The Greens have today announced that former Democrats leader Andrew Bartlett will run for the party in the federal seat of Brisbane at the next election. Bartlett was a senator for Queensland from 1997 until his defeat in 2007 saw his term finish in 2008.
No doubt about it, Bartlett is a strong candidate for the Queensland Greens. His eleven years in the Senate give enormous credibility to his bid, and he has a strong record on various policy issues. Although he was previously a member of another party, his record suggests he fits in comfortably with Greens policy, something that cannot be said for some previous high-profile outside recruits. He has been strong on trademark Greens issues like refugees and environmental issues, while working in the difficult environment of the imploding Democrats following their support of the GST (which Bartlett opposed). On the other hand, it’s still to be seen how well he performs as a campaigner. His time as leader of the Democrats saw the party lose three of its seats and suffer a massive swing at the 2004 election.
To be fair to Bartlett, the downfall of the Democrats began before his leadership and leading the Democrats into the devestating 2004 election would have been extremely difficult for any politician. This brings me back to the point that we haven’t really seen how Bartlett can perform in a context outside of the Democrats. It’s also worth remembering that he didn’t just come into the Senate out of nowhere: he was a campaigner in Brisbane for years before he entered the Senate.
The Greens have preselected Bartlett to run in Brisbane, which covers the Brisbane CBD and nearby suburbs on the north side of the Brisbane River. However, it can’t be easily compared with the Greens marginals of Sydney and Melbourne. For a start, the Greens vote is lower, with the party polling 11.8% in the seat in 2007. In addition, the Liberal Party polls much more strongly in the seat. The seat covers the seat of Brisbane Central, which is one of the Greens’ four best state seats in Brisbane, as well as parts of Mount Coot-tha. However, the seat also includes parts of more northern seats and the Liberal seat of Clayfield to the east. The inner-city core that covers Sydney and Melbourne isn’t quite as large in Brisbane, making the seat of Brisbane more diverse and harder for the Greens.
While the ALP has held the seat of Brisbane for most of the last eighty years, it has regularly been a marginal seat, and the recent redistribution cut the margin from 6.8% to 3.8% by shifting the seat into Liberal-voting Clayfield. Greens strategy in Sydney and Melbourne revolves around overtaking a weak Liberal candidate and winning on preferences over a Labor candidate on a primary vote in the 40s. The Liberals aren’t going to run dead in Brisbane, with former member for the neighbouring seat of Petrie, Teresa Gambaro, recently preselected for Brisbane.
It’s going to be very hard for Bartlett to win in Brisbane in 2010, but he should be able to increase the vote for the Greens in the seat markedly and make it a local focus and a welcome injection of energy and new members for the Greens in Queensland, where the party has always struggled. I think it’s plausible he could get over 20% of the vote in the seat in a race where the sitting Labor MP is a low-profile member who has held the seat for almost two decades. Indeed, Bartlett has run against Arch Bevis in Brisbane before, at at the 1996 election before he was appointed to replace Cheryl Kernot in the Senate in 1997. The following graphs show that both the Greens and Democrats have traditionally polled higher in the Senate in Brisbane than in the House of Representatives, with the parties’ combined vote passing 20% in 1996 and 2001 and almost repeating the feat in 2007, when the Greens Senate vote was over 16%.
Elsewhere: Andrew blogs about it himself over at his blog.