Last night’s crowd takes in the Great Dawson Debate at the MECC.
Last night’s crowd takes in the Great Dawson Debate at the MECC. Tony Martin

Dawson debate gets heated

NO love was lost as Dawson’s election candidates exchanged blows during the Daily Mercury’s Great Debate which went right down to the wire last night.

There was everything from passionate and heated words, a no-show and agitated audience members during the two-and-a-half hour debate in front of a 400-strong crowd.

The seat of Dawson has just a margin of just 2.4 per cent towards the ALP but, nationally, there have been recent swings towards the Coalition – so plenty was on the line last night. And the ALP’s Mike Brunker, LNP’s George Christensen, Greens’ Jonathon Dykyj and Family First’s Damian Herrington didn’t leave any stone unturned as they tried to sway voters to put them first on the ballot paper.

While Bill Ingrey of the Citizens Electoral Council didn’t show up, the remaining four candidates went toe-to-toe on a range of issues including the resource tax, National Broadband Network, Cr Brunker’s altercation at the Bowen races and Cr Christensen’s inflammatory comments in a university newsletter.

Although Prime Minister Julia Gillard was at a debate in Brisbane, those in the audience may have had flashes of her during the Dawson debate – and not from her party’s candidate.

It appeared that Mr Christensen had caught a bout of “Gillarditis” as he delivered rehearsed responses and tended to repeat himself during the debate.

Mr Brunker was also measured in his responses and was wary of making election promises he couldn’t keep.

The candidates from the two main parties were keen to steal the limelight, but as they exchanged blow after blow Mr Dykyj wasn’t afraid to put his foot down. The Greens candidate did his best to ensure that Mr Brunker and Mr Christensen stayed on topic and at one stage told them “to stop political point scoring”.

Mr Dykyj also kept the audience in line. He didn’t appreciate Roger Kelly, the husband of former Dawson MP and National De-Anne Kelly, directing a question to Mr Christensen about Labor’s “expensive and ineffective” rollout of the national broadband.

“If you are going to ask a question give your name and tell us if you are the husband of the last Federal member,” Mr Dykyj said.

Mr Herrington kept his focus firmly on families and painted himself as the average family guy who supported action which would strengthen families in the electorate. Mr Brunker said he had the experience to get things done for Dawson, but at least one member of the audience disagreed. After a series of heated exchanges between Mr Brunker and Mr Christensen, Tammy Jensen, of Bowen, said she was “fed up” with both major political parties.

She then waved a poster that illustrated the extent of Bowen’s water woes and referred to Mr Brunker as a “deserting mayor”.

Mr Christensen had his own explaining to do when asked about derogatory comments he made about women, homosexuals and Jews in a university newsletter when he was a teenager. He apologised for the comments and then criticised Labor for digging up the 12-year-old document.

Mr Brunker took offence and then demanded an apology from Mr Christensen for comments about the CMC investigation that Mr Brunker was cleared of. Mr Brunker and Mr Christensen avoided each other as they walked off.

No love was lost last night. There were no clear winners either. And like the debate, the battle for Dawson will go down to the wire.

Great Debate highlights

  • Mr Brunker reiterated that he acted in self-defence during an altercation at Saturday’s Bowen races. He said he didn’t go around hitting people of any age.
  • Mr Christensen said derogatory comments made in a newspaper about women, homosexuals and Jews were “pretty stupid”.
  • Mr Bunker said he hadn’t pledged funding for the Mackay Showgrounds because he hadn’t seen a proper plan.
  • Mr Dykyj said the major parties had lacked a forward thinking and positive approach during the campaign.

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