Resource Projects And Boatpeople Focus Minds In Marginal Labor Mining Towns

Resource projects and boatpeople focus minds in marginal Labor mining towns

Sean Parnell and Rosanne Barrett
From: The Australian
July 21, 2010 12:00AM

QUEENSLAND'S hardened mining electorates have the same issues as most other blue collar communities.

But nowhere in Australia is the future of the local economy, and thousands of jobs, so dependent on the success of the major resources projects as those in the marginal Labor seats of Dawson and Flynn in central Queensland. Those same projects bolster communities further afield, such as Townsville, and provide valuable royalties for the state government.

The Liberal National Party, in opposition on both a state and federal level, has spent months rallying voters to demand a greater share of the spoils of the mining boom. Nationals leader Warren Truss, and more so his Senate colleague Barnaby Joyce, the LNP patron for central Queensland, have demanded the party's West Australian policy Royalties for Regions be replicated in Queensland.

It might be a state policy, but that hasn't stopped Labor coming up with a federal version for the election campaign, in the form of the infrastructure fund from its new mining tax. Even if controversy over the former resource super-profits tax has abated, underlying issues of economic management and sustainable growth remain. Unions will again run advertisements warning that a Coalition government would lessen job security, through a return of Work Choices, while Labor's mismanagement of insulation and school building programs will be used by the LNP to argue that the incumbents do not deserve to be re-elected.

In Flynn, which stretches more than 350km west from Gladstone, concerns over illegal boat arrivals are high and the cost of living is fast becoming an issue.

Boyne Island local Helen Cornwell said immigration was the most talked about issue with her friends.

“All these boatpeople, that's the main issue. It's pretty scary –we talk about it all the time.”

Ms Cornwell is looking for a job and said immigration should be minimised until all Australians were back in work. A Labor voter, she felt sorry for Kevin Rudd, but he “brought it on himself with his attitude”.

So-called “Howard's battlers” and Labor's “working families” have flocked to the city of 50,000, where coal is king but liquefied natural gas projects are expected to boost the job market with an additional 18,000 positions.

The RSPT hit the city hard and concerns still linger about the affect of Julia Gillard's alternative.

Construction engineering assistant Ben Hobbs is managing a project on the industrial Boyne Island and is one of those concerned. “It not only affects my workplace, what other jobs will open up and what jobs could go. Anything we do to make mining less viable is going to make jobs go,”he said.

Generally a Labor voter, Mr Hobbs said the tax would influence his vote but he was still leaning towards the ALP.

Jessica Robertson's husband works in the resources industry as well, and she is counting on the industry getting over its jitters.

But it is immigration that she wants the government to sort out — and fast. “I don't think any of them are doing enough,” she said. “I think they shouldn't even be getting this far (to Australia's shores).

“People who work their backsides off get nothing and they get everything from the government.

“If they want to come, they should come the right way.”

Mrs Robertson is also concerned about childcare subsidies — she is the mother of 20-month-old Keeli — and mental and medical healthcare are also of vital importance to her.

Retired instrument technician Allan Dittman said he was concerned the government had wasted the spoils of the mining boom.

“They have to do something in a hurry to keep the economy going. They certainly have cash in the economy but it's going into the wrong pockets,” he said.

Further north in Townsville, where the seat of Herbert is up for grabs, Craig Smith's restaurant, Michel's Cafe and Bar, has been doing a brisk business.

His restaurant and catering business has been boosted by flow-on funds from the mining industry, and even direct funds –he catered a lunch at mining magnate Clive Palmer's Yabulu refinery recently. “Townsville relies a lot on the mines,” he said. “If mines were to reduce their production, it would affect our city.

“In a high percentage of families here, one of the partners does work out at the mines and it does bring in a good income, then that flows on through the town.”

A swing voter, Mr Smith said he was looking out for the party that helps small business and health.


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