THE battle for the rural vote is ramping up in North Queensland as the State election campaign enters its final days.
The resurgence of the minor parties and the reintroduction of mandatory preferrential voting will be a major factor in determining the outcomes for seats including Hill and the Burdekin, political commentators say.
One Nation and Katter’s Australian Party are likely to be the kingmakers in key regional seats, as rural communities express their dissatisfaction with the perceived south-east centric mind sets of both Labor and the LNP.
But LNP Hill candidate Mario Quagliata is looking to change that.
Born and raised on a cane farm in Tully, Mr Quagliata continues the family tradition as a sugar producer and is also a respected small businessman.
The father of two has been involved with the LNP for nine years and decided to run for parliament when the new seat of Hill was created.
“Over the years the more I felt there was a lack of real people in parliament and rural people in politics,” Mr Quagliata said.
“After being pushed out of Hinchinbrook, I thought it’s a rural electorate, it suits me and I decided I’d have a crack at it and represent the people that my life experience is very similar to, to represent the people with the common interest, small business, farming and the wage earners that work in these rural towns.
“I’m getting a lot of positive feedback because of my background that i’m very in touch with the people, the Katter factor’s always going to be a hard one, but I still believe you can’t get as much done if your not party of a major party.
“We need to sort the party out and show we are still the party for rural electorates.”
JCU political scientist Dr Maxine Newlands said the preffences of minor parties could have a big impact in regional North Queensland seats.
She said all parties had been focusing on the regions during the campaign despite not being large population centres.
“The regional vote is really important, they’ve got to keep the regions happy and the farming communities,” Dr Newlands said.
“They are making sure the regions are acknowledged and the focus is not all on the south-east corner.”
“One Nation and Katters will have more influence in the next parliament as a regional voice for North Queensland.”
Dr Newlands said she believed Dalrymple MP and Katter’s candidate for Hill Shane Knuth would have strong support, as would KAP Cook candidate Gordon Rasmussen.
“It is because of Katter’s that Hill and also Traeger (which takes in KAP Mount Isa MP Robbie Katter’s area) will be worth watching.”
However, Dr Newlands said the LNP may pick up some votes in the coastal areas of Hill and the population centres south of Cairns.
Dr Newlands said Hinchinbrook, which now takes in the northern suburbs of Townsville, would also be worth watching due to strong One Nation support in that area.
She said the Burdekin electorate, which is currently held by the LNP’s Dale Last with 2.9 per cent margin would likely come down to preferences.
One Nation deputy state leader and Burdekin candidate Sam Cox said he believed voters in the region were disillusioned with the major parties.
“The feeling is astonishing how stalwart voters of both old parties are saying they have just had a gut-full, they are not being listened to and neither old party represents them, especially in the bush,” Mr Cox said.
”They feel neglected, feel like the minority and feel no one is speaking on their behalf.
“It’s not a protest vote, it is a deliberate swing away
“People are genuinely excited as they have not had this opportunity in a long time.
“Burdekin will be one of the most closely contested seats, but I go in starting as the underdog and if the people of Burdekin want the opportunity to hold the balance of power this is it.”
But Burdekin Labor candidate Mike Brunker said he felt the support for One Nation in his region was not as strong as perceived, and said the LNP had taken the seat for granted.
Mr Brunker said he believed the redistribution, which had eliminated southern Townsville suburbs, while taking in coal mining towns, would play to his advantage.
“Mining is my game and as an old coal miner, I know what the guys expect.
“It’s a huge seat and a powerhouse and they need the right representation to capitalise on that.
“We’ve got the biggest horticultural town in Bowen, the biggest sugar, beef, grain, coal terminal, we need someone who can speak up.”