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Battle for Townsville starting to sound like deja vu all over again

Campaign Diary

Veteran election watcher Malcolm Mackerras, now retired from the field of observation, famously remarked that Australian political history has shown a party always loses the election after the one it wins but should have lost.

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Watching this state election, you could apply this to at least one region of Queensland: the three seats in and around Townsville.

In 2017 everyone expected Labor would lose the seats of Townsville, Mundingburra and Thuringowa. Right up until the votes being counted most people – including many in Labor ranks – had some if not all of these seats high on their lists of electorates which would change hands.

Everyone was shocked on election night when all three stayed in the Labor column, including many Townsville voters who thought the outcome was going to be very different.

Townsville, the first of this trio, is Labor’s most marginal electorate of just 0.4 per cent while Mundingburra is not far down the list with a slim 1.1 per cent buffer. Thuringowa has a slightly more comfortable gap with a swing of 4.1 per cent needed for it to fall.

Annastacia Palaszczuk and Deb Frecklington have racked up frequent visitor points by flying in and out of the city and both started this final week on the ground in Townsville.

It’s expected Frecklington won’t be back but Palaszczuk is likely to make a quick return visit, possibly on Thursday.

The reason for this obsessive attention is obvious. If the LNP wants to get anywhere near the seats needed to start negotiating minority government – seen as a net increase of five or six – two or three will have to come from the Townsville region.

For Labor, it’s a firewall they don’t want breached. They can survive if they lose one, two or even three Townsville seats but if any of them fall, the task of finding other pickups to compensate is harder as the arithmetic grinds on.

The LNP has played a strong card by pledging a youth curfew for Townsville (as well as Cairns) while Labor sought to spread its commitments throughout the Central and Northern Queensland regions.

Palaszczuk’s promise to make water cheaper for farmers is aimed at voters in the key electorates of Burdekin, Bundaberg, Whitsunday and Mackay (the first three held by the LNP and Mackay an otherwise safe ALP seat that could be under threat).

All these calculations will be greatly influenced by what happens in Townsville. Will these seats be lost because they shouldn’t have been retained by Labor three years ago?

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