Herbert is a marginal seat held by Liberal National Party member and Government whip, Ewen Jones, since 2010. Jones holds it on a margin 6.17%, which barely meets the criteria of the Australian Electoral Commission’s “fairly safe” category. So all candidates will treat the seat as marginal.
The boundaries of this provincial division range from the Bluewater area to the north of Townsville; to the Hervey Range in the west; and the southern boundary runs predominantly along the Ross River, from the coast to the Ross River Dam.
The district also comprises Magnetic Island, Great Palm Island, and – on the mainland – Lavarack Barracks, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA), the Australian Institute for Marine Science (AIMS), James Cook University and the CSIRO research hub.
Named after Sir Robert Herbert (1831-1905), the first Premier of Queensland from 1860-66, Herbert was proclaimed at the time of Federation in 1900/1901. Former publican and Mayor of Bowen Fred Bamford (1849-1934) was the first elected Member for Herbert in the first Federal government (1900/1901). Originally from Dubbo, NSW, Bamford moved to Queensland, first living in Mackay and Cairns before settling in Townsville as a journalist.
The electorate’s highest populated area is the city of Townsville. In 2015, there were 166,283 people living in the electorate. This figure is expected to rise to over 200,000 with the expansion of the defence outlined in the 2016 Defence White Paper and the Northern Development Infrastructure loan of $5bn to develop northern Queensland in the next decade.
The White Paper sets out plans for new and upgraded facilities and infrastructure at the Townsville RAAF, upgrades to the ADF training areas in northern Australia by 2020, and completion of the Defence Logistics Transformation Program later this year.
A recently announced Cooperative Research Centre for Developing Northern Australia, which will benefit from $75 million in Federal Government funding over the next 10 years, is expected to bring jobs to the electorate.
Despite future opportunities, unemployment is currently at 12.5%, the highest in Australia, with 13,100 people looking for employment in March 2016.
The current unemployment crisis, and a fear that the region is regularly overlooked as a target for future investment and infrastructure projects, dominates the electorate. Unemployment is at the forefront of voters’ minds, and the 800 job losses with the sudden and unexpected closure of Clive Palmer’s Yabulu Nickel Refinery has added to the problems since April.
Experts estimate a further 6100 former “Townsvillians” have left the region’s workforce in search of jobs elsewhere. With the election looming, and the Herbert electorate calling for a solution to its unemployment crisis, candidates who can offer solutions that best address these interests are strong contenders.
Water security is the second biggest issue, with the electorate officially declared in drought last November. There is bipartisan support for a new dam at Hell’s Gate, on the Upper Burdekin River. Other options being considered are raising the Burdekin Falls Dam wall and duplicating a pipeline from the Haughton River.
The current contenders for the seat are Jones, Cathy O’Toole (ALP) and Wendy Tubman (Greens). Jones and O’Toole competed for the seat in the 2013 election. The candidates are attempting to encourage voters by offering solutions to unemployment, and pledging state and federal funds to invest in the region.
Federal debates, such as the one around the Australian economy focussing on fossil fuels as opposed to renewable energy, might prove to be pivotal. How candidates will weigh the economic interests of voters against potential environmental harms could be the deciding issue on July 2.