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Two electorates linked by political infighting and intrigue

Politics

It’s a tale of two electorates, only 100km apart but each with its own challenges and political backstory.

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Yet one thing Currumbin and Bundamba have in common is a dramatic plot twist: by-elections set down for March 28, sparked by the early retirement of the local MP – one Liberal, one Labor – who have each accused their own party of bullying.

If modern-day politics is polarising, you only have to dig a little deeper to find something to unite people. And the disenchantment shared by retiring MPs Jann Stuckey and Jo-Ann Miller may just reveal a similar, broader community sentiment at the ballot box.

Currumbin is as southeast as an electorate can be in Queensland, where the Gold Coast meets the New South Wales border. Stuckey won the seat as a Liberal in 2004 then held it under the Liberal National Party after the conservative merger.

In her maiden speech, Stuckey spoke of a changing electorate, where tin and fibro beach shacks were being demolished in order to house more retirees, and congestion had begun to affect locals’ quality of life.

Stuckey finished that speech with a quote – “Character is the ability to listen to your heart, hear what it says and follow it through, no matter what in your mind you think you may lose.”

Certainly, Stuckey listened to her heart last year when she made the decision to retire, and openly reflected on her battle with depression. She had endured public and private criticism, particularly over a conscience vote to support the decriminalisation of abortion, and pointed to “cone of silence type of vilification” from the LNP.

Only weeks later, Miller, the veteran Labor member for Bundamba, spoke of finding parliament to be “the loneliest place in the world”. Having stood aside as a minister due to integrity issues, only to be shut out entirely, Miller said she would rather stay in Ipswich than make the drive in to Brisbane knowing her own party would ostracise her.

“They make it very clear whether you are part of the Labor Party or not,” Miller said. She later resigned, a decision also influenced by health issues, in her case surgery to remove a tumour.

Labor has since endorsed Electrical Trades Union official turned government staffer Lance McCallum to contest the Bundamba by-election, which comes as Ipswich also votes on a new council after the spectacular downfall of long-time mayor Paul Pisasale.

Bundamba is working class, with Census data showing an unemployment rate that is above the state average, whereas Currumbin performs much better. By way of contrast, Stuckey may have sought to protect the beaches and green valleys of Currumbin, but Miller had to contend with outbound garbage trucks turning her electorate into “Tipswich”.

In the Bundamba by-election, there is every chance of a backlash over secret factional deals, and the party machine riding roughshod over locals, as has already occurred with the LNP in Currumbin. There, Stuckey wanted a local lawyer, Chris Crawford, to replace her, but said the LNP “wanted a skirt” and chose colourful newcomer Laura Gerber, who locals might regard as a “blow-in”.

While Currumbin is marginal for the LNP, and could easily change hands, Bundamba has long been a safe Labor seat. This time, however, One Nation have put up a candidate, Sharon Bell, who will steal notional Labor votes. The LNP’s Rob Shearman will be keen to reduce the margin, while Labor would be happy to get it done without too much drama.

Ahead of a state election in October, perceptions matter the most in these two local contests. Labor needs to hold Bundamba, lest it appear there is a simmering protest vote against the Palaszczuk government that could boil over within months. But, equally, the LNP would like to show it can be competitive, in both Bundamba and Currumbin, and capable of again fielding a winning team.

The by-elections aren’t a preview of the main game in October, but they will shine a light on the workings of the major parties and grassroots voter sentiment. How the major parties try to spin the results will also give a good indication of the strategies they are preparing for the state election.

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