Who is Matt Burnett and why is he Labor’s big hope in regional Qld?

Gladstone Mayor Matt Burnett, the man chosen to spearhead federal Labor’s attempt to regain relevance in regional Queensland, is about as far removed from the fabled latte-sipper ALP stereotype as you can get.

Apr 15, 2021, updated Apr 15, 2021
(Image: ABC)

(Image: ABC)

That he is fiercely pro-mining should come as no surprise: no one could win more than 73 per cent of the vote at the last Gladstone mayoral election by lamenting coal.

But Burnett has built a reputation on reminding the heavy industry corporates that depend on Gladstone for much of their profits that they should demonstrate their “social licence” to operate, ie, ensuring locals have good access to affordable housing, health and community care.

So it’s no wonder news that he will be Labor’s candidate for the federal seat of Flynn has gained attention. Central Queensland is a federal ALP graveyard thanks to the party’s perceived dislike of the very industries that drive the region’s economy.

Burnett, 45, has been a fixture of local government in Queensland for more than 20 years (he was the youngest councillor in the state when he was first elected), riding the highs and lows of Gladstone’s resources dependent economy throughout.

An astute handler of both mainstream and social media, he has leveraged what has traditionally been one of the more lower profiles in Queensland’s lineup of mayoral talent into his own springboard for higher political status.

He was one of a gaggle of regional mayors who made the now famous trip to India in 2017 to be wooed by Adani. Along with Townsville’s Jenny Hill and Isaac’s Anne Baker, he is one civic leader prepared to step around Labor’s prevailing policy stances if they do not pass the pub test locally.

Whether all that is enough to reverse a 7.3 percent swing to the LNP at the last election is now a question that will not just dictate Burnett’s political future, but the fate of the federal Labor Party in regional Queensland.


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