By Emma Kennedy
1 August 2013
Having held 46.7 per cent of votes at the 2010 election, the Kennedy electorate is Katter’s land.
And it has been thought of as a safe seat for 20 years now.
The Kennedy electorate covers such a huge area of Queensland – from Boulia in the South West to the Gulf of Carpentaria in the North and out to Innisfail on the East Coast – that it’s a surprise one man has been able to hold the reins for such a long time. The man in the hat is not shy of the camera and is possibly the most ‘out there’ pollie in the country, but beyond that voice and almost weekly media scandals he represents an area with more industries than you could poke a stick at. His electorate is truly a representation of ‘country Queensland’.
I am based in Mount Isa at it daily newspaper The North West Star, which covers roughly half of the Kennedy electorate. I have been in the city for almost 10 years now, starting as a young high school kid, leaving to the big world to study journalism at university and finding myself back in the West after graduation.
We out here are a people of diversity; a place where you can find the juxtaposition of industrial mine sites and the untouched rural landscapes of grazing properties within kilometres of each other. It’s a place where cost-effective health care and rural doctor shortages are always in the forefront, as our Royal Flying Doctor Service and rescue choppers really are the life-savers you see on the TV ads. It’s a place where the land is rich in minerals wherever you go, the home to Xstrata Mount Isa Mines, Ernest Henry Mining, MMG Century and BHP Billiton Cannington to name a few, pulling everything from copper to lead to zinc out of our ground.
It’s a place with a rich Indigenous history, with a number of Aboriginal communities dotted across the region, some still without electricity and on alcohol restrictions.
It’s also a place where as a journalist the very same people you speak with day-to-day for stories are the ones you have a beer with on Friday night.
Being a country area there’s always going to be a power struggle with the population – there are those who have lived and breathed the North West of Queensland their entire lives and resist others who come in trying to make change, and there are those with a five-year plan; the ones wanting to make Mount Isa a thriving metropolis of culture in the heart of the Outback.
Fly in, fly out workforces are a huge issue in Kennedy, with most taking the view they cripple the economy by living local but not buying local.
In terms of the election, it’s hard to determine just how many people living in the North West are voting in the North West due to exactly that – such a high FIFO and transient population.
And that’s where Bob Katter fits right in.
He represents the old school, the way we’ve done things forever. He’s been in media spats about gay marriage, promotes gun laws and truly believes the region is the back-bone of the country – he is known as being traditionally-minded. He’s the man who’s single-handedly kept a finger in the pie for decades.
That’s not to say he’s free from scrutiny as it’s no secret he has his haters for his strong opinions and traditional ways, but somehow election after election despite word of mouth and members of the community vowing ‘never again’ he’s made it back into the top spot.
His throne may be comfortable and worn, but this year could be the game-changer with an exciting election on the cards.
On a year-to-year basis, Kennedy doesn’t have opposing contenders knocking on our door discussing their presence in the region, but there’s always a token LNP or Greens candidates who throws their hats in the ring while the race is run and disappear to the sidelines.
This year though we have Greens candidate Jenny Stirling and LNP candidate Noeline Ikin who both have history and a vested interest in the area, and most of all the point that sets them aside – big ideas the monotony of the North West hasn’t experienced for a long time.
So approaching polling day, it seems for Kennedy it will come down to whether Bob has finally lost his hold on the traditional-minded folk of the North West to make way for one of these two fresh-thinking women, or whether a change in attitude isn’t something we’re able to support just yet.