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Don't denigrate rational regional Queensland



In the wake of the Coalition's election victory, it has been unedifying to see the public response of partisan opposition voters seeking to explain the loss of their preferred parties. Without critical examination of the performance of their party, their comments have instead sought to blame a 'stupid' electorate for the loss. Despite a national swing to the LNP, Queenslanders in particular have been singled out for 'blame' for returning the government.

Old Australasian Map In Sepia (Photo by simonbradfield / Getty)Apparently, Queensland is a state populated by 'low IQ' people: backward, uneducated, greedy, ignorant, self-serving, Deliverance characters. I have seen a lot of posts that are almost abusive in their tone, denigrating the people of Queensland using lazy stereotypes, and a lot of posts calling for #Quexit, that is, cutting Queensland loose from Australia.

Queenslanders are used to this kind of treatment. We are subjected to the imposed norms of southerners all the time. And similarly, those in central and north Queensland are imposed to the same kind of disdain from Brisbane.

I am a Queenslander. My father was a cattle producer in Central and Northern Queensland. I was born and raised in Brisbane but have lived in Cairns for 27 years. Even with my level of education and my privilege, I have experienced the dismissive tone of those from major southern metropolitan centres (including my home town of Brisbane) who know better than me and my Far North Queensland community.

In the North all of us experience the vagaries of government policy. Centralisation and regionalisation in turn. Pie-in-the-sky programs delivered in ignorance of the needs of community and the realities of life 1700km from Brisbane. Brisbane is an 18-hour drive from Cairns, if you are wondering, and it is another 1000km, 24-hour drive from Cairns to the tip of Cape York.

Although I hold strong views about the unsustainability of mining, and of coal, and I would prefer to see protection of land rights and the environment above industrial mining, I am capable of understanding and respecting the diversity of experience of others. I recognise that there are whole communities whose lives are in the balance as we seek to transition our economy from fossil fuels. My argument here is that it is not incumbent on those from outside these communities to ridicule what is clearly a rational response to their circumstances. Those who seek change must instead interrogate their own capacity for clear communication.

Apart from Cairns and some other tourist towns, many regions in Central and Northern Queensland are mining communities. It is just not fair to say to these communities that they are 'stupid' to respond to either a government pitch that purports to protect their livelihoods, or an anti-Adani movement that has not managed to engage with the people about how their lives will look. In fact, in the absence of a convincing alternative, these communities make rational decisions.


"The disrespecting of regional Queenslanders is Clinton's 'basket of deplorables' all over again."


Central and North Queenslanders face a youth unemployment rate of 25 per cent. Unemployment generally in Queensland sits at six per cent — the lowest in the country. There is a general understanding that the resources sector will provide job growth and indeed, it has done so in the past. Couple this with a general political discourse around the economy, fears about tax rates, unemployment, and a lack of traction on solutions for regional communities, and you have a recipe for communities to give voice, through the ballot box, to their genuine fears about the future.

Those who oppose mining, including the Adani proposal, may well have alternative plans for the people in these communities. But at the moment, true or not, Adani represents the hopes of these communities. Any alternative plans for education, jobs, and economic growth, have simply not been communicated. Until we accept this breakdown in communication, listen to these fears, and address these fears in terms that the people understand, those fears will not go away.

I have observed first hand extremely troubling traits displayed in Queensland including terrible racism and sexism. I realise that it is easy for those in large metropolitan centres to conflate these miserable attitudes with broader political views. I see also the way in which political parties play on the rational fears of communities by introducing the spectre of external threats like terrorism and demonising of immigrants as a means of distracting voters from genuine economic issues.

However, not only are deep-seated discriminatory attitudes no reason to resort to lazy stereotypes. They provide a greater incentive to engage communities in laying out a clear alternative. Not in terms that I might instantly comprehend, but in terms that genuinely engage with those who have most to lose.

The disrespecting of regional Queenslanders is Clinton's 'basket of deplorables' all over again. President Trump may well be propping up the big end of town, but he has managed to validate the concerns of the ordinary person who is facing an uncertain future. Meanwhile, others (practising politics as usual) have simply ignored these fears. In Queensland, I suspect that the LNP has managed to achieve just this — with the help of Clive Palmer, One Nation etc. — even as others of us can see that corporations (including Palmer's mining company and Adani) have likely misrepresented the truth about the prospects for these communities.

Those of us who seek change, who care about our collective future, are faced with the more difficult task of bringing our communities along with us. We cannot assume anything. This is not because our fellow-voters are 'stupid', but because their circumstances are different from ours.

Until we listen to the people so that we effectively grapple with this question, the country will remain divided. In the meantime, please stop your abuse.



Kate GallowayKate Galloway is a legal academic with an interest in social justice.

Main image: simonbradfield / Getty

Topic tags: Kate Galloway, Election 2019, Scott Morrison, Queensland, climate change, Adani



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Existing comments

Great article. We absolutely have to respect other opinions. If they are reaching different conclusions then they might not have the same information we have or, more importantly, we might not have the information that they do. Too much politics is about manipulating opinions for political gain when it should be about information to make decisions. I am not in favour of coal mining but wouldn't the best approach be to propose a better alternative? Queensland would surely be a great place for renewable energy investment. Turn it from a win-lose to a win-win.

Doug Marshall | 20 May 2019  

Queensland's 6% unemployment is far from the lowest in the country.

Kevin Carson | 20 May 2019  

I couldn't agree more with this article. It shows how divided we are as a country that capital city dwellers lack empathy with anyone who is not like them. This is due in part to the insularity of our cities - rural Australia might well as be a different country. I have also spent much time in Queensland and seen how tough it can be to eek out a living in regional areas. Labour cannot afford to be a party for the inner city if it is to regain power.

Suzanne Hemming | 20 May 2019  

"Queenslanders are used to this kind of treatment. We are subjected to the imposed norms of southerners all the time" Really, Kate!? This sort of comment only engenders tribalism - if you want people to listen to your argument not a good way to start.

Tim Moloney | 20 May 2019  

Thank you Kate for your intelligent, articulate and reasoned piece. From my conversations, I believe that the need for change, with a clear and strong rationale based on collective cost/benefit, was not effectively communicated to those from my own ethnic community. Maybe even then, it wouldn’t have made a difference to their votes - but surely we have to try?

Maha Melhem | 20 May 2019  

Kate, such a timely reminder on the diversity of viewpoints in this one nation,one continent. There has always been significant diversity of philosophies and economic and social viewpoints across the continent from colonial days. Each (state, or geographical grouping) population is deserving of respect. Perhaps we need more states, not for separateness but for sense of personal value. It is always easy to dismiss an opposing belief as being of less value. You are right to challenge those dismissive of the aspirations of your fellow Queenslanders.

Kevin | 20 May 2019  

Thanks Kate. As a fifth-generation North Queenslander whose family has always lived in the areas covered by the electorates of Dawson, Kennedy, Herbert and Leichardt since immigrating from Europe - all of them at least 120 years ago - I was particularly hurt by a lot of the comments I have seen since the election. My family background is in all the traditional industries of North Queensland - rail, cattle, farming, earthmoving and mining; and we also have a strong sense of natural justice and love of the land from our celtic forebears. This has always been coupled with a deep engagement in politics. My paternal grandfather was a branch secretary of the Labor Party before The Split, and my maternal grandfather was a business partner with a man who would become one of the Country Party's only Prime Ministers. My generation was the first to gain tertiary education and between 6 of us we have 10 degrees including a PhD. Bu there's one thing that North Queenslanders hate is to be talked down to. So, those that think the election outcome was wrong won't change us by telling us how stupid we are, but understanding our issues.

Rob McCahill | 20 May 2019  

Kate, thankyou for this excellent article. The barrage of demeaning comments against people who vote 'differently to us' is appalling. It provides no space for understanding, authentic listening, compassion and moving forward in a unified manner to respectfully care for our common home, humanity and all of nature. Erecting more barriers, defenses and obstacles - through the use of this language will only lead to undermining of good initiatives and violence.

Lisa Connell | 20 May 2019  

Well said Kate. Petulant behaviour and vitriolic language detracts from rather than enhances civil debate, and suggests either an inability to sustain a good argument or a mindset more willing to exclude than include diversity of opinion.

David Palmer | 20 May 2019  

As usual, insular Queensland voted for Queensland not for Australia. If they were really voting for a better Australia they would have booted Dutton out along with Hanson's lackeys in the senate.

john frawley | 20 May 2019  

My argument here is that it is not incumbent on those from outside these communities to ridicule what is clearly a rational response to their circumstances. Those who seek change must instead interrogate their own capacity for clear communication.

Joan Seymour | 20 May 2019  

‘My argument here is that it is not incumbent on those from outside these communities to ridicule what is clearly a rational response to their circumstances. Those who seek change must instead interrogate their own capacity for clear communication.’ Couldn’t agree more. This suburban Melbourne woman is horrified by the finger-wagging and name calling directed at other Australians by those who don’t have a clue about them. ‘The wounds of sin and division’ indeed.

Joan Seymour | 20 May 2019  

At last. Some balance in Eureka Street.

Kevin Prendergast | 20 May 2019  

An interesting article. As someone living in Victoria and not born in Australia I can't comment on the views of north and south, rural and city towards one another but I do object heartily re the Coalition material that deluged our mailboxes prior to the election - on red cards... a complete scare campaign, negative about the ALP and nothing about coalition policies! Why is this permitted? Throughout the campaign and before it started Coalition members denigrated ALP policies even when questioned about their own. I can't remember one interviewer, even on the ABC, rephrasing questions in order to get an answer that wasn't about the ALP. It was very depressing...

Mary Lancaster | 20 May 2019  

Good comment Kevin. I agree strongly with you. At last some balance in Eureka Street.

Carole Wilson | 20 May 2019  

I’ve read Kate G’s articles before; her challenge to not denigrate the people of central and northern was timely and important. The unemployment figures Kate quoted are abysmal for the young people and all who care about them. Thank you.

Jenny Preston | 20 May 2019  

Thanks Kate for such a thoughtful and civil response to another divisive election. The comments responding to it show so many of us want to get beyond the jeering, mockery and misinformation that blot out curiosity, divide communities and blind us to the common good. Thanks for starting a conversation worth extending.

Me Annemaree Dalziel | 20 May 2019  

Thanks, Kate. You have voiced an opinion that needs to be heard. Thanks, Eureka Street.

Denise Brosnan | 21 May 2019  

Kate, the country remains divided, notwithstanding your worthy sentiments. What would you suggest will bridge a cross-Australia dialogue? This LNP (and other right wing parties) government is a source of deep social and political divisions within Australia, over way more than the questions that beset Far North Queensland ( and many other depressed regions as well).

Anthony Grimes | 21 May 2019  

What a great article. You have definitely hit the nail on the head. I know a few people who have lived in FNQ for years and they need jobs. A lot of the land is no god for growing food crops, so livestock is farmed but the mines are the lifeblood of some of these towns and nobody is giving any viable alternatives.

Susie May | 21 May 2019  

As someone who lives in a Brisbane electorate whose Labor member retained his seat, but only just on preferences, I found your article extremely insightful and balanced, Kate. Fortunately most Australians haven't fallen for the Chicken Little interpretation of the results of the recent federal election: the sky has definitely not fallen in. Scott Morrison is not in the Hard Right camp of Messrs Dutton, Abetz etc. He may very well be like Peter Costello would've been as PM: fiscally conservative but with a social conscience. Bob Brown and his caravan certainly helped the Coalition win in Queensland, as did the State Labor government's inept and seemingly duplicitous handling of the Adani mine saga. One commentator said that Queenslanders in general have a much more blue collar attitude to politics because so many work in mining and construction. After long years of drought mining offers one of the few employment opportunities in FNQ. The Premier, her Deputy and others rabbited on about the currently almost non-existent opportunities in the tiny renewables sector. This will come home to haunt them at the next state election. Australians are not fools: they will not swallow political snake oil.

Edward Fido | 21 May 2019  

I grew up in a working class community riddled with racism and didn't. I failed my whole life to engage people on progressive issues like climate change. As a community worker I have been trained in listening and communication skills but have still failed to make an impact. I find that people usually end up dismissing what you say by attacking you personally rather than your argument or information. It's very hard to get beyond what people hear in the commercial media.

Joanne Knight | 21 May 2019  

Let’s forget the Queensland distinction which is meaningless.I was born and grew up here and it is 2019, not 1889. I voted against the LNP because of its persecution of those seeking asylum, its defence of a taxation system that protects the narrow interests of the better off against the poor and disenfranchised, and because it is sleep walking us further into environmental disaster. These are just a few reasons. The truth is that Adani will provide minimal jobs and at huge environmental cost, if it gets off the ground without government subsidy.I am despondent and angry about the outcome of the election, not because of the impact on me but because of the impact on those worse off than me. When more of the electorate consider what is in the best interest of the greater good we will get the better outcome.

Sean O'Reilly | 21 May 2019  

Brava Kate !! You have nailed it. Now to watch how the QLD state government responds to the Adani proposals. Adani has federal approval but the QLD labor government sought last minute environmental advice from a Victorian based anti coal advocate who advised the black throated Finch was in danger of losing precious habitat. Labor have betrayed their own working base. The new irony is this strong and loyal constituency and others far afield will experience first hand that a coalition government is a better partner for these communities to forge an honest hardworking livelihood and future for their families. Yes the planet is getting warmer. Yes, we contribute less than 1% of global emissions. Yes there are 700 coal power stations slated for construction in the next ten years globally with the vast majority in China. Yes, we have the highest power prices in the world and now combine those prices with unreliable delivery. No, rural Queenslanders should not have to bear the economic brunt of policies for Australia to take a leading role in the world on issues that the rest of the world is divided on. Shorten and Bowen showcased their disdain and arrogance and thankfully it was utterly rejected by the Queensland people and by a majority of others across this great nation. Thank goodness, I have not been able to wipe the smile off my face for three days. My next vacation will be in Queensland !

Patrick | 21 May 2019  

Like many others I wanted to thank you Kate for this very timely and perceptive article. There are many of us hurting deeply now but denigrating those who don't share our views won't bring them over and in the end the electorate is always right. Indeed there were also pretty disappointing results from an ALP perspective, in Victoria and WA. We must accept that at the least, there was a problem with how we got our message across and work much harder at that nation-wide over the next three years.

Kym Duggan | 21 May 2019  

Congratulations on a great piece of writing Kate. I’m a Labor-voting regional Queenslander. On Fri 3 May I was in the Melbourne city-centre and witnessed a peaceful, colourful, loud demonstration against Adani by school students and, I presume, some of their teachers. I intellectually sympathised with the demonstrators but at the same time was thinking, “What would you know of life in Gladstone, Rockhampton and Clermont?” I’ve lived in all those places and others in Queensland. The people of these regions are not opposed to doing right by the planet. But, like all human beings they first want security for themselves and their children. It may have been a shock for some on Saturday night to realise that the votes of men and women in high-vis vests in mines and driving coal trains count just as much as those of colourfully dressed demonstrators who carry placards and play music in the streets of the metropolises. Labor has to find a way of taking all Australians with it.

Gerard Hore | 21 May 2019  

Kate, I live in a small regional Qld town dependent upon agricultural pursuits, so far no coal mining though that may yet be on the cards. A clear-eyed analysis would show that people in regional Qld voted in the hope that coal mining would result in more jobs. They voted for what they hoped would be a secure future. Time will tell whether this will result from re-electing the Liberal Party. They need a solution to unemployment. The tragedy is that coal mining is destructive to the future of the planet. The death of the planet is assured if we keep burning coal and oil unless we can remove the resulting CO2 with as-yet unavailable large scale new technology before all ice at the poles melts, releasing methane that is far more effective for global warming so that it will finish off humanity and most other life on the planet. So there is no long term security in voting for coal mining.

Frank S | 21 May 2019  

I prefer that the elites of Melbourne, Sydney and BRISBANE continue to poke the residents of Central and North Queensland to goad them into fighting for STATEHOOD (NQEXIT) as they have put up with regressive legislation from the Brisbane Parliament out misguide loyalty to 'Queensland' for far too long. From the end of Morton Bay ending to be a penal settlement in 1834, it only took the free settlers of the NSW pastoral districts of Morton, Wide Bay, Burnett and Maranoa 25yrs to break free of their Sydney parliament and create the colony of Queensland. 160yrs later the residents of Central and North Queensland are still being ruled by the Brisbane Parliament.

Bill Bates | 21 May 2019  

Queensland's unemployment rate of 6% is second worst in the country behind my state of Tasmania at 6.7%. The figure of 25% unemployment for youth in Central/North Queensland was at 4 hotspots but is terrible. I accept Kate's call not to denigrate what we don't know, but I lament that so many appear to have voted out of fear. I also lament that so many will continue to suffer as a result of anti-asylum seeker policies, unchanging Centrelink Newstart payment levels, unchanging Medicare rebate rates and more.

Sean McManus | 21 May 2019  

I understand your points. Everyone wants to make a living. The coal towns have a culture and economy built around mining. This needs to be respected. However alternatives are possible - see the program in the Latrobe Valley retracing coal miners. Or in the Appalachian mountains retraining miners as beekeepers. Alternatives are available. We need to support these communities and listen to their needs rather than putting them down.

Karen Weiss | 21 May 2019  

Well said, Gerard Hore. However, the idea of "security for themselves and their children" is anathema to misanthropic radicals of the Green and Animal Rights agenda, evident in their outrage at the election result.

John RD | 21 May 2019  

If the proposition of this article is that there is tribalism and regional bias in Australian politics and we should critically examine it then I agree. If it asserts that there's something unique and excessive about how NQld experiences that phenomenon, then I invite the writer to spend some time down south (and, if you're game, west!) outside the big cities.

Fax | 21 May 2019  

Beautifully articulated Kate. Kate for PM!

Dave Barker | 21 May 2019  

Thanks for a thoughtful article Kate. I agree that Qlders should not be ridiculed. I'm interested though in your statement "Central and North Queenslanders face a youth unemployment rate of 25 per cent. Unemployment generally in Queensland sits at six per cent — the lowest in the country. " If this is the case (although I think 6% unemployment is not a good rate) what has the Coalition done over the 6 years it has been in power to address the appalling youth unemployment? Labor at least was to revitalise TAFE to enable workers and others to re-skill for a future economy. There really is no future in coal and those depending on it for jobs would be better re-skilling into renewables and associated industries that will come if we address climate change properly.

Margaret Hinchey | 21 May 2019  

A rum article, Kate, calculated to denigrate the altruistic intentions of those who lost and who voted for a better Australia, especially for those much worse off than ourselves. My fellow Queenslanders, sadly you have once again voted to cut your nose to spite your face! So much for long term solutions to intractable global warming problems and for the ability of hip-pocket populism, stirred up by foul-mouthed right-wingers, to 'bugger the reef'.

Michael Furtado | 21 May 2019  

Kate: Are you talking about the so called official unemployment figures or the REAL ones?

Marcus L'Estrange | 21 May 2019  

North Queenslanders don’t like being told what to do (even by scientists it would seem) by southerners in Sydney and Melbourne yet when there’s a cyclone, flood or drought they expect aid money from us southerners. They don’t want to take our advice but are happy to take our money. Adani wont create many jobs, will be largely automated, they probably wont pay any tax in australia, and it will cause huge environmental damage. The worlds demand for our coal will dwindle as climate change becomes more apparent. The Great Barrier Reef is dying and the tourism jobs associated with it will die as well. North Queenslanders need to start the transition away from coal and tourism. North Queenslanders need to think about the long term.

Fab | 22 May 2019  

On being a Queenslander, nobody has put it better and more succinctly than our own brilliant novelist, four times Miles Franklin Award winner and Patrick White Awardee Thea Astley, in her lecture and essay of that title (http://static-readingaustralia-com-au.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2016/01/Its-Raining-in-Mango-AstleyLectureSoutherly1976-compressed.pdf). Her novels and stories encapsulate a quintessential Queensland and its people more penetratingly, wittily, sardonically and compassionately than any other writer I have read. She saw all the issues we are grappling with now, and they permeate her writing and her characters in an engaging and sometimes heartbreaking way. She had a profound understanding and appreciation of the uniqueness of Queensland, a uniqueness and natural beauty we stand to lose forever if we sell off substantial tracts of our heritage to developers of various kinds who already have more money than they know what to do with, and will destroy habitat, animal and human, and the lungs of their employees, for a pittance, to get more, which will not be reinvested in the place they have taken from. These issues go way beyond party politics, and way beyond our present voting generations' lifetimes. People need jobs, that is an incontrovertible fact, especially in rural Queensland. Those of us who can, need to get cracking to generate economically and environmentally sustainable employment that does not exact the sacrifice of our beautiful, unique part of planet Earth, which it is our sacred responsibility to hold in trust for future generations of global citizens, not just our own descendants.

Jena Woodhouse | 22 May 2019  

Thank you Kate. I appreciate your wise, empathetic and balanced approach. Listening to people and their concerns before making decisions is part of the answer in transition times where future innovative planning also needs to be encouraged instead of promoting the maintenance of a tired status quo.

Jacinta RIce | 23 May 2019  

Thank you for the great article first time in life That I have in a small way come understand our people from the both. Thank you

Jyou oe Viscione | 23 May 2019  

There is, I consider, a difference between South East and Far North Queensland. Given its population and resources, I think FNQ should be a separate state with the capital in Townsville. That will give the people there a real say in their future. They are, emphatically, not 'knuckle draggers' or anything else like that.

Edward Fido | 24 May 2019  

Insulting people does not persuade others to change their minds but Queenslanders in these depressed communities could certainly be called irrational (which may be a synonym for “stupid”): coal is becoming uneconomical to mine; the number of jobs promised is vastly overstated; the climate and cronyism in water allocations, along with climate change is destroying agriculture; the LNP keeps unemployment benefits unacceptably low and seeks in any way possible to minimise social welfare, health and education costings. Queenslanders seem to prefer conservative scare-mongering to basing their votes on any research on the actual causes and remedies for their present situation.

Linda Ethell | 24 May 2019  

Short sighted indeed to suggest Adani is a salve for Queensland. I note you say you are interested in social justice? Clearly not the environment as the Indian owned Adani mine will destroy our environment, send profits off shore, ruin tourism in Qld, and siphon up water that the farmers need. A short sighted bleeding heart piece that offers no broader picture or resolution.

Rosemary Sheehan | 24 May 2019  

An interesting article, although it seems to suggest that the progressives are 'right' and those who think differently are 'wrong'. We need to respect peoples values as well. For example, I am not 'wrong' because I do not support euthanasia. I do agree that there should be much more dialogue and consensus in politics. Above all, I thank God that we live in a democracy with compulsory voting where we can express our views peacefully.

Mary of Brisbane | 25 May 2019  

There is, no doubt, a great difference between SEQ and FNQ Edward, but creating another state would mean we would get another 12 senators from north of the Tweed ! Think what that would do to the Commonwealth parliament.

Ginger Meggs | 26 May 2019  

Touche, Jena Woodhouse, in citing the example of Thea Astley, who, despite her wry and persistent exposure of the narrow, gung-ho affability of small town Queensland, used its hypocrisies to remind us of the gaps within ourselves. For this unpardonable breach of a female writer's rules of the time she was blackballed by many, including the authorities at All Hallows', who were keen to claim her but, to my knowledge, never asked her back for fear of her turning her withering eye on the Catholicism she had left behind.

Michael Furtado | 26 May 2019  

Kate, I have spent time in North Queensland several times during my working life (now retired) .It was an interesting place. As a southerner now living in the National Capital, I believe that I can see both sides of the coin. I recall the sight of kilometer long coal trains going to Bowen's Abbott Point. I recall the immense distances between towns. I remember the heat and humidity of the 'Wet' and inconvenience of the flooding that it caused. I remember the high prices of power and groceries, I was on a minimum wage as the Parish could not afford to pay me what I had been used to as a teacher. I even had to pay rent for the residence I lived in to the Diocese who owned it! I was very aware of the social issues affecting rural and town alike, particularly unemployment and poverty, the price of remoteness. Unfortunately I think that people up there seem to think that digging stuff out of the ground to send it off- shore will provide jobs- ie; Adani . Sadly with automation, the promised jobs by Adani and the hoped for resources income are "pie in the sky" . Adani is unlikely to pay any tax! The workers will most likely be "fly in, fly out" outsiders, not locals . Sadly illusions are still part of the reality of living in remote Queensland as shown in whom they voted for.

Gavin O'Brien | 29 May 2019  

The city dwellers don't think QLDs are 'backward' most city dwwellers also supported their choice that's why Morrison won

Radwyn | 14 August 2019  

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