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How Queensland's political colours were changing before our eyes, and no-one noticed

Politics

The Greens’ march in Inner Brisbane was happening in plain sight. A chastened Dennis Atkins explains why he missed seeing its full extent.

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Looking at the results of the Queensland slice of the tectonic plate-shifting election, one thing this fallible columnist missed is obvious. The march of the Greens in Inner Brisbane would have been a lot more apparent if I’d had the wise counsel of Lindesay Jones.

Jones was a trusted and dependable source of what was going on in Queensland Labor politics and the community generally.

This son of a shearer and a teacher from Blackall was a familiar character around the streets of West End was where he spent the second half of his life after leaving Toowoomba, the place he cut his political teeth.

Lindesay was many things – a champion sports coach, one time Labor party official among them – but his wisdom of just what was happening on the streets and suburbs of most of Queensland was often almost rain-man like.

Over the years, whether we were chatting over the phone or sharing a Thai meal outside the Coles Supermarket in Boundary Street, we would speculate about what was going on in Queensland politics and what to look out for.

A decade ago Lindsay told me the Greens were going to be a force in South East Queensland, growing in the streets around where he lived and in nearby neighbourhoods.

Lindesay’s thesis was that the Greens would build a base around West End, Highgate Hill and Dutton Park before spreading across the Brisbane River into inner north suburbs like New Farm, Fortitude Valley, Kelvin Grove and across to Paddington, Milton, Toowong and Indooroopilly.

He believed that once the Greens built first tiers of support and elected representation the party would grow further and extend out into the next ring of suburbs. He knew the then nascent party was after supporters of his beloved Labor Party and he despaired at the inability of the ALP to attract or hold these voters.

The Lindesay thesis has shown to be spot on: the Greens picked up the Gabba Ward in the Brisbane City Council and then Maiwar and South Brisbane in state parliament.

The next wave came at the weekend when the Greens won the Labor seat of Griffith and the LNP seat of Ryan, the former seat to the south and east of the CBD on one side of the Brisbane River and the other spreading out from that state seat of Maiwar in the inner west.

As well as these two big wins, the Greens are in the box seat to claim a third, the LNP seat of Brisbane stretching from the CBD, out to the New Farm peninsula and across to the old money suburbs of Ascot and Clayfield.

If only Lindesay had still been around he would have told me this was happening and explained why I shouldn’t miss it. As it was, I was a bit too late to the party. I acknowledged there was movement to the Greens but thought the final stride to electoral victory was another electoral cycle away.

My assessment a week ago was that Labor’s primary vote was probably going to be too high, getting power from a general increase in ALP support across the country.

As it was, Labor lagged in the increase of its vote. In Brisbane the swing to Labor is, so far, just over 3 per cent and to the Greens a swing of more than 5.6 per cent has them just in front. These swings are relatively different to Ryan and Griffith which is why the seat is closer.

The victories in Griffith and Ryan were more emphatic. In Griffith Labor went backwards by a touch above 2 per cent and the Greens had a powerful spurt of 12.1 per cent. Across the river in Ryan Labor again lost about 2 per cent of its vote and the Greens had a swing of more than 10 per cent.

In the history of the Greens in Queensland these are stunning results.

I didn’t see it coming so quickly and so emphatically because I misread the result in the state election where the Greens did well in Maiwar – holding that seat – and South Brisbane, a pickup by defeating former deputy premier Jacki Trad.

Because the Greens fell short in McConnell based around inner city suburbs spreading out from the CBD and Cooper which sits to the north west of that first ring of communities I thought it might be another election before they had the opportunity to set their vote alight.

From there I didn’t listen to what was happening and see the work by the Greens on the ground I’m sure Lindsay would have tipped me off. He would have told me about the forums Michael Berkman, the state MP for Maiwar, has been holding for the last four years.

These forums were a central community engagement tool used by Greens candidates, especially Max Chandler-Mather in Griffith and Elizabeth-Watson Brown in Ryan. They also had saturation door-knocking exercises.

Now that the Greens have two, maybe three, seats in inner suburban Brisbane you can expect them to look for other suburbs where support was apparent on the weekend. Top of that list are the Labor seats of Moreton (a 21 per cent Greens vote), Lilley (17 per cent Greens) and the Bayside Liberal seat of Bonner (17 percent Greens). Then there are a trio of Liberal seats to the north of Brisbane and on the Sunshine Coast with growth in Greens’ support – Dickson, Fisher and Fairfax, all with a Greens vote of 13 percent.

These are the areas where the Queensland Greens, now with the strongest parliamentary representation of any state, can expand their community based activity and eat into the support for both major parties. They have resources, staff and enthusiasm behind them.

It’s been an obvious move of the electoral map for a decade. If only Lindesay Jones had been around to snap my attention to it. It’s one more reason this sharpest of political judges is so sorely missed.

Next time, I’ll ask myself: what would Lindesay think?

 

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