Queensland Labor MPs faced quite a dilemma in the leadership tussle between Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. The party strongly backed Gillard and not many actually wanted to work with Rudd. But ‘people’s choice Kevin’ was still very popular with the electorate and extremely popular in Queensland.
So Capricornia MP Kirsten Livermore’s strong support of Julia Gillard at the leadership spill in February was always going to be troublesome. But it may prove much more costly than she imagined.
With Newspoll showing Labor’s primary vote at 27 per cent and the humiliating defeat of Labor in Queensland’s state election, strategists warn that Livermore’s 14 year reign over the seat of Capricornia may come to an end.
This would be a significant change given that, apart from a two-year blip (1996 – 1998), Labor has held the seat in northern Queensland since 1977.
Since winning office in 1998, the 42-year-old Livermore has worked hard for the area, playing a significant role in improving funding for infrastructure, equity and education. And the people of Capricornia supported her strongly. She won the 2004 election comfortably with a margin of 4.01 per cent, and then won by an emphatic margin of 12.71 per cent in 2007.
But like the Labor party itself, the lustre wore off. And her unquestionable loyalty to Julia Gillard and the carbon tax has prompted lifelong Labor voters to turn away in droves.
The Capricornia region is home to a large number of mining companies and Kevin Rudd supporters. Over 80 per cent of its population back Rudd. So it was no surprise that Livermore’s decision to support Gillard in the leadership challenge and vote for the carbon tax was immensely unpopular.
Politician Zac Daley, who will run as an independent for Capricornia, echoes the question asked by many in the area: ‘Why did she back Gillard? Why?’
And the people of Capricornia were quick to express their outrage, with one person posting on the Morning Bulletin website: ‘Kirsten is not Rocky [Rockhampton]… I have been a Labor voter in the past. Sure as hell won’t be again. Kevin got them in and if he doesn’t get back Monday they’ve lost my vote! Kirsten no more votes for you after this either!’
But the electorate was turning against her even before the latest leadership spill.
The past year has seen Livermore’s office rammed by a disgruntled citizen, the setting-up of social media pages opposing her support of the carbon tax and an overwhelming online campaign by her constituents to see her out.
Livermore’s margin dropped to 3.7 per cent in the last election and with people turning away from her and the Labor party, it will be an uphill battle to continue ALP’s dominance in the region.
But Livermore has not given up. And while her seat is now considered ‘at risk’ Livermore has maintained her commitment to helping one of this country’s most disadvantaged communities. With relatively high unemployment, teenage pregnancy issues and more than 1200 jobless families in the region, Capricornia faces a number of challenges.
And Livermore is hoping that her policies focusing on housing, job creation and income management measures will help win back her dwindling supporter base.
As part of the Family, Community, Housing and Youth committee, Livermore says she recently assisted with the implementation of 50 rental houses to address affordability. In addition to this, an estimated 120 Indigenous Australians will receive training and jobs in the health sector and an income management plan is set to begin in July this year.
Though many of the projects have been embraced, the income management plan remains controversial. Livermore has been criticised by the Queensland Council of Unions (QCU) for not sufficiently consulting with businesses and people before implementing the legislation. And there are suggestions that it is only needed in extreme circumstances and will have a negative impact on small businesses.
Livermore, however, has defended the policy strongly. She told the Australian Provincial Newspaper that ‘the evaluations [in the Northern Territory] showed measurable improvements in school attendance, increases in the amount of money being spent on fresh food and corresponding decreases in spending on alcohol and gambling.’
Zac Daley, who has lived in Capricornia for 23 years, agrees that there is a need for an income management plan in the region. However, like the QCU, thinks communication was lacking. ‘If Livermore was serious on it, she would have approached the situation more aggressively, and actually made sure something was done about it for them’ he says.
Livermore’s other major focus has been the proposed merger of the Central Queensland University and TAFE, which has attracted $74 million in federal funding. But after the wipe-out of Queensland Labor in the state election, the Liberal National Party is yet to commit to the project.
‘Central Queensland students and businesses will miss out unless Labor is re-elected or Mr Newman comes to his senses’ Livermore recently told parliament.
Regardless of the additional funding she has obtained for the region and her programs to improve housing and education, the tide has turned against Livermore and Labor.
Daly says this is compounded by the fact that her presence is no longer felt in the region: ‘No one ever sees or hears from her until an election or a disaster. You don’t see her on the news anymore.’
It has all gone wrong very quickly for Livermore. As recently as 2010 there were expectations she would be promoted to the frontbench. And yet, after 14 years of service to the people of Capricornia, Livermore languishes on the backbench facing an uphill battle to win re-election.
Loyalty is indeed an admirable quality. But it may cost Livermore her seat at the next election.
Tahlia McPherson is a student at La Trobe University.
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