Saturday 16 July 2011

Campbell Newman set to win seat, seat of power to follow

Campbell Newman is a crucial step closer to being elected Queensland premier from outside parliament, with an exclusive Newspoll showing him overpowering the popular Labor MP he must first unseat.

The survey for The Weekend Australian is the first to take the pulse of voters in the make-or-break state electorate of Ashgrove and shows that the former Brisbane lord mayor will comfortably overcome the 7.1 per cent margin of Labor incumbent and former cabinet minister Kate Jones. The swing against Anna Bligh's government is so pronounced that a 70 per cent approval rating among Ashgrove voters won't save Ms Jones, leaving Mr Newman on track to win the seat outright. He has grabbed 50 per cent of the primary vote against 37 per cent for Ms Jones.

When likely preferences are factored in, Mr Newman's two-party-preferred vote kicks him 10 points clear of the high-profile, two-term MP, who recently relinquished her position in Ms Bligh's ministry to work full-time to try to save the seat.

Greens candidate Sandra Bayley, who told The Weekend Australian she was inclined to support Ms Jones over Mr Newman, has 11 per cent of the vote, slightly down on what the party polled at the last state election in 2009.

While most of her preferences will flow to Labor - whether or not a deal is struck with the Greens to direct them - Queensland's optional preferential voting system at the state level will cause many of them to exhaust.

The encouraging news for Ms Jones, however, is that Ashgrove voters have a greater propensity to number the ballot paper and not "just vote 1", lowering the exhaustion rate of preferences to the benefit of Labor.

In 2009, the exhaustion rate of Green preferences for Ashgrove came in at about 33 per cent against the state average of 50 per cent. Labor strategists believe this reflects the upper social demographic of the mainly well-heeled, 31,000-strong inner-city electorate.

Today's Newspoll of 504 Ashgrove voters, taken over three days this week for The Weekend Australian, will further buoy confidence in the LNP that the audacious move to install Mr Newman as leader in March, before he had entered parliament, will pay off at the state election due early next year.

The last statewide Newspoll in Queensland, over April-May, had the LNP opening up a 20-point lead on Labor's vote, 60-40 per cent after preferences. This erased the gains Ms Bligh made in the polls as a result of her handling of the flood and cyclone emergencies in Queensland over summer, where Mr Newman also shone at Brisbane City Hall.

While Labor will be encouraged by Ms Jones's high profile and local popularity - fully 70 per cent of Ashgrove voters are satisfied with her performance as their MP, with only 17 per cent unhappy - Mr Newman will be in a position to lift his already formidable lead as campaigning gears up.

Fifty-seven per cent of Ashgrove voters approve of the job he does leading the LNP, according to Newspoll. When asked who would make the better local MP, 45 per cent of them back Mr Newman, just shy of the 47 per cent who choose Ms Jones. Significantly, only 8 per cent of those surveyed say they are undecided.

The former army engineer, 47, devotes weekends and only two days a week to working the seat because of his wider leadership responsibilities. "We've got a program I just do -a seat here or an appearance there with a member (of parliament) and then if I've got spare time I come here," Mr Newman said on the hustings this week.

Ms Jones, 32, attacked the LNP leader for not residing in the electorate and using it as a "stepping stone" to advance his ambitions. Mr Newman, who lives in the Labor-held seat of Brisbane Central, about 2km beyond the boundary of Ashgrove, would not commit to moving his family in should he defeat Ms Jones.

He rejected her criticism, saying if he wanted "an easy ride" he would have stood in Brisbane Central, which has a margin about one percentage point lower than Ashgrove's. "The way I see it, I have been the mayor of Brisbane . . . representing these people diligently, professionally for the past seven years," he said. "Kate Jones doesn't have a monopoly on this area."

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