Queensland By-elections since 1992

As well as voting in the Queensland local government elections this weekend, voters in the Labor-held seats of Inala and Ipswich West will vote at state by-elections to elect new MPs.

“Informed sources” are making predictions of big swings. There are hints from Labor at possible seat losses, from the LNP about falling short of the required swing. The sort of expectations management now common ahead of important by-elections.

The results of both by-elections, and the Brisbane City Council election, will be watched closely. On Saturday night you can follow my coverage of the elections at the ABC’s Brisbane City Council and By-elections live results site. I’ll also be joining Steve Austin on ABC Brisbane local radio analysing the results.

The election night dissections will be followed by the reports of the auguries on Sunday. What will they be able to divine about the fate of the Labor government and new Premier Steven Miles at the state election set for October?

The Inala by-election (preview here) is to select a replacement for former Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk. Inala has been Labor’s safest seat for three decades and its margin of 28.2% looks insurmountable.

At greater risk further along the Warrego Highway is Ipswich West (preview here). Former member Jim Madden has been followed by controversy before resigning and the seat’s margin of 14.3% is half that of Inala. It is a seat that both the LNP and One Nation have held in the past.

Looking back at Queensland by-elections since 1992, they provide a mixed bag of results to measure against this weekend’s results. There have been 21 by-elections since 1992, eight resulting in the incumbent party being defeated. Twelve of these by-elections were two-party preferred contests like this weekend’s pair, and six saw incumbents defeated.

In summary –

  • Of the 12 two-party preferred by-elections, the average swing against the government of the day was 6.5%.
  • The seven by-elections while Labor was in government saw an average swing of 5.0% against Labor government.
  • The five by-elections while the LNP was in government produced an average swing of 8.5% against the LNP government.
  • Of the seven by-elections in government held seats, the average swing against the government was 10.1% Five were in Labor seats in Labor governments and an average of 6.9%, the two LNP seats while the LNP governed averaging 18.2%.
  • The Beattie Labor government lost three seats after big swings at by-elections between 2005 and 2006. Labor lost Chatsworth in 2005 after a 13.9% swing, Redcliffe the same day with an 8.4% swing, and Gaven in April 2006 after an 8.3% swing. Despite the losses, Labor re-gained all three seats at the 2006 election.
  • The Newman LNP government lost two seats to huge swings at by-elections in 2014, losing Redcliffe to a 17.2% swing, and Stafford shortly after to an even bigger 19.1% swing. Both results accurately predicted the result of the next state election in January 2015.

About the By-elections

This post looks at by-elections since 1992 when the current Electoral Act came into force. The act introduced optional preferential voting and a new provision requiring the Electoral Commission to undertake a full distribution of preference in all seats even if not required to determine the winner. Queensland reverted to full preferential ahead of the 2016 Toowoomba South by-election.

1992 also marks the end of the bitter period of disputes between the National and Liberal Parties. By-elections in the 1980s featured many ‘three-cornered’ or ‘triangular’ contest by-elections where the Liberal and National Parties competed against each other and Labor.

Of the 21 by-elections in the period, 19 were caused by resignations, one by death and one by the Court of Disputed Returns.

The resignation of Annastacia Palaszczuk in Inala is the sixth by-election caused by the resignation of a senior party leader. The others were former Labor Deputy Premiers Tom Burns (Lytton 1996) and Terry Mackenroth (Chatsworth 2005), and former premiers Rob Borbidge (Surfers Paradise 2001), Peter Beattie (Brisbane Central 2007) and Anna Bligh (South Brisbane 2012). Borbidge’s resignation came three years after leaving the Premier’s office, but immediately after his resignation as National Party Leader on losing a second election in 2001.

Of the eight by-elections that produced a change in holding party, five had their results reversed at the next state election and only three were retained by their new party.

The Liberal Party gained Mundingburra from Labor in February 1996, bringing an end to the Labor government of Wayne Goss with Rob Borbidge becoming Premier. Labor re-gained Mundingburra at the 1998 state election.

Independent Lex Bell gained Surfers Paradise at a by-election in 2001 on the retirement of Rob Borbidge, but Liberal John-Paul Langbroek defeated Bell at the 2004 state election.

Peter Beattie lost three by-elections in his third term in office, losing Chatsworth and Redcliffe to the Liberal Party in August 2005, and Gaven to the National Party in April 2006. These by-elections produced the largest anti-government swings since 1992, but Labor recovered all three seats at the 2006 state election.

The other three seats that changed and stayed with the new party were Mulgrave where labor defeated One N ation in 1998, and Labor’s gains of Redcliffe and Stafford from the Newman government in 2014.

The table below lists the 21 by-elections, their date, holding and winning party, government or opposition status plus the party contest at the by-election. Seats that change party status have name and date in bold.

Queensland State By-elections since 1992
Date Electorate Cause Held By Won By Held by
Gov/Opp
Contest Type
Goss Labor government
30 Apr 1994 Mirani Resignation NAT NAT Oppn Two-party
3 Feb 1996 Mundingburra Court ALP LIB Govt Two-party
Borbidge Coalition government
5 Oct 1996 Lytton Resignation ALP ALP Oppn Two-party
12 May 1997 Kurwongbah Resignation ALP ALP Oppn Two-party
Beattie Labor government
5 Dec 1998 Mulgrave Resignation ONP ALP Oppn Two-party but no swing
5 Feb 2000 Bundamba Resignation ALP ALP Govt Not two-party
5 Feb 2000 Woodridge Resignation ALP ALP Govt Not two-party
5 May 2001 Surfers Paradise Resignation NAT IND Oppn Not two-party
26 Apr 2003 Maryborough Resignation IND IND Oppn Not two-party
20 Aug 2005 Chatsworth Resignation ALP LIB Govt Two-party
20 Aug 2005 Redcliffe Resignation ALP LIB Govt Two-party
1 Apr 2006 Gaven Resignation ALP NAT Govt Two-party
Bligh Labor government
13 Oct 2007 Brisbane Central Resignation ALP ALP Govt No Liberal candidate
Newman LNP government
28 Apr 2012 South Brisbane Resignation ALP ALP Oppn Two-party
22 Feb 2014 Redcliffe Resignation LNP ALP Govt Two-party
19 Jul 2014 Stafford Resignation LNP ALP Govt Two-Party
Palaszczuk Labor government
16 Jul 2016 Toowoomba South Resignation LNP LNP Oppn No Labor candidate
28 Mar 2020 Bundamba Resignation ALP ALP Govt Not two-party
28 Mar 2020 Currumbin Resignation LNP LNP Oppn Two-Party
24 Jul 2021 Stretton Death ALP ALP Govt Two-party
18 Jun 2022 Callide Resignation LNP LNP Oppn Two-party but no swing

Analysis of By-election Swings

For the 12 two-party preferred by-elections since 1992, the table below shows the change in vote since the preceding state election. It includes columns showing incumbent government, seat holding party, change in first preference support, two-party preferred swing at the by-election, and a final column that adjusts the swing to show a swing against the government (‘-‘ in 10 of the 12) or towards the government (‘+’ in two).

Change in Vote at Two-Party By-elections 1992-2022
Held Change in Primary % Party Govt
Year District Govt By ALP L/NP OTH Swing Swing
1994 Mirani ALP NAT -0.1 +5.6 -5.5 2.9 to NAT -2.9
1996 Mundingburra ALP ALP -3.7 +0.9 +2.7 2.8 to LIB -2.8
1996 Lytton L/NP ALP -1.5 -7.3 +8.8 4.8 to ALP -4.8
1997 Kurwongbah L/NP ALP +3.2 -7.5 +4.3 4.3 to ALP -4.3
2005 Chatsworth ALP ALP -13.7 +13.3 +0.4 13.9 to LIB -13.9
2005 Redcliffe ALP ALP -10.4 +5.5 +4.8 8.4 to LIB -8.4
2006 Gaven ALP ALP -10.6 +3.8 +6.8 8.3 to NAT -8.3
2012 South Brisbane LNP ALP -5.7 -0.1 +5.7 3.0 to LNP +3.0
2014 Redcliffe LNP LNP +13.9 -14.4 +0.5 17.2 to ALP -17.2
2014 Stafford LNP LNP +17.1 -12.2 -4.8 19.1 to ALP -19.1
2020 Currumbin ALP LNP +2.6 -3.9 +1.3 2.1 to ALP +2.1
2021 Stretton ALP ALP -0.2 +2.6 -2.4 0.9 to LNP -0.9

With the exception of South Brisbane (2012) and Currumbin (2020), the trend is clearly for swings to be against the government, and in many cases, for those swing to be large.

But were the swings good predictors of what would happen at the next state election?

In Mundingurra, after Labor lost the seat to a 2.8% swing, the swing back to Labor at the 1998 election was 6.6%, easily winning back the seat. It should be noted there was a change of government as a result of the by-election, which puts the subsequent general election swing into a special category of its own.

The three seats lost by Labor at by-elections in 2005 and 2006 were all regained by Labor at the 2006 election, though all saw smaller swings back to the government than took place at the by-election.

  • Chatsworth: Caused by the resignation of popular MP Terry Mackenroth. 13.9% swing against government at by-election, swing back 3.3% to recover seat in 2006 for an overall swing of 10.6%. Chatsworth is a seat Labor has struggled to win since the 2005 by-election.
  • Redcliffe: Caused by the resignation of sitting MLA and Speaker Ray Hollis after an expenses scandal. 8.4% swing against government at by-election, 6.7% back at state election to recover for term swing of 1.7% against government.
  • Gaven: Resignation of Labor MLA Robert Poole who was accused of spending more time in Thailand than his electorate. 8.3% swing against government at by-election, 6.4% back at the 2006 election for shift against government between elections of 1.9%.

The picture was very different at the two by-elections in 2014 under the Newman government.

  • Redcliffe: Caused by the departure of scandal plagued Scott Driscoll who resigned from Parliament before he was expelled. There was a 17.1% swing against government at by-election and a further 0.5% at the 2015 state election to confirm Labor’s gain.
  • Stafford: MP Dr Chris Davies resigned in protest at actions on health funding by the Newman government. There was a 19.1% swing against government at the by-election, the seat won by Labor’s Dr Anthony Lynham. There was a 2.4% swing back to the LNP at the next election but the seat was retained by Labor after an election to election swing of 16.7%.

If the average 10.1% swing repeats, Labor will retain both Inala and Ipswich West, but a swing only slightly above average would be enough to cost Labor Ipswich West.

But what would a loss in Ipswich West portend for the state election in October. Will it be a brief blip like the three by-election losses under Peter Beattie in 2005 and 2006.

Or will it be like the Newman government’s by-election losses, proving an accurate prediction of the government’s fate at the next election.

There could be much to speculate on once the results are known on Saturday night.

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