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What’s happening in Queensland?

Nov 11, 2019 • 16m30s

Lech Blaine grew up in country Queensland. After the 2019 federal election, he spent several weeks driving around the state, trying to understand what makes it different.

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What’s happening in Queensland?

118 • Nov 11, 2019

What’s happening in Queensland?

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media. I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

Lech Blaine grew up in country Queensland. After the 2019 federal election, he spent several weeks driving around the state, trying to understand what makes it different from anywhere else. He found people with a strong desire to be treated with respect and a picture far more contradictory than it seems.

[Theme ends]

[Car horns, people yelling]

Archival tape -- Pauline Hanson:

“Don’t sit in your armchairs whining about it. What do these protesters know about it? They come from the yuppie states down south, have know idea what it means to the people of Clermont and in Queensland mining.”

Archival tape -- Unidentified Woman:

“They have a really high bullshit meter, OK? If you’re telling bullshit, they know.”

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“How Goods Queensland?”

ELIZABETH:

Lech, you spent the better part of last month driving around Queensland for The Monthly, trying to understand what makes the state so unique politically. Is there somewhere that stands out in your mind as a place to start answering those questions?

LECH:

Yeah, I think that Clermont was one of the places that kept on coming up. You've got this community of 3000 people, which is sitting at a point that kind of encapsulates a lot of the different political currents running through Queensland.

ELIZABETH:

Lech Blaine is a writer from country Queensland.

LECH:

So it's trapped in the battlefield, I guess, of beef, coal and reef country. More vitally, it's the closest settlement to the Carmichael coal mine, a.k.a. Adani.

The federal electorate is Capricornia, it's been held by Labor for roughly 75 percent of the time since its creation in 1901. And yeah now in 2019, it was ultra marginal. It's been held by the LNP for the past two elections.

ELIZABETH:

And what makes it such an important place right now?

LECH:

So three weeks before the election, Bob Brown's ‘Stop Adani’ convoy set out into Queensland.

Archival tape -- Bob Brown:

“We are here with a very simple message which is you can vote for Adani and more coal mines, or you can vote for your children and a safer Australia, but you can’t vote for both.”

LECH:

And that convoy sort of became seen as emblematic of all of these protests that have been happening across the state, which people in rural Queensland, rightly or wrongly, were extremely angry about.

So you had a local publican called Kel Appleton who organized a counter protest in Clermont as the convoy was about to arrive.

Archival tape -- Kel Appleton:

“You know, it’s just like so stupid and this idiot going to, you know, to drive up here, and force their rhetoric on us… it’s ludicrous and we need to stand up and show these people we can. They’re dragging us to our knees, is what they’re doing.”

LECH:

He sort of said it best when he said, 'I'm half proud of being called a redneck.'

Archival tape -- Kel Appleton:

“And I will be till the day I die.”

LECH:

So you had all these all these people there who they sort of saw that as a badge of pride.

When the convoy arrived in town, they were met by Clermont locals. But also a lot of these sort of right wing ringleaders, such as Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer.

Archival tape — Clive Palmer:

“But what is happening to this country? For god’s sake we’ve got to get it going again, give it a kick!”

ELIZABETH:

Lech, the local anger and protests, of course it was about jobs but it's more than that, isn’t it?

LECH:

Yeah, absolutely.

Like, a lot of the people locally who'd been quite opposed to Adani because of the agricultural effects, seemingly almost overnight became united with Adani because of the arrival of the convoy. You had coal miners united with cattle farmers to say that we're not gonna get told what to do by greenies and by environmentalists from Melbourne, from Tasmania, from Sydney.

ELIZABETH:

So the anti-Adani movement has the effect of uniting central Queensland?

LECH:

Yeah, yeah, there was a sense that these people who believe in the Australian idea of ‘a fair go’ and that Adani weren't getting a fair go.

Right across the spectrum with farmers, with coal miners, they all see the Greens as an enemy, rightly or wrongly. And so they sort of came to see Adani as an ally by virtue of the fact that they were a direct enemy of Bob Brown.

A lot of people were saying to me, we're naturally sympathetic towards Labor. But Labor has changed and we haven't changed...

Tape —
[Applause]

LECH:

You know, one of the best things that Scott Morrison did was he basically disowned the political system, even though he'd been the direct beneficiary of that political system and basically pitched himself as being outside of politics. He was just this normal guy...

Archival tape -- Scott Morrison:

“My family story is not uncommon in our country… Meet someone amazing, I did, there she is, Jenny, create a life and a family together, work even harder to support them and give them the choices for hopefully an even better life than the one you have, save for your retirement… “

LECH:

And so people could register their displeasure with the rest of the political system by either voting for him or by giving him their preferences over Labor.

ELIZABETH:

So these seats that have historically favoured Labor, they then swung to the LNP?

LECH:

Yeah, yeah, so the two party preferred swing to the LNP was 11.72 in Capricornia, in Dawson, just further north, the swing was 11.24 percent. So, if you look back at 2007, what you had was Labor Party running on an unashamed platform of policies like ratifying Kyoto, introducing an emissions trading scheme and apologising to the Stolen Generations. And winning a primary vote of 55.8 percent in Capricornia. In 2019, Labor had a primary vote of 23.7 percent, which just goes to show how much things can change in 12 years.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

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ELIZABETH:

Lech as part of your reporting on Queensland, you also spent time with Kevin Rudd, he’s only one of four prime ministers from the state since Federation. In his view, what makes Queensland different from the rest of the country?

LECH:

So, yeah, I met with Rudd on the thirty sixth floor of Waterfront Place, it's right smack bang in the middle on the Brisbane River. And so Kevin Rudd gives a bunch of reasons for what makes Queensland so different to the rest of the country. For one, Queensland can be extremely parochial. Historically and so a lot of these provincial cities moving further north weren't actually connected to the south. They developed along a western parallel. So what you had was Rockhampton on a railway line connecting with places like Barcalidne and Longreach. And then Townsville having a railway line which connected to places like Mt Isa.

And they really didn't have much of a social or economic connection to even Brisbane, let alone places like Melbourne and Sydney. So they've developed this deep siege mentality against multiple southern enemies, and pinned their survival on the protection of local industries, mainly based on agriculture and mining.

ELIZABETH:

Tell me more about the siege mentality that you describe, the mentality that Rudd also pointed out.

LECH:

Yeah well it's quite visceral. Rudd, I could tell that, he sort of really wanted to get it off his chest… One thing that unites all Queenslanders is a general ‘fuck you’ towards people from the south.

ELIZABETH:

The other thing I wanted to talk about was the influence of the media in Queensland.

LECH:

Yeah well News Corp actually now owns more newspapers in Queensland than the rest of Australia combined. I didn't realise that even since the 2016 election, NewsCorp bought APN, which included mainly regional Queensland newspapers. And the reason why that has such a big effect is because, even though the newspaper industry in Australia has been in decline, I think there's generally a higher level of trust in, say, Rockhampton in their local newspaper than what there might be in, say, Sydney or Melbourne.

And Rupert Murdoch has united all these papers to have a pro-coal mining editorial bent and so that any attack on, say, Adani is pitched through the lens of this historical sort of disgruntlement that I've been talking about as being anti-Queensland.

And this is another example of Southerners trying to take away what's good about Queensland and take away their opportunities and take away their privilege.

ELIZABETH:

What about faith, how religious do you think Queensland is compared to the rest of the country? And what did Rudd have to say about that, in the context of the most recent election?

LECH:

Yes. So 15 of the top 25 most spiritual electorates are located in Queensland.

So Rudd was quite strident about the about the fact that it was a positive for Morrison to be seen as deeply religious. It was a positive for Morrison to be seen within a church just before the election. He definitely thinks part of the reason why Morrison was able to win such surprising swings in those seats is that he was able to mobilise religiously motivated voters.

ELIZABETH:

I'm wondering what you think this all means for Australian politics. I mean, the view that gets thrown around is that Queensland is a state off on its own. It's belligerent to all the rest of the country. It's holding on to coal because it doesn't want to be told what to do by other states. Is that view accurate, semi-accurate or is that view the problem itself?

LECH:

Yeah I… I don’t know… um… I think like, it's so much more complicated than I can even try to answer. Even within my own family, the more educated you are, the more progressive you voted. So I've got a sister on a farm who voted for the Nationals. I’ve got a brother who's a car dealer in Bundaberg who voted for the Liberals. So I've got a sister who's a neuropsychologist who voted for the Greens and then a brother who's a craft beer rep who voted for Labor. What this goes to show is it was like a branding decision about who represented them the best.

I think that a lot of the people that I spoke to who were quite angry with labor are exactly the sort of people who those policies should have been appealing to.

Archival tape -- Steve:

“Yeah like a lot of these vegans and these social justice warriors… carrying on about these… look at their background, they’re given opportunities that people in the bush will never get. You know what I mean, it just feels like they’re trying to keep us down…”

LECH:

I spoke to a miner named Steve…. Steve was a diesel fitter on a coal mine near Nebo, which is two hours south west of Mackay. He said to me that he doesn't love mining. He said, we stare at 20k's of scarred earth every day. You know that it’s not good for the environment. But what other alternative is there at the moment?

Archival tape -- Steve:

“If you’re a young kid born in a small town like Chinchilla or anywhere like that… the best bet if you want to get somewhere is to get into mining as operator because that’s the only way you’re gonna be able to make big money, otherwise you’ll be working down at Woolworths making bloody 15 bucks an hour…”

LECH:

What he related to me was that this isn't something that started in 2019 and it didn't start with the vegan protests. It didn't start with Adani. He grew up in this poor rural community, he said that in that community, the only option that you sort of saw for yourself economically was within the logging industry. And so he said that the logging industry closed down because of environmental factors. So he subsequently left that community. He went up north. He worked on cattle stations which were massively affected by the closure of live export. So he's then gone from there, started working on a coal mine.

He feels like nothing that he does is good enough, that he's sort of constantly being attacked by people who don't understand his lifestyle and who don't understand the precarity of his background.

ELIZABETH:

And this is the third time that the industry he’s working in has been shut down. And he’s really just wedded to that employment, not the mining itself.

LECH:

He said to me, I know a lot of people think that we're all dumb coal miners, bogans and the rest of it, which is how the media portrayed us when labor lost. But lots of people I work with hate coal mining. We're trying to set ourselves up. So when we have kids, we can send them to uni in Brisbane so they don't have to be shitty coal miners.

What you have here is, people who actually want to give their kids the privilege that they sort of bitterly resent in others and ultimately what these people are motivated in is their children's futures.

And that goes for someone like my sister Rebecca on a farm, who, she dropped out of school when she was 15. She had her first child when she was 16... She's got five kids, doesn't live a lavish lifestyle at all. But when I asked her after the election who she voted for, and she sort of said, ah, I voted for the Nationals. And I said, why? Why would you vote for the Nationals? And she said, negative gearing. So there's this sense that these economic policies are going to be good for their kids. Like even if it's not necessarily good for them. And so, yes, it plays out in all these sort of bizarre and surprising ways.

ELIZABETH:

And what do you think Queenslanders want? Impossible question to answer, but still one I’ll ask you nonetheless.

LECH:

[laughs] Um.. The thing that people kept on saying to me was that they don't sort of, I don't think that they thought that Scott Morrison was going to really deliver anything, and that was sort of borne out by the fact that he didn't really have any policies. It's not that they thought that Scott Morrison was going to improve their situation so much as they thought that he didn't look down on them.

ELIZABETH:

Lech thank you so much for taking the time to speak to us and giving so much of it.

LECH:

Yeah, no worries at all!

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

At least three people have been killed and 150 homes lost as bushfires burn across NSW and Queensland. More than 70 fires are burning. David Littleproud, the minister for emergency management, has warned there will be unprecedented bushfire conditions in the eastern parts of NSW on Tuesday - he’s told residents to brace themselves.

And in the UK, the Independent Office for Police Conduct will wait until after the election to reveal whether or not it is investigating the prime minister Boris Johnson for “possible criminality” over an alleged conflict of interest relating to his dealings with businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri while he was mayor of London. Arcuri is a friend of Johnson's and won major tech contracts while he was in office. The decision to delay the announcement has been condemned by Labour politicians.

This is 7am, I’m Elizabeth Kulas. See you Tuesday.

Lech Blaine grew up in country Queensland. After the 2019 federal election, he spent several weeks driving around the state, trying to understand what makes it different. He found people with a strong desire to be treated with respect amid a picture more contradictory than it seems.

Guest: Writer for The Monthly Lech Blaine.

Background reading:

“How Good is Queensland?” in The Monthly
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow and Elle Marsh. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

This episode was produced in part by Elle Marsh, features and field producer, in a position supported by a grant from the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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118: What’s happening in Queensland?