ANALYSIS: Fractures in regional Australia run deep

*This analysis piece was written and delivered before the final result was announced.

REGIONAL Queensland and New South Wales have been key players in this election.

Throughout the marathon campaign, polling consistently highlighted the diversity of issues that matter to regional voters, and the extent to which those issues vary depending on where voters live, their occupations, and the ease with which they are able to access key services such as healthcare, education and the NBN.

The marginal seats (under 5%) attract the most attention because, in close contests, they determine the outcome.

Across the Queensland and NSW regions, there is tension between the old agrarian socialist politics and the current market-driven coalition policies.

There is also evidence of 'Nimby' attitudes that at times appear contradictory.

For instance, voters who oppose coal seam gas (CSG) exploration, consistently with the Greens' policy, are often also in favour of live animal exports and tough laws relating to asylum seekers, such views aligning more closely with the major parties' policies.

This fracturing of interests highlights why the electoral campaigns across the regions have had to be targeted and personalised.

The question without an easy answer is how can any political party attract a groundswell of voter support considering these diverse and conflicting interests?

According to the Regional Wellbeing Survey, rural and regional Australians report high levels of dissatisfaction with their governments, more than any other grouping.

How then can the parties communicate that they understand their concerns, let alone plan policies that accommodate them?

Capricornia in Queensland is a case in point. Along with major towns, the electorate has significant pastoral and agricultural holdings as well as a heavy reliance on mining.

The mining downturn and subsequent loss of employment and devaluation of houses, along with concerns over youth mental health and general health care services, are all key issues of concern among Capricornia's constituents.

For some, the answer lies with independents. The seat of Kennedy, held by Bob Katter since 1993, is a good example.

Certainly, Katter is a strong advocate for his electorate. His controversial, gun-toting campaign ad showed his vehement opposition to foreign investment and was designed to separate him from the major parties.

Yet, as with all independents, unless there is a hung parliament (a possibility at the time of going to press), his influence on government policies is likely to be marginal at best.

In the Northern NSW marginal seat of Richmond, the Labor incumbent faced pressure from the Greens. The rise in support for the Greens highlighted the raw anger that surrounds the CSG issue in northern NSW, where local electors feel their voices are unheard.

Perhaps the most telling battle was that between Deputy PM Barnaby Joyce and Tony Windsor in New England.

Early predictions that Windsor would receive significant support suggested that a large proportion of voters had lost confidence in major parties to deliver for regional electors.

At the time of writing, Joyce looks like he has retained New England, voters seemingly opting for stability in the hope that, as deputy Prime Minister, he is best able to represent their views.  

Tracey Arklay
Snr Lecturer, School of Government and International Relations
Griffith University


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