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Rabbit in the headlights as Labor parachutes in celebrity Coast candidate

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Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew was dropped into Burleigh to give Labor a chance on the Gold Coast – even if he only plays a supporting role.

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Ahead of the last election, Bartholomew, acting as a surfing advocate and unaligned community campaigner, lobbied both sides of politics to support a world surfing reserve on the Gold Coast. The seat where Bartholomew felt the parties would listen most was Burleigh, and that is where the former world surfing champ was most vocal.

When the Palaszczuk Government backed the reserve, Bartholomew was openly thankful and appreciative, something Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk did not forget. That is ostensibly how he came to be preselected as Labor’s candidate for Burleigh last week.

Sources close to the preselection say Palaszczuk personally endorsed Bartholomew ahead of any other nominee, including a well-regarded former diplomat turned foreign affairs and security adviser.

Yet the Premier’s office feigned ignorance when contacted by InQueensland last week, while party officials refused to return calls, preferring to pool their resources for a beachside announcement on Sunday. The election is October 31.

“This is not an easy time for anyone in this country and it’s not an easy time in the world, so I want to step up now,” Bartholomew told local reporters, flanked by Palaszczuk and Deputy Premier Steven Miles.

It is not known how long Bartholomew, 65, had been a member of the party – some say only a matter of days, which is not unusual for a high-profile candidate – or whether he had the leverage to demand certain policies of Labor.

Bartholomew will take on the sitting Liberal National Party member Michael Hart, who was untroubled by Labor’s former candidate Gail Hislop at the last two elections. Hart has been a lightning rod for criticism of LNP border and COVID-19 policies, having erected billboards calling for the resumption of travel to benefit business.

After a long weekend marred by traffic jams, Hart was still campaigning for re-election today, saying “a future LNP Government will build the second M1, fast-track M1 upgrades and will bust congestion by upgrading local roads”.

Labor had held Burleigh for more than a decade, under member Christine Smith during the heady days of the Beattie and Bligh governments, but it and other Gold Coast seats have since gone conservative again. Now, the region is front and centre of the pandemic and economic crisis.

For his part, Bartholomew told reporters on Sunday: “I challenge anyone to love the Gold Coast more than I do”.

Earlier this year, Bartholomew ruled out running for mayor, saying “not only does it require a heck of a lot of effort and money but I feel like I can actually achieve a lot from the outside”. He has previously spoken of being able to network on the beach – “I’ve surfed with prime ministers, state representatives, councillors and more” – and how surfers tend to be united by their concern for the environment and local heritage.

Bartholomew is normally associated with the Coolangatta beaches further south and may yet make his greatest contribution there, in helping local Labor candidate Kaylee Campradt in the seat of Currumbin. Campradt, who unsuccessfully contested the Currumbin by-election earlier this year, took to Facebook on Sunday to declare “Rabbit and I will always put the health and well-being of southern Gold Coast first”.

“I could not be happier that my friend Wayne Rabbit Bartholomew will be the Labor candidate for Burleigh!”

Campradt has influential supporters within the party. It remains to be seen whether Bartholomew, whose colourful autobiography Bustin’ Down the Door was made into a documentary about surfing in the seventies, will help her break through at this election.

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