Change is in the air for the Queensland region, where at least one electorate is guaranteed a new representative from the federal election after its former MP George Christensen went rogue.
- George Christensen has announced he would run for the Australian Senate as a candidate in the One Nation party
- He left his former seat of Dawson, which is held by the Liberal National Party, with a very safe margin
- Constituents in the Queensland regional seat are seeking support for coal mining, the sugar industry and the Great Barrier Reef
Mr Christensen was a thorn in the Liberal National Party’s side until the end – sensationally quitting the party and parliament last week before pledging his allegiance to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party.
He announced today he would run third on his Senate ticket at the May 21 election, with his former constituents left to elect a new Member for Dawson where the futures of coal and coral collides.
Mr Christensen has a reputation for ruffling feathers due to his comments urging adults not to get their children vaccinated against COVID-19, and for controversial views about net-zero emissions and abortion.
But away from Canberra, Mr Christensen’s stubbornness was what many locals liked best.
He secured four terms as the local member by advocating for major infrastructure projects and more affordable insurance, as well as for sugar, mining, and resources in the region.
Local cafe owner David Paddon said Mr Christensen was “a rare breed of politician”.
“It’s a very diverse electorate; we need someone that understands it.”
Coal and coral
The seat of Dawson encompasses more than 350 kilometers of the Queensland coast, including towns such as Bowen, Airlie Beach and Mackay.
The regional centers act as gateways to both the Great Barrier Reef and Queensland’s coal mining areas.
The LNP holds the seat with a 14.6 per cent margin and is pinning its hopes on Whitsunday mayor Andrew Willcox as its candidate, while Labor contender Shane Hamilton is trying to woo voters as well.
With George Christensen aiming for the Senate, One Nation has selected businessperson Julie Hall to contest the seat, which saw a 13.1 per cent swing towards Pauline Hanson’s party in 2019.
Some believe it was resource-heavy communities like Dawson that drove the swing away from Labor at the last federal election in 2019.
“That feeling of being ignored at the last election is still there by people,” Bowen publican, and chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Bruce Hedditch said.
“Particularly people in the resources industry.
Tourism a hot topic
But while the resources sector is a major employer in the electorate, so too is tourism, creating an uneasy marriage.
Lindsay Simpson wanted to ensure her sailing business had a future at Airlie Beach.
“The Great Barrier Reef is central to our business, like it is for 70,000 others,” she said.
Ms Simpson felt Mr Christensen did not take concerns about climate change and the health of the reef seriously.
“I didn’t see that he believed in the environment or understood the importance of it to the electorate,” she said.
Bowen Tourism and Business manager Leanne Abernethy said balancing the region’s competing interests was critical.
“We want to make sure that the new federal member does understand that here, in Bowen, we have farming, mining, retail and tourism,” she said.
Cane farming concerns
While the workforce that supported mining and resource projects in neighboring regions largely resided in Dawson, the electorate itself was at the heart of the Australian sugar industry.
Cane growers who have struggled to turn a profit wanted a representative who would advocate for their livelihoods.
Third-generation farmer Peter Hall, based in Clare, did not trust Labor’s commitment to this cause due to its approach to reef regulations at a state government level.
“It’s been so bad on the state level [that] if we have the same happening at a federal level, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble, or out of business, “he said.
In Proserpine, fourth-generation cane farmer Grace McDonald also faced business challenges.
She said this included the increasing price of fertilizer and chemicals, finding workers, and “the current volatility of the world market”.
Access to healthcare in resource communities like Dawson also remained a critical issue.
In Bowen, a shortage of general practitioners meant the public hospital emergency room was often crowded with patients who needed non-urgent medical attention.
Elizabeth Westwood said the situation was unsustainable for seniors like herself.
“One of the biggest issues in Bowen is the lack of doctors staying,” she said.
“It means lots of trips out of town for people.”
Looking to the future
Dean Kirkwood was the general manager at the Resource Industry Network, which represented mining equipment, technology, and services in the region.
He said job security in resources and mining would be on voters’ minds, but that did not mean the community was not interested in addressing climate change.
“It’s about embracing that.
“We want a candidate that will engage in that future.”
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