Mount Isa, Kennedy's largest urban area. Image courtesy of Northern Star newspaper
Big-hat Bob Katter has been a high profile figure for the electorate of Kennedy for over two decades. Elected as a National Party member in 1993, he quit to become an independent in 2001. He formed his own party, Katter’s Australian Party, in 2013. Aside from a three-year hiatus between Bob Katter Jnr, and Bob Katter Snr, when Labor’s Rob Hulls (1990–1993) held the seat, the Katter family have been the sitting members since 1966.
The pressure is on in Kennedy with a noticeable shift from a very safe seat in 2010 to marginal in 2013. Six years ago Katter's Australian Party had a margin of 18.3% over the LNP. At the last federal election KAP's majority was slashed by 16.1% down to a 2.2% margin. Combine the drop in support and a relatively new group of candidates, it makes Queensland's largest electorate one to watch. There are calls from the LNP candidate Jonathan Pavetto for greater LGBT rights, and the ALP and Greens are also calling for improved internet and technology infrastructure, better youth services, higher mining taxes and investment in renewables.
Kennedy covers the northern Queensland outback and most of the Cape York peninsula. Covering the cities of Burketown, Gregory Downs, Richmond and Lancaster, it stretches to the northern tip of the Townsville region, and the edge of Cairns. Kennedy’s largest city, Mount Isa in the west, has a population of 22,000 people, and is heavily reliant on the mining industry to survive. Indigenous and Aboriginal issues are prevalent too. The 2011 census shows that at 13.3% Kennedy has the nation's fifth highest proportion of Indigenous residents.
Kennedy is named after Edmund Kennedy, who was a mid-nineteenth century explorer working as the Assistant-Surveyor of New South Wales under Sir Thomas Mitchell. The seat of Kennedy covers close to 570,000 sq km and was formed in 1901.
Kennedy is well known for its vast outback farmland feeding agriculture and tourism. Tourism money from Cape York is a major contributor to the electorate’s economy. Beef and dairy industries and large mining communities focused on zinc, copper and uranium are also at the forefront of voters’ minds. With concern over the China-Indonesia relations, and securing future live cattle exports, which brings in high yields for the local economy, there’s concern too that mining companies are not taxed enough and the middle class are taxed too much. This has led to some locals saying they "can't make ends meet as it is". The vast size of Kennedy can cause a gap between those living in fringe urban areas, the country and outback.
The electorate of Kennedy has had only seven members over the last century, including two father and son teams, Labor's David Riordan (1929-36) and son Bill (1936-66), and the two Katters.
Controversy clouded the 2013 federal election when the ALP’s original candidate, Ken Robertson, was stood down following revelations he had accused Tony Abbott of being a racist and wanting to bring back the White Australia Policy. Andrew Turnour, the ALP candidate for the 2010 election, was hurriedly drafted in during the second week of the campaign.
In 2016, the contenders are Katter (KAP), Pavetto (LNP), Norm Jacobsen (ALP), Valerie Weier (The Greens) and Donna Gallehawk from Family First. Katter’s Australian Party’s core values are Christianity, individuality and patriotism. Their ideological stance is one where a “modern Australia was founded on Christian values and a responsibility to one’s fellow man. This heritage belongs to all Australians and defines the culture of the nation.”
Former correctional supervisor Jacobsen is a business owner, farmer, union delegate and a tradesman among other things and wants to "make Kennedy matter". Jacobsen is taking his experience in the correctional system to address the high unemployment rates, especially in youth unemployment. “Jobs give and improve workers’ self-esteem,” he said. “Jobs give an example to children. Jobs provide income and therefore everything else stems from a stronger employment base.” Jacobsen says the creation of major projects are needed in curbing youth unemployment through the creation of new apprenticeships and traineeships.
Pavetto is a replacement for the previous candidate Noeline Ikin, who withdrew on health grounds. In 2010 Ikin gained almost 10,000 more votes than Katter, but Katter won on preferences. Pavetto is also a high profile figure on LGBT rights, an issue dividing the electorate, alongside gun rights, church and state.
The ALP and LNP both take a pro-LGBT stance whereas Katter infamously claimed (in 1989) that there were no homosexuals living in his electorate - promising to walk “backwards from Bourke to Brisbane” if any were found. He has since tempered his position and came under fire from his half-brother, who like Pavetto is gay and supports same sex marriage. "A friend or family member being gay isn't a big surprise to anyone anymore; north Queensland is a very accepting place,” Pavetto told The Sydney Morning Herald. “The electorate is different from when Mr Katter was elected."
Gun control is another issue, with many in Mount Isa calling for less gun control. Other issues are jobs, health and education. Younger voters would like to see satellite technology put in place to help push Kennedy into the 21st century. Jacobsen sees better internet as a way to decrease youth unemployment and improve mental health services. The Greens are looking for a reduction in mining support, and greater investment in renewable energy.