Last week, the Labor Party’s star candidate for the marginal Queensland seat of Forde, former Premier Peter Beattie, had a nasty and very sobering shock.
A poll for the Australian Financial Review showed a massive swing to his sitting LNP opponent, Bert van Manen, of 8.4%. Manen, who holds with a tenuous 1.6% two-party preferred margin leads Beattie – according to this poll – by 60% to 40% of the two-party preferred vote.
The shock results were headlined by the AFR as “Abbott on the brink of victory”. They had polled eight marginal electorates throughout Australia concluding that the overall results were “showing it (the ALP) will struggle to take any seats off the Coalition come September 7 to offset its own expected losses.”
This poll confirmed an earlier Reachtell poll in Forde which put Beattie’s primary vote at 39.9%, van Manen’s at 48.3% and a two-party preferred in favour of the LNP MP of 54% to 46%.
Significantly, this Reachtell poll showed that van Manen had a nett positive rating of 29.3% and Beattie a negative rating of -6.4% - an awesome gap of more than 35 points in how voters feel about the two.
Beattie has already said that if he doesn’t win Forde, then Rudd won’t retain government which is probably one of the very few actually honest things he has said during his political career.
After the AFR poll became public, Beattie tweeted, “Out working even harder after that terrible AFR poll. Small business is the backbone of the QLD economy” and “I am facing the toughest fight of my political life with an AFR poll showing a thrashing in Forde. I am a fighter and will never give up.”
His pandering reference to small business followed a candidate’s debate in Forde before a largely small business audience a couple of days earlier. Questioned about his government’s performance when he was Premier and the appalling slide into deficit and mismanagement, he snapped, “The Bligh Government can defend itself … I understand people will try and blame their political predecessors. We managed these things well and can’t be responsible for what happened after that.”
It stunned the audience and won Beattie no friends – and probably added to his enemies inside the ALP – as everybody can remember how he boasted that he had handpicked Anna Bligh to be his successor and how he turned up at Bligh’s campaign launch last year wreathed in toothy smiles and ever ready to kiss every woman in the room up to and including Bligh.
Mary Crawford, now a Queensland University of Technology academic was ALP MP for Forde from 1987 to 1996, eventually becoming a Parliamentary Secretary in Ketaing’s government before going down in defeat.
She wrote after Beattie was announced as the Forde candidate, “But this will not be an easy run for Beattie. Bert van Manen … is a very personable local man whose social conservatism will no doubt appeal to many constituents who will continue to support him” and “… he (Beattie) would not be going to Canberra as an Opposition backbencher – so he must believe that Kevin Rudd can win.”
These dismal polls in Forde are a double blow for Rudd and the ALP. The grand assumption behind dumping their already endorsed candidate to install Beattie was that he would win so handsomely that his alleged star power could have him campaigning elsewhere in Queensland. That has been shown to be a forlorn hope – Beattie will have to spend every waking second in Forde.
Just why Rudd thought that Beattie would be so popular is a mystery – Rudd didn’t install him because they are such good mates; quite the reverse actually.
In the Brisbane City Council elections last year, Heather Beattie was installed as the Labor candidate for Central Ward in much the same way Beattie himself was installed in Forde. The BCC result in a ward that covered the same territory as her husband’s State seat was devastating – the Liberal candidate won in a landslide with 58.38% two-party preferred to Mrs Beattie’s 41.62%.
And, remember, this was Beattie country that he had held with a vice-like grip until five years earlier. Heather Beattie was seen by both sides of politics and by the voters as a surrogate for her husband and her enormous loss should have sent the ALP the message that the Beattie magic was well and truly over.
One overlooked part of candidate Beattie’s CV is his curious appointment to the lofty title of Resources Sector Supplier Envoy by the Gillard Government in August, 2011.
In November, 2011, the then Industry Minister Kim Carr and then Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, announced that the newly formed Resources Sector Supplier Advisory Forum would be chaired by Envoy Beattie and would “provide strategic advice on the most effective ways to strengthen Australian industry participation in the resources sector and the implementation of the Buy Australian initiative.”
Three meetings of this allegedly high powered group have been held – the last being in August, 2012, despite promises that it would be held regularly - and Beattie quietly quit, or was pushed out, of his exalted “Envoy” role in November, 2012. What it achieved and what Beattie was paid for his role remain deep dark secrets.
In 1980, the then high profile Union leader, Peter Beattie, contested the traditional Liberal blue-ribbon Ryan electorate in Brisbane and, predictably, didn’t win. Later, in 2001, an unknown ALP candidate Leonie Short won the seat in a bye-election and held it until the general election later that year.
It is becoming clear that Beattie’s political career will be bookmarked by defeats in two Queensland Federal electorates.