Dawson was first proclaimed in 1949, and is classified as a rural electorate. Dawson covers an area of approximately 22 515 sq km from Clairview in the south to Giru in the north and also includes The Whitsunday Island Group such as Hamilton, Hayman, and South Molle. The main towns include Airlie Beach, Ayr, Bowen, Home Hill, Proserpine and Sarina as well as the City of Mackay. There have been no recent changes to the electoral boundaries of Dawson. The current electoral boundaries were in place prior to the 2010 federal election.
Approximately 151,500 people lived in Dawson at the time of the 2011 census. Of these people, 71.6% reported both parents were born in Australia, more than 77% reported coming from Anglo-Saxon heritage and 87.6% reported speaking only English at home. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people accounted for less than 5% of the population. These figure show that Dawson is not a very culturally, linguistically or ethnically diverse electorate.
Dawson’s main industry is coal mining. Coal mining employs the largest proportion of the population. Other industries include coal related industries, agriculture including sugar cane growth and refinery, tourism, beef cattle, abattoirs and fish farming.
There are three declared candidates in Dawson: incumbent George Christensen (LNP), Frank Gilbert (ALP) and Jonathon Dykyj (Greens). Christensen won the 2013 federal election with 46.2% of the primary vote (57.6% with preferences) and a +5.1 swing, two party preferred. This makes him a formidable opponent and Dawson a fairly safe seat. In 2013, ALP garnered 29.7% of the primary vote (42.4% with preferences) and the Greens just 5%.
The differing political positions of the three candidates currently declared in the Dawson electorate mean that the development of the coal industry, particularly the controversial opening up of the Galilee Basin, could be a decisive issue for voters on polling day. The potential opening of the World’s largest coal mine, within the Dawson electorate, will have a significant effect on jobs and economic growth.
The coal industry in the Bowen Basin (which runs from Collingswood in the north to Theodore in the south) has been hard hit by adverse market conditions since 2012-13. As a result a number of companies have undertaken closures and work force restructuring measures, such as reduced worker hours, reduced production shifts and layoffs. This has seen a gradual and increasing reduction in both local and non-resident workers. One Queensland government report stated that from June 2014 to June 2015, workers and contractors directly employed in the Bowen Basin coal industry fell by 6% or 1,755 jobs. It is projected by another Queensland government report that job numbers would rise significantly over the next five years, including in the Bowen Basin, if the controversial development of the Galilee Basin were to proceed.
The current development proposal of Adani Carmichael mine in the Galilee Basin outlines the construction of a railway to link up with Abbot Point, which would be expanded and developed in to a large coal export terminal. This has drawn attention and protest action from environmentalist and conservation groups, with Abbot Point sitting on the coastline of the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef. Adani’s past record of environmental breaches in the ports of its home country of India are also causing concern. Environmental groups, including Green’s candidate Jonathon Dykyj, have stated they are opposed to this project as they have concerns that the transportation of coal from Abbot Point through the conservation area puts the Great Barrier Reef at risk of degradation, a harm which will then be compounded when this coal is burnt at its destination. This has resulted in a number of legal actions being undertaken against this project, which has stalled the already approved development pending judgement.
Current incumbent for Dawson, George Christensen (LNP), has labelled this action ‘lawfare’ and accused these groups of being ‘eco-terrorists’ using ‘misinformation’ regarding the potential impact to the Great Barrier Reef to leverage the closure of the mines. Christensen further stated these groups were anti-jobs and anti-families, as the Adani Carmichael mine is slated to provide thousands of jobs to families struggling through the market downturn. There are some within the community who echo this sentiment. However, there are other residents, including Mackay councillor Frank Gilbert (ALP), who believe that Bowen and Mackay should diversify their industry rather than rely solely on the short-term unpredictable gains that the mining sector offers. Tourism operators in particular have voiced their opposition, as the potential impact on beaches and the Reef could damage the $5 billion per annum tourism industry across the Reef and thus put approximately 64,000 jobs at risk. This is particularly worrisome given recent reports that Reef is experiencing the worst coral bleaching ever recorded.