Close battle in the Redlands over Toondah Harbour

WBT publishes this mainstream article (The Guardian) to show what a few good activists on the ground can do to challenge the cashed up LNP sitting member in the Redlands to stop Toondah Harbour development..

Queensland election’s ‘parallel with Warringah’: why independent Claire Richardson could topple LNP incumbent

A controversial $1.3bn project brings together angry voters from across the political spectrum in Mark Robinson’s electorate of Oodgeroo

Toondah Harbour

Claire Richardson, an independent candidate for Oodgeroo. There is strong local opposition to the Toondah Harbour development.

This week residents in Cleveland, a bayside community south of Brisbane, received a letterbox flyer from their local MP, the ultraconservative Liberal National Mark Robinson, talking up his environmental credentials.

All things being equal, the election campaign in Robinson’s safe seat of Oodgeroo would be a foregone conclusion. The born-again evangelical, who employs former Australian Christian Lobby head Lyle Shelton in his local office, won the seat with 52% of the primary vote in 2017.

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But there is a perfect storm brewing in Oodgeroo – a viable moderate independent candidate, Claire Richardson, and a prevailing local issue that has brought together angry voters from across the political spectrum.

For the best part of eight years, Robinson has been a forceful champion of the Toondah Harbour development – a controversial $1.3bn plan to reclaim Ramsar-listed wetlands and build an artificial harbour with 3,600 homes.

On his own website, Robinson has bemoaned delays to the project and criticised the state for deferring to the federal government.

In his flyer this week, Robinson now says his position is to wait for the results of a federal scientific assessment.

Toondah Harbour is notionally supported by both Labor and the LNP. But earlier this year a large survey of locals by a community group, Redlands 2030, found just 5% supported the plan.

LNP sources say the local groundswell of opposition has put the party “at serious risk, if not behind” in Oodgeroo. Polling commissioned by Richardson’s campaign this week puts her marginally ahead, 51-49.

Glenn Kefford, a political scientist from the University of Queensland, says the contest has many similarities to the federal seat of Warringah, where the former prime minister Tony Abbott lost to independent Zali Steggall last year.

“What’s interesting about this electorate is it’s one of those contests that’s always dangerous for an incumbent,” Kefford said.

“There’s an independent who has a profile, then there’s a local issue that is really resonating with voters, which has supporters from across the spectrum who are kind of coalescing around this opposition to the development. There’s a connection to the local community and that provides a level of energy to a campaign.

“There’s a parallel with Warringah in that there’s quite obviously a sizeable contingent of centre-right voters who support [environmental causes] and action on climate change but for a variety of reasons they don’t want to vote for Labor or the Greens.

“Absolutely the parallel between Mark Robinson and Tony Abbott is not too far away either. When you have [a very conservative MP], moderate Liberals can be more open to alternatives.”

‘I’m drawing votes from every party’

Toondah Harbour is listed by the Queensland government as a “priority development area”, a state-significant site identified for accelerated development. The tidal flats and mangroves are considered internationally significant and habitat for critically endangered migratory shorebirds.

The $1.3bn development proposal by Walker Corporation, a significant donor to both Labor and the LNP, has long been controversial. Documents have shown the developer lobbied the former federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg to remove the area’s Ramsar listing for wetlands of international significance as a matter of “urgent national interest”.

Steve MacDonald, a spokesman for Redlands 2030, which was established to oppose the Toondah development, said locals had both environmental and over-development concerns.

“This is a very conservative electorate because of the age profile, there’s a lot of retirees who own properties on the waterfront,” MacDonald said.

“They’re traditional LNP conservative voters who are just so pissed off what has happened to them with this proposal.

“We’re still working to make Toondah an election issue. Anyone who lives within 2-3km – which is most of Oodgeroo – and isn’t thinking about the impact of this thing on their long-term lifestyle or liveability is mad.”

Richardson narrowly lost the Redlands city mayoral election earlier this year, but polled 54% of the vote in the booths within Oodgeroo.

She says her position opposing the development has strengthened since the council election, informed by door knocking more than 2,000 homes in the electorate.

“I’d say 95% of people do not support that project. I’m basing my approach for the election on that feedback from the community. MPs have to represent the views of the community.

“What I’m finding is I’m drawing voters from every party. I’m getting that vote from disenchanted LNP supporters, also drawing votes from Labor supporters and I’m drawing the Greens vote as well.

“My aim is to draw from the best of each of the parties. Jobs, community, environment. But I don’t have vested interests, I don’t have any links with these parties.”

“I’m seen as someone who can win. I definitely can win.”

Controversial figure at risk

Oodgeroo includes the bayside town of Cleveland and neighbouring suburbs. It also includes Minjerribah-North Stradbroke Island, or Straddie to most Queenslanders who know the island as a quiet retreat close to the city.

There is a strong Green vote on Straddie but most of the mainland areas tend to favour the LNP.

Robinson has held the seat, formerly called Cleveland, since 2009. In that time he has often been a controversial figure.

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In 2015, Robinson posted tweets accusing fellow politicians of “Muspandering” in their comments about Islam. During the 2018 debate about decriminalising abortion in Queensland, Robinson called the Labor MP Jackie Trad, whose cultural background is Lebanese, “Jihad Jackie”.

Trad responded by calling Robinson – an evangelical pastor who has campaigned against legal abortion and marriage equality – “racist” and an “extremist”.

Robinson’s office did not return calls from the Guardian. In a statement given to the ABC earlier this week, the MP said the main issues for the electorate were “job security and the rising cost of living, including paying the rent or the mortgage”.

“A vote for a minor party like the Greens or a Green-like independent will elect a Labor government and will cost jobs,” he said.

“Now is not the time to risk an anti-development, anti-construction Green-like independent, when we need local construction jobs to drag us out of recession.”

Robinson was courted by One Nation before the 2017 election and the far-right party gave him an effective endorsement by not running a candidate in Oodgeroo.

Oodgeroo MP Mark Robinson with LNP leader Deb FrecklingtonThe LNP’s Mark Robinson with leader Deb Frecklington. He says the main issues in his electorate are job security and the rising cost of living. Photograph: Marty Silk/AAP

This time around One Nation is running a candidate and directing preferences to Robinson. Preferences from other candidates – Labor, the Greens and independents – will flow to Richardson.

Kefford said that meant Richardson was a significant chance of winning if she finished ahead of Labor on primary votes and was able to reduce the LNP’s primary vote.

“There will certainly be strategic voting go on,” Kefford said. “People who usually voted Labor in the Greens, if they think she’s the most likely to defeat Robinson, they’ll act strategically.”

In the wash up, Kefford thinks there will likely be bigger questions about whether the Liberal National party, whose vote in the urban areas is in consistent decline, can continue to appeal to moderate or “small l” Liberal voters in the city.

“If the LNP loses Oodgeroo and they fail to pick up any of those other marginals in Brisbane, that’s a real problem for them and their strategy going forward.

“There’s a real challenge there for the organisation to think about what their priorities are. Is it just about local issues or is there something bigger going on here?”

Ben Smee
The Guardian
Thu 29 Oct 2020 03.30 AEDT
Last modified on Thu 29 Oct 2020 03.33 AEDT