Sugar is a primary industry in Hinkler, which relies on agriculture and tourism. Photo by: Faungg's photos, Flickr
Bundaberg is the major city within the electorate of Hinkler and sugar and rum are therefore key industries. As a result, farming and agriculture are vital to the area. The region also has popular tourist and fishing towns lining Hervey Bay. The seat is held by the LNP's Keith Pitt.
Hinkler covers an area of 3, 504sq km from Burnett Heads and Bargara in the north to Hervey Bay and River Heads in the south. While the main centres of Bundaberg and Hervey Bay are located along the southern-central Queensland coast, the division also includes Howard and Childers to the west. This federal division was named after aviator Herbert John Louis (Bert) Hinkler, who grew up in Bundaberg. In 1928 Bert Hinkler achieved fame as the first person to fly solo from England to Australia. Hinkler is recognised as a provincial electoral division with the majority of electors enrolled in the major provincial cities.
The division was proclaimed ahead of the 1984 election when Prime Minister Bob Hawke and the Australian Labor Party were elected for a second term. The proclamation of the division coincided with the expansion of the House of Representatives from 125 seats to 148. Two more seats have since been added. The creation of the electorate of Flynn to the north ahead of the 2007 federal election caused Hinkler to lose Gladstone and gain Hervey Bay. The impact of this was reflected in a 3.5 per cent rise in the National Party margin from 4.8 to 8.3 per cent. A further redistribution in 2009 resulted in a smaller coverage area and a 0.2 per cent reduction in the National margin.
In 2015, 142, 636 people were living in the electorate. Data from the 2011 census reveals that the region is home to a large number of retirees and in 2011 had the nation’s second highest percentage (21.4 per cent) of residents over 65. Of the residents, 80.5 per cent were born in Australia with 4.7 per cent born in England and 2.6 per cent born in New Zealand.
Hinkler is a fairly safe LNP seat, meaning the winning candidate received between 56 and 60 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. The incumbent Keith Pitt (LNP) received 59 per cent of the vote at the 2013 federal election. However, there was a 1.3 per cent swing towards Labor which resulted in the seat moving from safe to fairly safe status. The history of the seat reflects its status. The National Party’s Bryan Conquest was Hinkler’s first representative, and held the seat from 1984 to 1987. In 1987 Brian Courtice became the electorate’s first Labor (ALP) representative. The Liberal National Party’s Paul Neville then held the seat from 1993 until his retirement in 2013. The incumbent Keith Pitt was elected as Mr Neville’s replacement.
Prior to his election, Mr Pitt completed a Bachelor of Computer and Electrical Engineering at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT). He has also been a sugar cane farmer and worked for Bundaberg Sugar. Since his election in 2013 Mr Pitt has been on joint standing and joint select committees and four House of Representatives standing committees. In February of this year Mr Pitt became the Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister.
Despite the swing at the last election, it is highly likely that the LNP will retain this seat given its fairly safe status. In fact, if the seat of Hinkler falls to Labor it would almost be certain that there would be a change of government. This is in the context of a uniform swing of 4 per cent being the measure of the movement required to change government. The election will also allow constituents to rate the performance of Mr Pitt after his first term.
Tourism and agriculture are the main industries in Hinkler. Products include nuts, tomatoes and sugar. Bundaberg is also famous for its rum industry. Issues facing the electorate include youth unemployment and the impact of the “Backpacker’s tax”. Hinkler has the third highest youth unemployment rate in Queensland and one of the highest in Australia at 19.4 per cent. The “backpacker’s tax” means that people on working holidays have to pay 32.5c for every dollar they earn up to $80,000.
A long term Bargara resident said that growers and the economy relied on backpackers. “If we don’t have them a whole lot of people would be in trouble,” he said. “They’re not doing right by the growers.” There has also been talk about the possibility of scuttling the ex-HMAS Tobruk off Hervey Bay. The Bargara resident said Mr Pitt had been pushing for this to happen. “I think it’s a great idea,” he said. “It’ll bring more people to the area.”