Noosa Heads is at the southern edge of Wide Bay, and its residents have easier access to vital services. Photo by: Andrewdp, Flickr
Proclaimed in 1901, Wide Bay has predominantly been held by the Liberal National Party. Warren Truss has held the seat since 1990 and is retiring in 2016. Covering the tourist area of Noosa, Wide Bay’s industries are agriculture, heavy engineering and eco-tourism on Fraser Island.
Three-time Labor Party Prime Minister Andrew Fisher would be spinning in his grave if he could see the political state of his former federal division of Wide Bay today. Mr Fisher was the electorate’s representative from its inception in 1901 to 1915, but after more than 100 years there has been only one other Labor member in power. After Mr Fisher’s departure from office, Wide Bay has become a stronghold for the conservative National Party (and recently the merged Liberal National Party), which has won all but two elections since then. The current Wide Bay MP is former Nationals leader and former deputy prime minister Warren Truss, who stepped down from the role in March.
Mr Truss held many portfolios in his 26 years of federal politics, including and most notably Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and Minister for Infrastructure and Regional Development, which are pertinent roles to the electorate of Wide Bay. Before his stint in politics, Mr Truss spent years as Sugar Coast Burnett Regional Tourism Board chair, and Bulk Grains Queensland deputy chair. Sugar, grain and tourism are three of the biggest contributors to the Wide Bay economy.
The identity of Wide Bay is hard to pin down. The constituency spans 14,573 sq km with a coastline that includes the high-flying tourist and retirement destination of Noosa Heads in the far south-east and runs north up through popular camping towns, such as Rainbow Beach, and the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island. It is a World Heritage site that takes in thousands of eco-tourists every year and houses unique flora and fauna, including a small population of dingoes.
Slightly inland from Fraser Island is one of the electorate’s biggest population hubs of Maryborough, which was once home to Queensland’s biggest port. Today it is known for its historical attractions, and its main industries are sugar, timber and railway rolling stock. Downer Rail is the main engineering firm that operates out of Maryborough, but has been accused of being at imminent risk of closure by the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. The claim has sparked the "Save Our Jobs, Save Maryborough” campaign. Downer Group has since denied it will close the factory that employs 206 people. When the Nambour sugar mill on the Sunshine Coast closed in 2003, Maryborough became the centre of south-east Queensland’s sugar industry. The town has four crushing mills and employs 1000 people when they are all active. Seasons have fluctuated between prosperity and mediocrity since then with only 470,000 tonnes crushed in 2014, but in 2015 roughly double that amount was expected.
The other major town in Wide Bay is Gympie, north-west of Noosa and south from Maryborough along the Mary River. Towns like Maryborough, Noosa and Gympie have relied on the Queensland mining boom for its local economy in recent years. Those towns are home to thousands of fly-in, fly-out workers, but as more and more mines across the state are shutting down, many have been left without work. It is just one of many issues caused by the mining boom
Out in the far west of Wide Bay is the dairy and beef farming towns around Murgon. Another issue in the region is the disparity of healthcare in the more remote towns, such as Murgon, compared to the wealthier and populated areas, such as Noosa. The 2016 Wide Bay Community Survey revealed that 46% of respondents rated the hospital and health care among their top four most important concerns according to Mr Truss. In Murgon, 89% of people said they could readily access a general practitioner compared to 98% of people in Noosa. The South Burnett Times reports their investigation revealed that the life expectancy of a baby born in Murgon’s sister town of Kingaroy is 4.6 years less than one born in Ryde, Sydney.