Former prime minister Kevin Rudd has heaped praise on his likely successor in Griffith, as it was revealed internal Labor Party polling had the Liberal National Party headed for victory two weeks out of Saturday’s poll.
With Labor’s Terri Butler leading the LNP’s Bill Glasson 52.33 to 47.67 per cent on the two-party preferred count with just one booth yet to report back, Griffith looks likely to remain a Labor seat.
Labor claims Queensland seat of Griffith
Despite a swing away from the party, Labor is set to retain the federal seat of Griffith formerly held by two-time Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
However, with counting on Saturday night showing a small swing away from the Labor Party, Dr Glasson and the LNP refused to concede defeat.
Mr Rudd, who had kept a low profile during the byelection campaign, received a rock star’s welcome at a jubilant post-election party at South Brisbane.
“She is a highly intelligent human being and a very strong woman who’s going to stand up and be a strong advocate for local people,” the two-time prime minister said.
“I don’t say those things lightly because I’ve spent a lot of time with her and I’m delighted that she is representing our area – delighted.”
Ms Butler, an industrial relations lawyer, told Fairfax Media she was grateful for the support she had received during the campaign.
“It’s been a very, very close election and people have had a very important decision to make,” she said.
“My opponent is a well-respected, well-liked person who I myself find to be a very nice man and someone for whom I have a lot of respect.
“It was always a tough fight and I’m really confident, based on the booth results I’ve seen so far, that Labor will retain Griffith.”
Dr Glasson, an ophthalmologist who once served as president of the Australian Medical Association, was not ready to congratulate Ms Butler on Saturday night.
‘‘We’re not conceding tonight but obviously it’s going to be difficult to get across the line,’’ Dr Glasson told his supporters, flanked by Queensland Premier Campbell Newman and federal Attorney-General George Brandis.
‘‘Can I suggest that the figures you currently see on the screen I believe will narrow, but we won’t know I believe for a number of days where that will sit.’’
Mr Brandis said, regardless of the end result, the swing from the Labor Party was a loss for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.
“It is almost unheard of for there to be a swing against an opposition at a byelection and, as far as we can tell, it has only ever happened three times in Australian history,” he said.
But it could have been worse for the Labor Party.
According to internal Labor polling, conducted two weeks prior to Saturday’s poll, Dr Glasson had a nine-point primary vote lead over Ms Butler, 47 to 38 per cent.
That narrowed to a 51 to 49 per cent victory to the LNP on a two party preferred status.
Blair MP Shayne Neumann said a strong ground campaign and multiple visits by Mr Shorten had helped turn those numbers around.
With just 71.8 per cent of the electorate’s votes counted after all booths had reported back, voter turnout appeared to be low.
Australian Electoral Commission spokesman Phil Diak said the turnout would not be known until all the counting had been completed, including pre-polls and postal ballots.
"That includes declaration votes that will be dealt with next week and postal votes coming in up to the Friday after next," he said.
"But the historical trend is for byelection turnout to be lower."
- with Nick Wiggins