Electorate analysis: The central coast electorate of Burnett surrounds but does not include Bundaberg, from which it extends southwards to Childers and northwards along the coast to Agnes Water and Turkey Beach. It was one of the 16 original electorates proclaimed upon the establishment of self-government in 1859, although it was abolished in 1931 and re-created in 1960. Two National/Country members held the seat from 1960 until 2001, when Labor’s Trevor Strong did very well to unseat incumbent Doug Slack in a two-horse race by 1.7 per cent. One Nation came within 2.3 per cent of victory in 1998 from 36.4 per cent of the primary vote, but were thwarted by the flow of Labor preferences to the Nationals. The seat returned to the Nationals fold in 2004 after their candidate Rob Messenger picked up a 4.3 per cent swing in another two-horse race.
Rob Messenger was well known locally before his election victory as an ABC Radio presenter, and has enjoyed an even higher profile since. He was assigned the role of Shadow Education and Arts Minister immediately after his election, moving to environment when the Coalition agreement was reached in September 2005. The previous March, Messenger tabled in parliament the letter from Bundaberg Hospital nurse Toni Hoffman which blew the lid off the Doctor Death scandal, and was at first criticised for doing so by Health Minister Gordon Nuttall, Bundaberg MP Nita Cunningham and Australian Medical Association of Queensland president David Molloy.
Messenger moved to the police and corrective services portfolios after the 2006 election, but his status within the parliamentary party thereafter declined. He was contentiously demoted to tourism, regional development, small business, industry and Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander partnerships when Lawrence Springborg took over the Nationals leadership from Jeff Seeney in January 2008, and the LNP merger in August 2008 further reduced his workload to tourism and small business. A bid for the deputy leadership after the 2009 election failed to attract support, and insult was added to injury when incoming leader John-Paul Langbroek dropped him from the front bench.
Messenger quit the LNP in February 2010 simultaneously with Beaudesert MP Aidan McLindon, complaining of the party’s “flawed political process” and going so far as to suggest he might back Labor in government under a leader other than Anna Bligh. Whereas McLindon has since become a spearhead of first the Queensland Party and then Katter’s Australian Party, Messenger has remained an independent. He indicated he might be interested in joining the latter party if it promised to support a list of policy demands which included “sending back” asylum seekers, banning sharia law in Australia and boosting the size of the military, but he will instead contest the election as an independent.
The new LNP candidate is QBuild district manager Stephen Bennett, who won an uncontested preselection in March. Labor has endorsed Burgowan aged carer Stuart Tomlinson.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Please direct corrections or comments to pollbludger-AT-crikey.com.au. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.