Katter’s Australian Party, on the other hand, is a chance to capture the votes of disaffected ALP voters in the Hinterland booths who are unmoved by the Greens.

The Palmer United Party remain an unknown quantity in terms of voting percentage, and Palmer may have been better suited to run in Fisher where the media attention would have been greater than in its northern neighbour, Fairfax, where he is a candidate. Based on previous elections, however, the minor parties are unlikely to have a significant impact on the result.

A point of interest though will be how high Slipper will poll. Without the Liberal Party brand, Slipper’s vote as an independent candidate will be purely based on personal appeal. The Sunshine Coast Daily’s recent poll (taken before he announced his candidacy) had Slipper on a exceptionally low 0.5%. Though he will poll higher than this, the ceiling of his vote is difficult to calculate given that Slipper now has a volatile relationship with voters.

This plays into the broader narrative that Fisher will have on election night. The result seems clear cut, but the intrigue lies elsewhere. The Liberals will likely retain Fisher. However, all eyes will be on how Slipper accepts defeat and whether he will choose to go quietly or make one final ripple in the electorate he has been linked with for decades.