Queensland’s largest legal organised crime syndicate, the Liberal National Party, heads to the mattresses this Saturday to defend its territory in Fadden. Darren Crawford reports on the LNP's latest plans to further normalise political corruption.
Let's take a deep dive into what some of the candidates had to say and have a look at just what is really in play in what should be a soft win for the “next man up”.
The next man up
I arrive at the Paradise Point Community Centre just ahead of time and line up with the rest of the oldies.
A bloke in a wheelchair rolls up and starts telling the bloke in front of me that “gubberment overreach is killin’ Straylia”. He offers me a pamphlet, which I decline. “Vis By-election will cost us $150,000,” he says, “they should refund that money”. He doesn’t say who “they” are nor does he say “who” the money should be given to. If this cooker reflects what is happening inside, I decide, this is going to get interesting.
Once inside, I hide up the back and I can see that the crowd of about 100 people is mostly Liberal National Party of Queensland (LNP) blue, with a smattering of Australian Labor Party (ALP) fans, Pauline Hanson's One Nation supporters (PHON) and a handful of cookers, like old mate outside. There are plenty of franking credits to be found in here, and regardless of colour, LNP candidate, and current local City of Gold Coast Councillor for this area (Division 4), Cameron Caldwell is their man.
The Fadden electorate takes in six different council divisions and four state electorates, all of which are represented by the LNP (except for the state seat of Gaven, which is headed by the ALP’s Meaghan Scanlon, and independent Cr Peter Young in Division 5). The northern end of Fadden contains the growth suburbs of Pimpama, Ormeau and Coomera, which contain a mix of industrial centres and the lowest-cost new housing subdivisions on the Gold Coast. To the south are the traditional former working-class suburbs of Labrador, Parkwood and Arundel, and in the middle, where we are tonight, are some of the wealthiest suburbs in Queensland, including Runaway Bay, Paradise Point, Hope Island, The Sovereign Islands and Sanctuary Cove.
This is LNP heartland and as if to ram that point home, soon after commencing the meeting the adjudicator stops proceedings to “Introduce our next councillor, replacing the retiring William Owen-Jones, Naomi Fowler”. Miss Fowler stands to unanimous applause from the members, indicating just how entrenched the LNP mafia is in this area as Cr Owen Jones (Division 2) still has another nine months to run and Ms Fowler hasn’t won that election yet. The baton is being passed, the next in line anointed, the mafia is in full swing, however, no one knows who will replace Caldwell in Division 4 yet (Caldwell is still on full pay as a city councillor while on the campaign trail — make of that what you will).
Some people are born to lead, while others join the LNP
The stage is set in an arc and 11 of the 13 candidates have turned up, including Caldwell. Questions are set with each speaker given two minutes to respond. It soon becomes clear that some people are born to speak publicly, others need to work on it and I’m scratching my head at just why some people thought it was a good idea to get up on that stage, let alone run for office.
The candidates are asked to introduce themselves and provide background. The ALP candidate starts off nervously but gets through it. The microphone is passed down the line. Caldwell stands and tells the room that he has been the local Councillor for almost 12 years and that his motivation to run is to continue his good work in the community. The “local community is thriving” he says, thanks to him, while the man Caldwell beat 12 years ago, Grant Pforr, looks on disdainfully.
Because what Cameron isn’t telling the room is that a lot of that “good work” was started by former Cr Pforr long before he turned up. Similarly, this “local community” has been spared most of the significant planning and development changes around height and density limits that, as Head of the Planning Committee for the City of Gold Coast and Mayor Tom Tate’s right-hand man, Caldwell has overseen.
These changes have dramatically altered the lifestyle of communities in other suburbs in Fadden such as Labrador and Chirn Park and forced many long-term residents out of the area, while also contributing to the current housing crisis through an over-supply of luxury units at the expense of older affordable rentals. Like many programs and policies of the LNP, it’s a protection racket – vote for me in Paradise Point and I’ll make sure there are no subdivisions or highrise towers popping up next to your place, capisce?
As mentioned previously, Runaway Bay, Paradise Point, Hollywell (where Caldwell lives) and Hope Island are LNP heartland, and historically, this area was literally the end of the road for the northern Gold Coast. What was a series of low-key suburbs and fishing villages spread amongst creeks and wetlands in the 1970s has slowly transformed into one of the wealthiest residential areas in Queensland. It is also God’s waiting room, with Runaway Bay alone containing 55 retirement villages and communities within its council boundaries.
These people don’t like change and will do anything and vote for anyone that will protect their lifestyle. David Crisafulli, leader of the Queensland LNP and Campbell Newman’s apprentice, was parachuted safely into the local state seat of Broadwater a few years ago without a murmur of discontent from the locals, after being run out of Townsville after the three-year debacle that was the Newman Government.
Clive Palmer lives here, as do many of the wealthy Chinese investors the former Member for Fadden the (dis)Honourable Stuart Robert attracted to the area in the early to mid-2010s. Rolex anyone? More about that, later.
For some candidates, it’s still the 1950s
Over the next two hours, the cream rises to the top, while the bit players sink to the bottom. It is soon clear that Independent candidate Stewart Brooker is the most empathetic, if not the most intelligent male on the stage. Ditto, Independent candidate Belinda Jones for the females. They both speak passionately and provide progressive solutions (mainly) to the questions put to them.
The PHON candidate appears bored, almost disdainful of the audience and the need for her to actually be there. She’s also not across PHON policy on several issues and has to be prompted by her minders from up the back. Ignorance or arrogance, I can’t be sure, but it’s not a good look. Speaking of looks, does PHON only vet female candidates with red hair? This is the second election in a row I’ve covered where the female PHON candidate has a ginger tinge, not that there is anything wrong with that.
One of the Independents, I found out later his name was Kev as he didn’t introduce himself, was keen on caning youth offenders of crime “because it worked in Hong Kong”. The Australian Federation Party’s (AFP) James Tayler’s answer to solving the housing crisis was to make all women give up work, stay at home and have more children like they did when he was a boy.
All candidates are asked if they support the Voice — yes or no? All candidates say “Yes” except for, of course, the LNP, PHON, Kev the caner and the bloke from the AFP currently living in the 1950s.
For whom the forum tolls
Caldwell, who, let’s face it, we’d all come to see, comes across as a polished performer and like a good mafioso, he's remembered his moves. He’s campaigning on three things – crime, the cost of living and infrastructure delivery – odd choices, particularly as crime is a state issue and the cost of living is through the roof partly because of nine years of failed Federal L-NP Government neoliberal financial policies (you can’t keep blaming COVID, lads).
And this is where Caldwell drops the ball. While he may be a polished performer when on task, pushed off script, he often struggles. After trotting out the old tropes that “the ALP can’t manage our finances”, Caldwell then tells the room that the LNP will commit $10 million to building a new PCYC at Pimpama if elected. Independent Stewart Brooker pulls him up telling the room that the project has been on the cards for a long time and that the LNP had refused to fund it while in government, so what’s changed now?
But Caldwell’s biggest errors come naturally and he doesn’t even know it. All candidates are asked, yes or no, if they have received money from the “Fadden Fund”? The “Fadden Forum” was the semi-secret stash of cash that Stuart Robert had used to fund two of his staffers to run for council at the 2016 Election, sparking a massive corruption probe into that election by the Queensland Crime and Corruption Commission. All candidates, of course, answer “NO”.
“Personally, no, I have not received any money from the Fadden Fund.”
Again, make of that what you will. And note the change of words from “forum” to “fund”, and of course, “personally”.
Later, on crime and how he will solve it, Caldwell offers this pearler: “I will bring together all stakeholders and create the Fadden Crime Forum” to work together to solve these issues. You'd think any sane person running for office in Fadden would try and stay well away from any association with the words “Fadden” and “forum”, let alone adding “crime” to the mix. But this is the LNP on the Gold Coast — corruption is business as usual and should be celebrated, nothing to see here, you voted us in, we can do what we want, just pay your fees and don’t you worry about that.
At a conservative estimate and in speaking to the other candidates, the LNP is outspending every other candidate on signage alone by at least ten to one. It is low-key, but where is this money coming from?
Not one of the candidates on stage picks up on this, no serve is returned and Caldwell skates through unchallenged on what is the LNP’s weakest point in this By-election — the ongoing prolific dodgy dealings of their former member, Stuart Robert, and where exactly their campaign money is coming from.
O brother Stu, where art thou?
The ghost of the former Member for Robodebt and Rolexes, Mr Stuart Robert, is everywhere, but no one wants to acknowledge it — not from the blue team at least. Brother Stuey has not been seen in the electorate for months and he has been nowhere near Caldwell’s campaign.
The crowd in the room boos loudly when his name is first mentioned. This must be hard for some of them, dealing with the reality that in the end, the man they voted for through four terms, retired suddenly weeks before a Royal Commission into his ministerial dealings was released. For some, there is a realisation that they had been duped all along, while for others, it was just Robert himself, not the party’s fault, moving on.
And here is the problem for Caldwell and a possible reason as to why the LNP mafia chose him as the next man up. The LNP may struggle to gain votes in the north of Fadden but will always maintain the old money in the south. If Caldwell wins – and I feel he will – no foul, play on. But if he loses, or there is a swing against the LNP that carries over into the next federal election, then Caldwell is expendable.
The feds have tried to boost the campaign by sending in some of the big guns from Canberra such as Barnaby Joyce, Bridget McKenzie and James Paterson but again, do they want Caldwell to win or are they just having a laugh? There can’t be a struck match between Joyce’s level of engagement with the Murray-Darling basin and Brother Stuey’s litany of rorts, let alone Bridget “Shotgun” McKenzie being stood down as a minister for her involvement in the sports rorts affair?
Why would you send two individuals who have been investigated (and one found guilty) for corruption, into a by-election brought about by the resignation of a man due to possible corruption?
The L-NP either hasn’t learned a thing from its 2022 Election defeat to the ALP, or as presumed, it is business as usual and in a seat with a 10 per cent + margin, it has nothing to worry about.
Fight or flight in Fadden
In the end, there was no winner. Not on the night, nor will there possibly be on Saturday, either — not for the local community, I mean. It will be business as usual. After what was one of the weirdest “meet the candidates” shows I’ve ever sat through, I was none the wiser. I headed over to talk to Cameron to ask him how his campaign was going. Of course, he was polite and responsive, until I offered that I was with Independent Australia. Then, in fright, he fled. It’s an in-built reaction with these blokes — independent journalists and commissioners scare the shit out of them.
So, I didn’t get to ask how his campaign was going, nor what he thought of Brother Stuey gifting him his shot at the big time. I didn’t get to ask if he was going to run the Fadden Crime Forum along the same lines as Brother Stuey did. I also didn’t get a comment about how Barnaby’s family values align with Cameron’s (he has a lovely wife and daughters with another on the way — Cameron that is, not Barnaby), or if Shotgun McKenzie was looking at building a gun club in Fadden while she was here.
I also didn’t get to ask Cameron if he thought Senator James Paterson was a dead ringer for General Hux from the First Order in the Star Wars films. You have to admit, the parallels between the First Order and the LNP are astounding.
But again, I digress.
So, business as usual it will be for the largest organised crime syndicate in Queensland. They’ve got this covered — the next man in has stepped up to the plate. And good luck to the candidates, although I still have no idea why some of you have chosen to do this to yourself.
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