The flight to Townsville this morning was brim full of politicians, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton included. It was as good an indication as any that the Townsville-based seat of Herbert, the most marginal in the country, is attracting more than passing attention from all parties contesting the 18 May poll. The trouble is that this part of Queensland is much more than just the seat of Herbert, yet few candidates have ventured beyond its boundaries in their numerous swings up north.
So, a different calibre of politician was also in Townsville today. The mayors or deputy mayors of Cloncurry, Richmond, McKinlay, Flinders, Carpentaria, Mount Isa and Burke , all members of the North West Queensland Regional Organisation of Councils, had travelled to Herbert specifically to draw attention to the issues they want to see on the election agenda. As NWQROC chair and Carpentaria Mayor Jack Bawden told me: if Mohammed won’t come to the mountain, the mountain will come to Mohammed.
While the prevailing wisdom is that the race for Herbert is being dominated by the politics surrounding the proposed Adani coal mine, these mayors were in town to talk about different things. The economic potential of north west Queensland is enormous; a fact reinforced by the devastating images that came out of the region during widespread flooding earlier this year. Mining and livestock drive the place like nowhere else. NWQROC has done the estimates and found the region contributes $176,000 to the national economy for every person living in the northwest, compared with $66,000 per head for the rest of Queensland. However, the region has received scant attention during this election campaign, chiefly because much of it falls in the federal seat of Kennedy, held with an iron grip by Katter’s Australia Party chief Bob Katter. To say Kennedy is a safe seat for the incumbent is a perilous understatement. His presence means that, unlike in Herbert, the major parties are not expending much energy trying to win it.
But the region needs some attention all the same, and not just the kind it got after the deluge of a couple of months ago. While welcome, that assistance only covered recovery from the floods, not the long-term needs of a region that has not reached anywhere near its potential as an economic powerhouse. To put this in perspective, the stock losses and 12-week shutdown of the north west rail line cost the Australian economy an estimated $500 million. Hence the mayor’s trip to Townsville to tell candidates and party officials of the need for whoever is in government after 18 May to invest properly in road, rail, and energy infrastructure along the logistics and supply chain corridor between the port of Townsville and Mount Isa.
Mayor Bawden and his colleagues were adamant that their organisation was not interested in party politics. “What we need is a government that is going to contribute to nation building,” he said.
“There needs to be some long term vision for our region because the truth is we contribute a hell of a lot to the national economy.”
>>> Listen to the podcast below to hear LGAQ Media Executive Craig Johnstone speak with Jack Bawden - Mayor of Carpentaria and chair of the North West Queensland Regional organisation of Councils (NWQROC) about the marginal seat of Herbert ahead of the Federal Election – and what he wants the running candidates to know about what is important to voters in the electorate and why the North West region deserves a fair go.