The economy’s tell-tale

Millions of containers are shipped through the Port of Brisbane every year. Photo: Kasper Kaasgaard.

Covering the Port of Brisbane, the country’s third busiest port, Bonner can be seen as one of Australia’s gates to the world.

And besides being a key area to the Australian economy, Bonner is also a crucial piece in the puzzle that is politics. It has been labeled one of the electorates Labor must secure if Bill Shorten is to become prime minister. At the 2013 election the LNP won Bonner with a 3.7% margin.

Located on the south-east side of Brisbane, Bonner covers about 360 square kilometers from the port to the border of the Brisbane and Logan city councils.

Since it was constituted in 2004 the seat of Bonner has been held by its current Coalition member, Ross Vasta, apart from 2007-2010 where Labor’s Kerry Rea held the seat. Vasta is looking to defend his seat this year in the electorate labeled as outer-metropolitan.

“It’s a relatively new seat and heavily mortgage-belt ie. mix of working, lower-middle and middle class,” says Dr. Paul Williams, political expert and senior lecturer at Griffith University.

Dr. Williams predicts a close race ending in a win for Labor. But nothing is set in stone:

“While much of Bonner is traditionally Labor (Wynnum-Manly in the north-east, Rochedale in the south) there are also the more affluent sections of Carindale, Wishart, Chandler,” he says.

Bonner is home of the biggest port in Queensland. Photo: Port of Brisbane.

Being one of the fastest growing container ports in the Australia, the Port of Brisbane at the mouth of the Brisbane River is a big part of the local community.

As is Peter Bruekers. He has worked at the port since 1988. Today he is a team leader at one the ports terminals, the Patrick Container Terminal.

When Peter Bruekers first started working at the port there was a strong sense of engagement and a common cause among the workers. He describes it as a community.

“You’d know everybody. You’d all sit there and talk about political issues and all the rest,” Mr. Bruekers says.

As the decades have passed, this feeling has fainted. 50-year-old Bruekers partly attributes the change to large numbers of workers from New Zealand taking up jobs at the port. He says he doesn’t mind them working there but merely states the fact that they can’t vote in Australia as a reason why the political engagement has shrunk among his fellow workers.

Mr.  Bruekers is an active union member as a delegate of the Maritime Union of Australia. The union has set up a local branch of the Labor Party in the port area and Mr. Bruekers was one of the early members. He is clearly a very political person who believes in engaging his co-workers to attempt to restore the port as a political bastion.

In this year’s election he and his fellow union members will be doing their best to secure a win for ALP candidate Laura Fraser Hardy in the seat of Bonner.

Like many of the electorates, Bonner is named after a notable political figure. Neville Bonner was the first indigenous Australian to be a member of the Australian Parliament when he was elected senator in 1971. He served in parliament for twelve years.

An aboriginal activist and former resident of Palm Island, Neville Bonner devoted his political life to securing rights of Australia’s indigenous peoples. Bonner also focused on environmental issues.

He was named Australian of the Year in 1979 together with naturalist Harry Butler. In 1993 he received an honorary doctorate from Griffith University.

Bonner died in 1999, 76 years old. When a new electorate was drawn up in 2004 it was named in his honor.

Today, some of the major issues in the electorate are cost of living and urban infrastructure. The area also relies on tourism.

Peter Bruekers
Peter Bruekers at this year’s Labor Day march. Photo: Kasper Kaasgaard.

To Mr. Bruekers and his colleagues at the Port of Brisbane, a major issue is the lack of Australians working in shipping. He would prefer if Australian goods could be transported by Australian workers as much as possible.

However, Mr. Bruekers does not think it will be local issues deciding the vote on July 2nd.

“Federal elections are really based on the collective so it’s education and higher uni costs. Even though there are no unis in the seat of Bonner that’s still an issue because there are university students in the seat of Bonner,” he says.

Working at one of the gates to Australia, Mr. Bruekers gets a unique insight to where the county is moving.

“Where I work you can absolutely tell where the Australian dollar is at. You can tell inflation, growth, everything through what comes in and out of the port. And both main companies down there are dead.”

The question is whether the port and the rest of the electorate will turn out to be a tell-tale for the federal election as well.

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