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Crossing the Social Divide: Where the Federal Electorate of Blair and Ryan Merge at Riverview, Queensland

By Denis Bright

Despite an above 6 per cent improvement in Labor’s primary votes in the Bennalong by-election, the federal LNP has its one seat majority restored. Prime Minister Turnbull is now likely to face the national electorate in 2018 or 2019.

This next election will be a series of plebiscites on the capacity of the federal LNP to lead Australia out of its current social divisions.

Come on a journey to just one of the social divides in Australian living standards.

Few federal electorate divides are more pronounced than the divide between the voting patterns in the federal electorates of Blair and Ryan within Metro West in Brisbane, Queensland at Riverview.

For the earliest indigenous settlers of contemporary Riverview and the drier coal bearing slops towards Blackstone, the riverside near the current Moggill Ferry was a likely meeting place near permanent water supplies with access to ancient indigenous trading routes.

Today’s indigenous population is 9.3 per cent of the New Chum-Riverview Community Profile compared with 4.4 per cent across the sprawling City of Ipswich with its current population of over 200,000.

European settlement imposed new boundaries here on ancestral meeting places and trading routes.

The Brisbane River at Riverview is the boundary between the adjacent cities of Ipswich and the City of Brisbane with its population of 1,131,155 at the 2016 census.

Since 1878, cross-river ferries of differing vintages have linked Riverview in Ipswich to Moggill in adjacent Brisbane.

Politically, the Brisbane River straddles the boundaries between the federal electorates of Blair and Ryan.

Both electorates are safe political heartlands for differing sides of politics. As the federal election approaches in 2018 or 2019, the prize of national leadership is available to the political party who can bridge the social divide between electorates like Blair and Ryan. Dozens more divides exist throughout Australia in both regional and metropolitan areas.

Introducing Riverview in the Blair Electorate

Riverview commands a high bluff overlooking its more affluent neighbours in Moggill with its semi-rural character about 30 kilometres from Brisbane’s CBD.

The aerial photograph shows the absence of development near the flood-prone Brisbane River. The flood peak at Moggill Ferry reached a height of 15 metres in 2011.

The vagaries of Mother Nature have eclipsed Queensland’s poor historical record of planning to control urban sprawl.

Further upstream at The Junction between the Brisbane and Bremer Rivers, the Salvation Army’s Riverview Farm has operated there since 1894.

The facility achieved infamy during the Royal Commission into Sexual Abuse. Its reputation is now re-packaged as an accredited nursery for volunteers and trainees referred by job providing services.

Closer to Riverview Station, are the Salvation Army’s Riverview Gardens Aged Care Plus Centre. Here residents have access to a range of care packages from independent units to aged care facilities after payment of the appropriate aged care bond. This might require the sale of a family home to raise the necessary cash.

Affordable Queenslanders with spacious rooms, verandahs and back yards initially dominated always Labor Heartland, post-1945 Riverview.

Generations of families combined their paid work with degrees of self-sufficiency in the production of fresh produce.

This was the essence of the Australian Settlement as inherited from Liberal Protectionist Alfred Deakin and Labor’s Andrew Fisher in the Federation Era prior to 1914.

This post-1945 generation of residents in Riverview enjoyed near full employment in both government and commercial enterprises. Small underground collieries also dotted the hillsides.

Living standards were even better in two income families. Females enjoyed jobs in places like the textile mill at Redbank or the sprawling Wolston Hospital at Goodna or the growing office and administrative sectors of government offices.

The Goodna Asylum had a staff level of 700 in the mid-1950s and up to 2,500 inmates. Numbers of patients swelled from the economic hardships of the 1930s and the stresses of combat during the Second World War. Some of these admissions arose from post-war alcoholism and criminal activity.

School-leavers from the 1970s still made the transition into service sectors of the economy as commercial workshop jobs required higher training skills in small business sectors.

Most of the new generation used motor transport. Car ownership had a big appeal in Riverview and other Labor Heartland electorates. Riverview was also served by frequent trains to Brisbane’s CBD (40 minutes) and Ipswich (15 minutes away). Travelling times improved marginally as comfortable air-conditioned electrified trains commenced running in 1980.

To cope with the demand for homes, more public housing dominated the urban landscapes. Rental levels were always adjusted to income levels. This meant that rentals could be as low as a few dollars a week for a well-constructed modernist low-set house.

As an increasingly public housing suburb during the 1970s brought some loss of aesthetic standards to Riverview. However, rising income levels offered appropriate compensation and some families made the transition to other suburbs.

As training requirements for work intensified, the TAFE sector did not keep up with the range of essential school to work transitional courses for a wider variety of workshop and service sector jobs.

The underlying causes of double digit unemployment and underemployment were complex and not assisted by major recessions just a decade apart in the early 1980s and 1990s. Both the youth and senior sectors of the workforce were badly affected by the changes in employment patterns.

In the 2016 census, the Riverview-New Chum sub-regions have above-average levels of unemployment and under-employment compared with the wider City of Ipswich.

Revitalization of the TAFE sector with greater funding commitments to colleges at Springfield and Bundamba should be one of the most urgent priorities of an incoming Federal Labor Government if the swing to Labor in the Bennelong by-elections continues at the next national election.

Although houses in Riverview are more affordable than many other suburbs across the numerous local authorities in Metro Brisbane, the housing market is attractive to new investors. The shortage of lower priced rental accommodation maintains a reasonable rental market.

Image from

Even an abandoned shopping precinct in McEwan Street adjacent to Riverview Station fetched a high market price because it occupied 6,725 square metres of land. Confidence in the location is insufficient to encourage redevelopment of the site for high-density housing or other commercial functions.

Crossing to Moggill in the City of Brisbane

Crossing the Brisbane River to Moggill, offers a differing social reality. Housing and rental levels double in Brisbane’s semi-rural fringes. Riverside acreages can fetch around $1 million despite its proximity to the flood prone Brisbane River.


Political perceptions change across the Brisbane River in a space of a few hundred metres from Riverview.

The LNP’s Ryan federal electorate remained the safest conservative seat in Metro Brisbane in 2016.

Despite a significant swing against the federal LNP at the Moggill Booth, the adjacent voting trends showed the political polarisation on both sides of the Brisbane River (AEC Online). A 4.8 per cent decline in the LNP’s vote in Moggill after preferences did not extend across the electorate and was probably a mere blimp on its political radar screen.

Moggill State School Catchment Opts for Prime Minister Turnbull

Riverview State School Catchment Opts for a Change of Government

Private Debt Units Both Sides of the Social Divide

While the federal LNP emphasises the need for caution about government debt levels, it is the reality of private debt which afflicts communities on both sides of the Brisbane River. Private debt levels are indeed more than six times above the Australian Government’s debt levels. The extent of private debt is rarely mentioned by the federal LNP in its attacks on Bill Shorten’s social justice commitments.

Ironically, the more affluent Moggill householders can more sustainably support their private debt to pay off extraordinary mortgages.

With commercial interest rates not too much higher than current inflation rates, householders in Ryan who take out loans for small business ventures are accumulating assets which are denied to lower income renters in Riverview. For unemployed and underemployed renters, accumulating $1,000 a month for the most affordable rental dwellings are a real fortune even with rental assistance schemes.

With strong conservative electoral support in Ryan, it is seems that constituents are waiting to be inspired about alternative public policy strategies which can bridge the social divide between the Labor and LNP Heartlands.

The LNP’s electorate office in Ryan is always strongly critical of perceived negatives in Shortenonomics. Bill Shorten’s should not be concerned as the Ryan Electorate Office supports every conservative cause from negative gearing of rental housing to tax relief for wealthy families.

Welcoming the horror budget prepared by Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey in May 2014, the Ryan Electorate Office made the following apology (Ryan Electorate Office Press Release 30 May 2014):

“We all have to live within our means – governments are not an exception. Putting government expenditure on a credit card, like the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments did, mortgages our future and transfers the economic pain onto our children and grandchildren.

The 2014-15 Federal Budget makes the tough but necessary decisions to put government finances on a more sustainable footing so that Australians can all share in prosperity – and not crushing indebtedness – into the future.

This Budget is a key component of the Abbott Government’s Economic Action Strategy, and it calls on everyone and every business to contribute, to join or grow the workforce, to boost productivity and to help build a stronger economy with more investment.

This Budget takes responsible steps to strengthen our economy, promoting jobs, growth, infrastructure and education”.

In the Bennelong by-election, the political reaction to old style market ideology was evident in the strong gains by Kristina Keneally. With its 4.8 per cent swing to Labor in 2016, the Moggill Booth seemed to anticipate the 6 per cent improvement in Labor’s primary vote in Bennelong on 16 December 2017.

Wealthier families in Moggill can easily cope with progressive taxes and the benefits of investment capture funds to ease the social divide with fellow residents of Metro West across at Riverview.

As a potential NSW Senator in 2018, Kristina Keneally will be on hand to explain the necessity to do more to address the social divide between electorates like Ryan and Blair.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting discussion to advance pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.

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  1. Stella

    Thank you Denis for an interesting article comparing the electorates of Blair and Ryan.

  2. Chris

    Let’s keep the Moggill Ferry as a symbol of the social divide between these two communities.

  3. Pat

    For someone on an income of $20,000 a month, the mortgage payments on a million dollar house are painless. When will the federal government talk about the real burdens of private debt which are faced by low income people as they real out for assistance to celebrate Christmas.

  4. Lalnama

    Interesting in depth article
    We need to recognise as this article does that there is a divide & for incoming governments to do something to breakdown these divisions

  5. Bernie

    Thanks for the commitment to social justice for Metro West Brisbane.
    The article coincides with today’s displays of QUT and TAFE courses at QUT Garden’s Point.
    TAFE courses should be a pathway for Year 10 school leavers and the expansion of the new courses should be fully funded by the Federal Government.
    Courses should include the option of paid work experience in the retail and commercial service sectors.

  6. Paul

    Amazing the difference a few hundreds meters and a river can make to the social environment.

    So many complex issues. Thanks for the article Denis!

    Have a great Christmas!

  7. Tessa

    The taxation system is now weighed in favour of investors from the so-called better side of Town. There are deductions for for home offices, computer links, private school fees, car leasehold arrangements, negative gearing for investment in extra houses and so the list goes on!

  8. Jim_79

    Hard to believe that there is such a big divide between these adjoining electorates. It’s time to bridge the gap between these and many others. Thank for the insights.

  9. Rob

    A story that can be repeated across Australia. The have and have nots. Sounds very a simplistic line to throw, but the facts above speak volumes. MSM will not publish such facts they fear murdoch and falling out of favour with the lunatic right and losing their advertising dollars

  10. Patrick@Social Justice

    And a new trend is emerging politically across the Divide: Wealthier people are more likely to support the Green-Left side of politics and
    people in Ipswich have some empathy for Pauline Hanson, particularly in the Labor Heartland Booths. This suggests that Labor needs to redefine its message to the Heartland. Heartland voters want the return of a more radical spirit on their behalf and may be supporting Pauline Hanson as a naive protest vote.

  11. Dr Tristan Ewins

    A very-well-researched article (as usual) explaining the potentially-crucial issues which could be central in this strategically-important electorate – and why Labor could do well to ‘turn Left’.

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