Skip to content

Federal election: Could battle for marginal seat of Leichhardt spell trouble in paradise for Warren Entsch?

The marginal far north Queensland seat of Leichhardt has long been won by the party that forms government, and this year it is shaping up to be one of the battles to watch.

Liberal MP Warren Entsch has held the sprawling seat for more than two decades, an area that spans from Cairns to the Torres Strait and covers an area twice the size of Tasmania.

Many in the region’s diverse community are doing it tough, dealing with the pandemic’s damage to the tourism industry, cost-of-living pressures and homelessness in one of the tightest rental markets in the country.

More than 80 per cent of the population of Leichhardt lives in the Cairns metropolitan area.(Supplied: Queensland government)

At 71, Mr Entsch is one of the longest serving MPs and is considered a key player in ensuring Prime Minister Scott Morrison retains the top job.

Such is the nature of the bellwether electorate, which is held by the LNP with a margin of just 4.2 per cent.

Mr Entsch, a part-time grazier and champion of gay rights, announced his intention to withdraw from politics on the night of his 2019 election win, to spend more time with his family.

“I was absolutely ready to go, there was no question about it,” he said.

He said he later reconsidered because he “had more work to do” in the electorate.

A view of the Daintree forest with the reef in the distance.
The seat of Leichhardt is home to the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, north of Cairns.(ABC News: Jesse Thompson)

Despite being victorious on the eight occasions he has contested Leichhardt – he did not contest the 2007 election that saw the ALP take power under Kevin Rudd – he said he was not guaranteed of a win.

“We’ve had challenges that have been unprecedented this term, floods, fires, droughts, plague, pandemic, and the risk of a war.

“People are concerned, they’re angry.”

Two small tropical islands photographed from the air
Dauar Island (forefront) and Waier Island in the Torres Strait formed part of the vast electorate.(Supplied: Trevor Lambkin)

Mr Entsch’s fiercest competition is Labor’s Elida Faith, 50.

It’s the second election in a row the union organizer has contested the tropical seat. In 2019, the LNP won most polling places in Cairns and Port Douglas while Labor won in many Indigenous communities.

Mr Entsch won with 54.2 per cent of the vote after preferences, while Ms Faith secured 45.8 per cent.

“My passion and determination did not go away that last federal election night,” Ms Faith said.

There’s also a mixed bag of minor parties and independents that have thrown their hat in the Leichhardt ring, including former North Queensland Cowboy player Rod Jensen, who is running for Katter’s Australian Party.

The country’s first Indigenous person to become a magistrate, Pat O’Shane, is running for the Socialist Alliance while Cairns real estate agent Geena Court is running for Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

There are 11 candidates in all vying for the seat.

A ‘rollercoaster’ two years

The Leichhardt electorate has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with international and domestic border closures devastating the major industry of tourism.

It is estimated more than 9,000 tourism jobs have been lost since the pandemic began, with many employed in the industry pivoting to other work, leaving operators struggling to find staff as tourists trickle back to the region.

Roderic Rees runs several white-water rafting operations in far north Queensland and said it had been a “rollercoaster” two years.

A man stands in front of rafting boats
Roderic Rees says attracting workers to an area with a lack of housing is challenging. (ABC Far North: Kristy Sexton-McGrath)

He said attracting staff from interstate to an area with a lack of housing was one of the biggest challenges facing the region.

“There’s nowhere for these people to live,” Mr Rees said.

Torres Strait islands at risk from climate change
Torres Strait island communities say their pleas for funding have gone unanswered.(abcnews)

Meanwhile, at the very tip of Australia, another crisis is unfolding – Indigenous leaders in the Torres Strait say homes are being washed away by rising sea levels and extreme weather.

Torres Strait Island Regional Council Mayor Phillemon Mosby said climate change was threatening their way of life and would be the major election issue for that region.

“Places of significance such as burial sites have been impacted by climatic changes and the prospect of losing more such sites is a reality,” Mr Mosby said.

A man stars at the camera.
Phillemon Mosby says climate change is one of the biggest issues facing the region.(ABC Far North: Kristy Sexton-McGrath)

“There needs to be a commitment from the Commonwealth government, to a national policy, looking at how they decrease carbon emissions.

“We understand the Australian government’s appetite is for bigger countries to drop the targets, but we need to see our government take real action, because we are already vulnerable, living in our communities.”

‘There is a disconnect’

The sprawling wilderness of Cape York Peninsula also falls into the Leichhardt electorate.

Emma Jackson, who works on the family’s Wolverton Station in the middle of the Cape, said the area could be cut off for months at a time due to flooded roads and she would like to see more funding to improve the major route from Cairns to the typ.

A woman patting a horse
Emma Jackson says communities being cut off during the wet season due to flooded roads is a major issue in the area. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

She said residents relied heavily on the Royal Flying Doctor Service, due to a lack of health care facilities in the region.

“There is a disconnect between what the government sees Cape York being and what Cape York really is,” Ms Jackson said.

While the seat of Leichhardt may be a long way from Canberra, it’s an electorate that is often won by the party that goes on to form government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese have flown in since the official election campaign began, and more visits are expected in the coming weeks.

Scott Morrison holds a red-tailed black cockatoo during a press conference at a far north Queensland wildlife park.
Scott Morrison has visited Cairns in the seat of Leichhardt twice this year to shore up support for Warren Entsch.(ABC Far North: Kristy Sexton-McGrath)

Former Queensland Labor speaker John Mickel said the amount of money and time being thrown at Leichhardt was a sign both major parties thought they had a chance.

“Forget all the opinion polls, always look for where the leaders are going,” Mr Mickel said.

He said with 11 candidates running and huge diversity across the seat, the outcome was far from certain.

“You’ve got the Cape, which is predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, then within Cairns itself, you’ve got a green grouping and then as you move south to the newer and younger suburbs.

“It’s an electorate that moves in different parts, so it needs different messages in different parts of the seat.”

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.

Play Video.  Duration: 7 minutes 53 seconds

Will independents win big this election?

Loading form…

posted , updated

.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.