The provincial seat of Leichhardt spans approximately 148 988 sq km. It’s home to 99 312 voters, in the towns of Aurukun, Bamaga, Cooktown, Hope Vale, Kowanyama, Kuranda, Lockhart River, Mossman, Pormpuraaw, Port Douglas, Thursday Island and Weipa. Over 80% of the population reside in and around the metropolitan city of Cairns.
Proclaimed in 1949, Leichhardt is named after Friedrich Leichhardt, an explorer and naturalist who disappeared, along with his party, in 1848 while attempting to cross the continent. The electorate’s boundaries were last gazetted in 2009.
From 1972 – 2010, Leichhardt was a bellwether seat. The trend was broken when Warren Entsch returned from a brief retirement in 2010, winning the seat for the LNP against a Labour government, with a two-party preferred swing to the LNP of 8.6%.
Entsch has held the seat for 17 of the last 20 years. Leichhardt is considered marginal with Labor requiring a swing of 5.7% to gain the seat.
In 2015 Entsch introduced the Marriage Legislation Amendment Bill to parliament. The LNP declared the need for a public referendum to settle the matter. It is estimated the poll will cost $158 million to stage. In contrast, the ALP has pledged marriage equality within 100 days of government.
Entsch is seeking re-election contested by Labor’s Sharryn Howes and the Green’s candidate Kirk Pudniks. Howes and Pudniks are first time contenders running for public office. Howes has experience in health and social services policy in Canberra, as well as frontline service delivery throughout Leichhardt.
Owing to its size and diversity of population, Leichhardt has a multiplicity of challenges. While the majority of constituents reside in Cairns, the remainder are spattered throughout the electorate in rural and remote communities, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island communities. At 16% Leichhardt has the second highest Indigenous population of all electorates.
Leichhardt has a wealth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural significance. The Traditional Owners of this region attempt to maintain their close connection with country. As of April 2016, approximately 3.4m ha (around 22% of Leichhardt) has been returned to the Traditional Owners under the Cape York Peninsula Tenure Resolution Program. This allows the Traditional Owners to manage the land while also providing economic opportunities. Quinkin Rock Art, recognised by UNESCO, is a prime example of cultural heritage tourism opportunities of the region.
In addition to tourism, primary industries include sugar, tropical fruit, aquaculture, cattle, fishing and mining. Leichardt’s tourism industry is heavily reliant on the GBR.
Recent scientific evidence suggests the GBR is in danger, with rising sea temperatures resulting from climate change, poor water quality due to agricultural run-off and loss of coastal habitat contribute to the reef’s ailments.
In the 2016 budget the LNP has promised an additional $70 million to the Reef Trust, and the re-allocation of $101 million ‘from within the National Landcare Programme to support the implementation of the Reef 2050 Plan’. These measures are aimed at improving water quality. They do not address rising water temperatures that stem from climate change.
Labor policy aims for 50% renewable energy by 2030, while the LNP targets 23% renewables by 2020. Neither party appears keen to address the use of fossil fuels outside of Australia, with both major parties supporting Australian coal for export.
Rising sea levels already impact some areas of Leichhardt. Low-set islands in the Torres Strait face seasonal inundation of sea water. The Department of Environment predicts a sea level rise of around 1 meter by 2100 without reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Should this happen much of Leichardt’s populace would be adversely affected - including Cairns city. Climate change will increase the rate and intensity of extreme weather events including cyclones and drought, which also threaten agriculture and aquaculture.
At 8.7% Cairns’ unemployment rate is well above the national average. At the 2011 census, Cape York’s unemployment rate was 12.6%. The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF), to be located in Cairns, aims to encourage infrastructure investment in the region, hopefully bringing employment.
The package was announced by Labor in 2013 and re-announced 6 months later by the ALP. The Cape York Region Package will improve access to Cairns and The Cape through the improvement of major Cape York roads and southern access corridors. Under this scheme funding has also been allocated for remote Indigenous community infrastructure.