Place in paradise where business is booming

It reads like "fake news" but there is a place in Queensland where business is booming, profits are up, bosses are crying out for workers and every hotel room is booked.

That is the word from candidates in the contest for Keppel, on the Capricorn Coast, where the region has recorded a surge in domestic tourism during the COVID-pandemic.

THREE HORSE RACE: The seat of Keppel is expected to be hotly contested between the LNP's Adrian de Groot, Labor's Brittany Lauga and One Nation's Wade Rothery.
THREE HORSE RACE: The seat of Keppel is expected to be hotly contested between the LNP's Adrian de Groot, Labor's Brittany Lauga and One Nation's Wade Rothery.

Labor incumbent and assistant education Minister Brittany Lauga said shop owners were telling her things were "brilliant and business is booming" on a recent tour of the Yeppoon CBD.

"It's quite astounding, actually, to hear some of the shopkeepers talk about how well business is going," she said.

"Everywhere I go, businesses are talking about breaking sales records, there's no accommodation available, Yeppoon is booked out, there's people everywhere, it's quite astounding actually," she said.

"We're in this crazy bubble."

Ensuring the bubble doesn't burst, however, will be the real trick for whoever wins the knife edge contest on October 31.

That reality is forcing candidates to face up to a raft of issues that were causing concern long before the pandemic including, ironically, tourism.

Attracting tourists is not the issue at the moment but the mini-boom has put a sharper focus on the perennial election issue of what can be done to reinvigorate a faded gem of the Queensland coast.

The Great Keppel Island and Iwasaki resorts, which once collectively attracted hundreds of thousands of tourists each year, have been shuttered for years and sit as dilapidated reminders of better days.

Great Keppel Island Resort in its heyday
Great Keppel Island Resort in its heyday

The Palaszczuk Government had earmarked $25m to build a water and power link to the island but when the funds proved insufficient announced it would instead upgrade infrastructure including a boat ramp and walking trails.

Great Keppel Island Resort in its current state.
Great Keppel Island Resort in its current state.

LNP candidate Adrian de Groot said promises for funding for Great Keppel had led to virtually nothing in the 12 years since the luxury resort's doors closed.

The businessman takes a sobering view of the current tourism boom, warning that the issues that were bedevilling Keppel before February had not gone away.

"The underlying issues are still there, with the high unemployment, we've got a lot of work happening here because of the hailstorm that went through (in April) and we've got a lot of federal money being spent in the area but the underlying issues are still there and they haven't gone away," he said.

He nominated youth crime and vegetation management as major issues.

One Nation candidate and former professional footballer Wade Rothery listed the rejuvenation of the island resort as the top priority.

"Our main focus is to get this $30m that's been promised in the past two elections to the people who need it to get a breakwall done so they can build the jetty and start the infrastructure on the island," he said.

One Nation’s candidate for Keppel Wade Rothery takes a stroll on the beach with wife Connie and children Hugo and Isla. Picture: Steve Vit
One Nation’s candidate for Keppel Wade Rothery takes a stroll on the beach with wife Connie and children Hugo and Isla. Picture: Steve Vit

Mr Rothery, who has been an underground coal miner for the past 12 years, said he had also been hearing from businesses that were struggling to attract workers while people had access to JobKeeper and JobSeeker but he believed once those payments tapered off there would "a lot of people looking for work".

Ms Lauga said restoring Great Keppel Island to its glory days was her "dream" and plans for the improvements were in the "best position" they had been in for a long time.

"There's a spirit of co-operation with respect of the future of the island that I hadn't seen before … so I'm pretty pleased with the direction that it's heading, ideally I'd love to see work started on infrastructure as soon as possible," she said.

She said she was confident her track record of "working tirelessly" around the community for five and a half years would give her a strong chance to retain the seat.

Despite years of promises little has been delivered to help restore Great Keppel Island Resort to its glory days.
Despite years of promises little has been delivered to help restore Great Keppel Island Resort to its glory days.

But she will be defending a wafer-thin 3 per cent margin despite winning a staggering 43 per cent primary vote in 2017.

Local political observers believe Ms Lauga will be in big trouble if her primary vote drops to 35 per cent, with both the LNP and One Nation nipping at her heels.

One Nation edged out the LNP into second place at the last election and with preferences likely to flow between the conservative parties, the battle for second could determine the ultimate winner.

Astute observers will also be watching to see if there is any holdover from the federal election when the coal issue propelled the LNP to major gains in the region.

If the federal results were repeated across Keppel's booths, the LNP would snare 63 per cent of the two party preferred vote and Labor just 23 per cent of the primary vote.


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