The Gabba – Brisbane 2020

Council margin – GRN 6.8% vs LNP
Mayoral margin – ALP 3.3%

Incumbent councillor
Jonathan Sri, since 2016.

Inner south of Brisbane. The Gabba covers the suburbs across the river from the Brisbane city centre, including Dutton Park and West End.

The Gabba shrank significantly, losing its easternmost quarter but otherwise experiencing no boundary changes. East Brisbane and Buranda were moved to Coorparoo. These changes increased the Greens margin from 5% to 6.8%.

The Gabba replaced the Dutton Park ward, which covered the inner south and some nearby areas. Dutton Park was traditionally considered to be a safe Labor ward.

Tim Quinn was first elected as a Labor councillor for the Gabba in 1985. He held the ward covering the area right up until 2003.

Quinn served in civic cabinet throughout Jim Soorley’s mayoralty, serving as deputy mayor from 1997. Quinn was appointed as Lord Mayor to finish Soorley’s fourth mayoral term in 2003, and resigned from Dutton Park. Quinn was defeated by Campbell Newman in 2004.

Helen Abrahams was appointed to finish Quinn’s term as Dutton Park councillor in 2003. Abrahams had previously served one term in Paddington from 1991 to 1994.

Abrahams was re-elected in 2004 with a 9.1% margin over the Liberal Party, but the Greens polled 25.1% in their first contest in the area.

Dutton Park was replaced by the Gabba in 2008, and Abrahams scraped by with a 2.7% margin. The Liberal Party outpolled Labor on primary votes, 37.1% to 35.8%, and Labor only won on Greens preferences.

Abrahams was re-elected again in 2012. She increased her primary vote to 45% mostly at the expense of the Greens, and increased her margin to 8%.

Abrahams retired in 2016, and Labor dropped to third place on primary votes. Greens candidate Jonathan Sri came second on primary votes and won the ward on Labor preferences.


This was the first ward ever won by the Greens when Sri won in 2016. Past history of Greens wins in lower house seats in other states (the elections which are most similar to a BCC election) suggest that Greens MPs often strengthen their margin after one term, but we don’t know how that will play out here. Sri’s main challenge will be staying ahead of Labor, as it’s likely Labor preferences will be enough to win a second term if he can stay in the top two against the LNP.

Sri may benefit from incumbency and from Labor voters choosing the progressive party with the stronger local presence, but his radicalism (both in substance and style) could either help him or hurt him.

There is also a danger that a swing against the LNP would drop them into third place, which would mean the most conservative part of the ward would be deciding the result between the Greens and Labor. If this happens Sri would need a significant boost in his primary vote relative to Labor to hold on.

2016 council result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing Redist
Sean Jacobs Liberal National 7,712 35.9 -1.1 34.5
Jonathan Sri Greens 6,823 31.7 +13.9 32.8
Nicole Lessio Labor 6,457 30.0 -15.1 30.3
Leon Lechner People Decide 516 2.4 +2.4 2.4
Informal 649 2.9

2016 council two-candidate-preferred result

Candidate Party Votes % Redist
Jonathan Sri Greens 10,194 55.0 56.8
Sean Jacobs Liberal National 8,336 45.0 43.2
Exhausted 2,978 13.9

2016 mayoral result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing Redist
Graham Quirk Liberal National 8,917 41.2 -6.2 39.7
Rod Harding Labor 6,598 30.5 +1.4 31.0
Ben Pennings Greens 5,146 23.8 +2.8 24.7
Karel Boele People Decide 388 1.8 +1.8 1.9
Jeffrey Hodges Independent 376 1.7 +1.7 1.7
Jim Eldridge Independent 130 0.6 +0.6 0.5
Jarrod Wirth Independent 81 0.4 +0.4 0.4
Informal 557 2.5

2016 mayoral two-party-preferred result

Candidate Party Votes % Swing Redist
Rod Harding Labor 10,084 51.7 +7.8 53.3
Graham Quirk Liberal National 9,441 48.4 -7.8 46.7
Exhausted 2,111 9.8

Booth breakdown

Booths in The Gabba have been divided into three areas: north-east, south-east and west. In simplistic terms, the north-east is the best LNP area, the west is the best Greens area, and the south-east is the best Labor area.

The Greens won big victories in the south-east and west, but the LNP won 55.5% of the two-candidate-preferred vote in the north-east.

Labor similarly won big in the south-east and west on the mayoral ballot while the LNP won in the north-east.

The Greens were outpolled by Labor in the south-east (narrowly) and the north-east (less narrowly) but significantly outpolled Labor in the west.

Voter group ALP prim council GRN 2CP council LNP 2PP mayoral Total votes % of votes
West 29.8 67.1 38.4 6,275 36.2
North-East 29.6 44.5 55.8 3,418 19.7
South-East 37.0 66.5 37.1 1,840 10.6
Other votes 28.1 47.9 54.7 3,736 21.5
Pre-poll 31.1 51.6 50.7 2,086 12.0

Election results in The Gabba at the 2016 Brisbane City Council election
Toggle between two-candidate-preferred votes (Greens vs LNP) for council, two-party-preferred votes for lord mayor, and council primary votes for Labor.

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  1. Sri is safe. His biggest risk would have been compulsory preferential, with LNP preferences potentially giving the seat to Labor in the event of LNP coming 3rd.

    In optional preferential, LNP will likely do “just vote 1” cards and if Balmain/Newtown in NSW are any indication, the Greens will actually gain slightly off the few LNP votes that don’t exhaust.

  2. While the redistribution here has benefited Sri by cutting off an area of LNP-leaning East Brisbane, it may well hurt him by reducing the LNP’s primary vote. Between this, ongoing demographic change in this area (generally supporting the ALP and Greens), and an expected citywide reduction in the LNP’s vote, this is possibly the ALP’s best chance to retake the seat.

    Sri has been a divisive councillor with his supporters loving him and opponents despising him. His biggest threat is if nominal LNP voters decide their priority is removing Sri, leading for them to vote tactically for Labor

  3. Macca-BNE: it’s if Kangaroo Point ever gets chopped off that Labor will be salivating, I think – that dramatically lowers the LNP primary.

    My impression of the ward is that it’s the removed parts which were good for Labor – not so much that they were stronger there, but that no other party had an advantage there either, as compared to KP with LNP domination or West End with Greens domination.

  4. Liberal sign for Lord Mayor in Pullenvale had Just Vote 1 on it so thereis a chance that Liberals will exhaust.
    Tactically this may be advantageous in Mayoral race and disadvantageous in ward contests.
    ALP Lord Mayoral contest not a roaring success. I do not even know name of candidate and all I know about him is that he is an ex TV presenter.
    I can name every Queensland Federal MP and a good percentage of State MP’s so my failure to be able to name Lord Mayoral candidate is a definite communications failure. I would estimate hatover 90% of his voter base do not know who he is. Previous candidate Harding was removed for failure to campaign so this bloke is doing worse than Harding.

  5. It was reported in the Courier Mail there is a rumour going around that even if Jonathan Sri is successful in retaining his council seat he may ditch council politics to stand as the Greens canidate in Jackie Trad’s seat of South Brisbane at the next state election.

  6. I think Sri will stay put. For him to move would force an immediate by-election after back-to-back BCC and State generals (and with only 6 months off after the Federal).

    The Greens in that area have no shortage of prospective candidates and I firmly believe they want to run a woman in South Brisbane both because the incumbent is and because their only State MP is male.

    I expect several state seat Greens candidate announcements in early April.

  7. You don’t mean sexual discriminatory candidate selection within the Greens. I doubt if Sri will jump. As aAlex said the area is swarming with yuppies who want to be Green Political Party MP’s. Oh for the days when South Brisbane was represented by Vince Gair or even Col Miller who between them represented the area From late 1930’s till late 1970’s before Bligh and Yuppies took over.

  8. I can tell you there is a zero % chance that Sri is the Greens candidate for South Brisbane.

    Courier Mail must have made that one from whole cloth, embarrassing journalism.

  9. The Sri situation shows up the clear disadvantage of a directly elected Mayoy/ Lord Mayor. Sri is clearly the leader of Greens in BCC, yet if they are successful he will not be leader.

    This disadvantage is evident in Moreton Bay RC. Cr’s Peter Flannery and Adrian Raedel are both standing for mayor. Whilst Raedel is under a cloud at moment both of them have been hard working Councillors and at least one of them’s experience and hopefully wisdom will be lost to Council. A much better system would be for elected Councillors to elect the Mayor.
    Directly elected Mayors are the most arrogant politicians we have in Australia. Think of Brisbane Lord Mayors over last 50 years and I can only think of one who was not too big for his boots and he was a replacement elected by the Councillors.
    Just about all of the others have been brought down because of their egotism. Mattered little about their politics.
    I would like to see Sri defeated but if Greens think he is best person to lead party he should be the Lord Mayoral Candidate and in the event of defeat for that job his great skills in road blocking and demo planning should not be lost to council.
    An overt political party system rather than the covert political party system that operates in most Qld Councils would be an improvement.

  10. @ Andrew Jackson

    Brisbane Councillors use to be able to run for mayor while still being able to run for their ward. It was changed during Joh Bjelke Petersen premiership as an attempt to get rid of Labor mayor Clem Jones. It failed as Clem Jones was re-elected as mayor and the rule has never been changed back with following state governments with fear of backlash for meddling in the system.

    I agree the rule is stupid. It basically brings outsiders with no council experience to run for mayor and stops councillors who have done their apprenticeship running for mayor in the fear a loss will end the council career.

  11. The issue with a Council-elected Mayoralty as I see it is much the same as with the state and federal governments: the PM and other high ranking ministers have little time to actually serve their home constituencies.

    Undivided Councils have a much better time of it, especially with STV. They can have competing tickets, and the lead candidate is also the Mayoral candidate (if perhaps only implicitly).

    Labor presently have the exact same problem as the Greens do in BCC – no Councillor is willing to give up their ward for a dicey Mayoral campaign.


    Rein and Taagepera hold that a Lower House of should be roughly the cube root of the population. They give this for National level Assemblies but I see no theoretical reason why it shouldn’t apply further down. By that model BCC should have about 100 Councillors. Maybe not. But it is a little ridiculous that BCC Wards are almost the same size as State Electorates. 10,000 voters per Councillor would be a better ratio IMHO.

  12. I see no reason why state boundaries should not also be the Council boundaries. One proviso is need to keep the two campaigns seperate. March and October just a little bit too close in 2020 but I can not see an easy solution to fix this.

  13. It will take a few cycles for anyone to muster the will to change it (perhaps 2028, with all three levels likely, will be the impetus) but it will probably involve a 2.5 year term somewhere. Then the State elections could be exactly one year before the Council elections.

    For state and local boundaries to align consistently is a near impossibility with both quota restrictions and varying population growth. Many state (and Federal) districts presently cross the BCC boundary and in most cases it made perfect sense to draw them that way.

  14. This will cause the council boundaries themselves to shift roughly every eight years or so which will be a massive headache for ratepayers whose bylaws will shift continuously.

  15. Zac
    I think ECQ use Local Government boundaries as one of there criteria for determining State Boundaries.
    Brisbane City Council wards were once identical to Council Ward boundaries. However Brisbane is a special case with boundary changes only being a few humndred metres as opposed to Western Queensland where boundary changes could be a thousand Km. At last redistribution Mt Isa lost Birdsville and gained Charters Towers.

  16. The commissions do use local government boundaries as a criterion. Postcodes too.

    The key criterion, of course, is that they be within population quota. If you suggest to vary that, you had better also be suggesting something like MMP to counteract the necessary level of malapportionment.

  17. Just remember to vote LNP if you live in the Gabba ward. Neither Greens or Labor getting in is acceptable!


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