Mt Coolum is one of many tourist spots in the electorate, and borders the Palmer Coolum Resort. Photo by Angus Veitch, Flickr
Prior to the Palmer United Party's success in 2013, the seat of Fairfax was held by the Liberal National Party from 1990. Clive Palmer won the election by 53 votes. Fairfax covers the central part of the Sunshine Coast region in Queensland. Agriculture and tourism are primary industries of the area.
Fairfax, the land of “dinosaurs”, is actually one of the youngest federal electorates in Australia after it was proclaimed in 1984. During its short but “Jurassic” history, it has been the base for one of the country’s most polarising political and business figures, Clive Palmer of the Palmer United Party. He was made infamous for running the Palmer Coolum Resort into the ground after introducing a "Palmersaurus" theme park and losing the coveted Australian PGA Golf Championships.
The mining magnate, who was once reportedly worth $2.2 billion, won the seat in 2013 against the LNP’s Ted O’Brien in sensational fashion. Mr O’Brien comfortably won the first preference vote with 41.4% to Mr Palmer’s 26.5%, but second preference voting showed Mr Palmer had won by just seven votes. Mr Palmer was eventually sworn in after a recount showed a 53-vote victory.
That controversy foreshadowed what was to come during Mr Palmer’s tenure as the Fairfax representative. He was caught sleeping and counting money in Parliament, but most seriously and recently was found to have acted recklessly as shadow director of Queensland Nickel. The company is facing liquidation after Mr Palmer reportedly used company money to fund his own business endeavours, such as the Palmer Coolum Resort’s Titanic II project, while owing QN workers millions of dollars. Mr Palmer faced an almost impossible task of re-election in 2016 after a public backlash, and withdrew from the House of Representatives' race on May 4.
Prior to Mr Palmer’s election, the electorate of Fairfax was a comparatively undisputed and uncontroversial one. For 29 years, the LNP dominated the region with Evan Adermann holding the seat for the first six after representing the neighbouring division of Fisher for 12 years for the National Party. The LNP’s Alex Somlyay then held it for the next 23 years.
Geographically the provincial electorate is situated around the Sunshine Coast’s Maroochy River in south-east Queensland, about an hour’s drive north on the Bruce Highway from Brisbane. It is spread across 1036 sq km of coastline from Maroochydore to Coolum Beach in the east, and stretches west through one of the Coast’s oldest towns of Nambour to the farming dairy farming community of Kenilworth along the Mary River. In the north lies the hinterland town of Eumundi best known for its markets. Despite covering a vast area, the majority of the residential population is situated in the south east of the electorate around the Sunshine Coast CBD of Maroochydore and in Mountain Creek and Buderim.
Much of the Sunshine Coast was developed on the back of crushing sugar cane at the mill in the once prosperous Nambour. After more than 100 years of operation the mill closed in 2003 and sent the local economy into a spiral. But affordable house and rental prices have started to make the area popular once again. Nambour is also home to the Sunshine Coast’s largest hospital.
Agriculture forms a portion of the Fairfax economy through tropical fruit, avocado and ginger. The Buderim Ginger Factory was opened during World War I and exports above-industry standard ginger to 17 countries. The company’s base operations have moved to Yandina where it has belonged for 40 years and has become a tourist attraction. The Kenilworth region is known for its dairy and cattle farming and is home to the Kenilworth cheese factory.
Fairfax is also home to the Sunshine Coast Airport, which houses Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin planes, and has international flights to New Zealand and Hawaii. The Sunshine Coast is now waiting for the State Government’s approval for a $347 million upgrade that will help the food and agribusiness export sector. Sunshine Coast Council Mayor Mark Jamieson recently used the project as the focal point of his successful re-election campaign. Another major aspect of the airport development is the extra tourism it will bring for a local economy that already has a heavy reliance on the industry. The airport’s surrounding beach suburbs, such as Mudjimba and Coolum, host high-rise holiday accommodation, as well as parts of Maroochydore. The airport is also a link to other nearby popular destinations such as Noosa and Mooloolaba.
The other major development in Fairfax is the Maroochydore CBD, which is a 60-hectare development that will completely overhaul the city centre. It is expected to create 14,000 new jobs. The development is expected to be ongoing for 20 years and the Sunshine Coast Regional Council has already pledged $32 million for work that began at the end of 2015. It came after the Council bought the longstanding Horton Park Golf Course in the heart of Maroochydore for $42 million in 2014.