In 2011 Flynn had the nation’s fifth highest proportion of the workforce employed in the mining industry, but the end of the boom has hit the region hard. Photo by: Lock the Gate Alliance, Flickr
Many rural areas in Flynn are close to mines and as the industry takes a turn for the worse, there are serious economic issues being faced by the voters. A large electorate, Flynn also has some coastal towns at the edge of the Great Barrier Reef. However, the main industries include coal, oil, gas, orchards, cotton, grain and cattle.
Proclaimed ahead of the 2007 federal election, Flynn has not been spared controversy over the past decade. Initially, when drafting the electoral boundaries, the electorate was given the name Wright as a tribute to Australian poet Judith Wright. However, given that the new electorate borders onto Capricornia, which was formerly held by Keith Wright (who was convicted of serious sexual offences before his death in 2015), constituents were outraged by the choice. The seat was then renamed after the founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and face of the Australian $20 note, Reverend John Flynn. Controversy re-arose following the 2009 redistribution which strengthened Labor’s margin by two per cent.
Since its proclamation there have been two members, one Labor and one Liberal National. In 2007 Labor’s Chris Trevor was elected as part of the ‘Ruddslide’ that saw Kevin Rudd become Prime Minister. The Liberal National Party’s Ken O’Dowd has held the seat since 2010 when Mr Trevor was unseated. Mr O’Dowd has a background in business and has previously operated a fuel distributorship, a hardware store and a pub. He has sat on and chaired standing, joint standing and joint select committees and will recontest the seat in July.
The electorate is the fourth largest division in Queensland, measuring about 133,063sq km. Flynn spans across Central Western and Central Eastern Queensland and includes the main centres of Gladstone, Emerald, Gracemere, Biloela and Blackwater. The seat is classified as rural, meaning that the majority of voters are enrolled outside the provincial cities. At the 2011 Census 148,122 people were recorded as residents in the division with 95,357 enrolled to vote at the 2010 federal election. The majority (82.3 per cent) of these residents were born in Australia.
Flynn is a marginal seat, meaning that the elected candidate won with less than 56 per cent of the vote. At the 2013 election, Mr O’Dowd had 46.02 per cent of the first preference vote followed by Mr Trevor with 33.44 per cent. As a marginal seat Flynn could swing back to Labor and is an important electorate for the Coalition to retain to maintain Government. Thus, the electorate will be of great interest to both parties.
Mining, heavy industry and agriculture are the main industries operating in Flynn. Products include coal, gas, oil, cattle, grain and cotton. In 2011 Flynn had the nation’s fifth highest proportion of the workforce (10.1 per cent) employed by the mining industry. A further 4,171 people were employed by the cattle and grain farming industries in 2011. The main provincial city of Gladstone is also home to the world’s fourth largest coal terminal and the primary means of export for the electorate, the Port of Gladstone. A total of 53.2 million tonnes of coal were exported from the port in 2010-2011.
Given the dominance of the mining and agriculture industries in the electorate, climate change could be a dominant issue in the 2016 campaign. It is s sensitive issue, given the two major parties have such divergent views on climate change. Another point of difference between the major parties is marriage equality. Mr O’Dowd previously voted against changes to the Marriage Act but has said he will continue to vote on the electorate’s behalf and reflect its position. Mr O’Dowd has also said he was open to an investigation into banks and the financial sector.
Other electorate-specific issues include the end of the mining boom and unemployment, particularly youth unemployment. Due to the high proportion of workers previously employed in the mining industry, the decline in the mining boom has devastating potential. The recent Queensland Major Contractors Association’s Major Projects report predicted that zero per cent of Queensland’s workforce would be working on Central Queensland’s major projects in the 2016-2017 financial year. Thus, the end of the mining boom and the corresponding reduction of demand in the housing market will contribute to the issue of unemployment. In March the unemployment rate for the statistical area of Fitzroy (which includes Gladstone, Rockhampton and Emerald) was 6.8 per cent compared to the national unemployment rate of 5.8 percent. Fitzroy’s March youth unemployment rate rose by 1.3 percent from March 2015 to 11.5%.