No Liz means first open race in 20 years

IT'S been 20 years since the state parliamentary seat of Gladstone was held by a party politician.

Liz Cunningham was the first non-Labor MP to hold the seat for more than 60 years when she beat Labor MP Neil Bennett in 1995.

It was Mrs Cunningham's second attempt to win the seat, having narrowly lost to Mr Bennett in 1992.

In 1996 she became Queensland's most powerful politician. Following a Court of Disputed Returns decision that year, a by-election was called for the seat of Mundingburra.

Labor's loss created a hung parliament, with Mrs Cunningham holding the balance of power, but offering her support to the coalition on matters of confidence and supply.

During that torrid time, Mrs Cunningham was able to control much of the legislation proposed by the Coalition.

However, that political influence waned at the 1998 election when the Labor Party won power in its own right under Peter Beattie, although Mrs Cunningham's majority in Gladstone continued to increase.

That era 1996-1998 was one of the few occasions that an independent had the ability to control legislation.

Liz Cunningham was re-elected in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2012, so with her decision to stand down this year, just three weeks out from the snap election, the race is on to determine who will represent us in the next parliament.

Craig Butler has put himself up as a new independent candidate, but he is starting somewhat on the back foot, given ALP candidate Glenn Butcher was endorsed in March last year and has been effectively on the campaign trail ever since.

On Saturday, the LNP announced its candidate for the seat as Mike Duggan, just 21 days out, so he is sitting with about the same disadvantage as Mr Butler.

There's a fair chance Mr Butcher could have the front running.

Would Gladstone see some advantage in having a party politician as its MP?

That depends to a large extent just what sort of a shift there is against the reigning LNP across the state, which currently holds 73 seats to Labor's nine.

It would be a huge landslide if the Labor Party managed to claw back enough seats to gain control of the government benches, but if that did happen, Gladstone could be well positioned with a Labor member representing it.

The same goes if the LNP wins Gladstone, and the state. One thing is almost certain.

If the LNP holds power in the state after the election, regardless of how loudly the opposition screams, the Gladstone port will undoubtedly be leased to private interests.

Since last year the LNP has said it would take the lease of its ports, and other assets to the election.

So would Gladstone be better off with an MP who is affiliated to a leading political party?

Or has an independent served Gladstone well enough the past two decades for that option to continue?

That answer will only be known after all the votes have been cast - and counted.

BY THE NUMBERS:

  • Three candidates declared so far
  • Election day January 31
  • 21 days to go
  • Gladstone seat held by Labor for more than 60 years until 1995
  • Liz Cunningham was re-elected in 1998, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2012
  • Liz Cunningham won in 2012 with 14,020 votes
  • Sportsbet.com.au odds (as of Friday): Glenn Butcher $1.40, Craig Butler $3, LNP $21 (note: LNP candidate had not been announced on Friday)


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