NATIONAL party Richmond candidate Matthew Fraser is engaged in a spicy electoral battle over coal seam gas (CSG) mining against his ALP rival Justine Elliot in the lead-up to the September 14 federal election.
The Hungry Jack's proprietor is fast learning how to serve political punches - and now understands sometimes it’s better to duck than return fire at an imaginary foe.
Recent ALP newspaper advertising has made ambit claims about the Coalition’s policy supporting coexistence between mining and agriculture.
Mr Fraser was initially outraged at the misleading nature of the advertising material, which has repeatedly used his name and image and National party brand to take a swipe at the Coalition’s approach to CSG.
Mr Fraser said he was intrigued about the design of Ms Elliot’s advertising and wondered why she wasn’t using her own party’s brand, but the budding politician took a deep breath and decided the anti-CSG attacks were backfiring, once Richmond voters started saying they liked his adverts and wanted to hear first-hand his views on electoral issues.
His take on the issue now is that his opponent was trying to distance herself from the ALP brand and its consistently poor polling results.
Mr Fraser’s commercial world grounding, where advertising design is guided by more stringent principles and regulations around broadcasting the truth about products and services, failed to inform his understanding of the recipe used for political material.
The difference, he has now learned, is that political advertising contains virtually no ethics and the truth is a loose commodity, often flipped and tossed about, just like one of the burger patties he once served to hungry customers via his fast food chain.
Rather than serving up healthy brain food, political advertising is more like a quick snack with a whopper of a lie rarely garnished in trust.
Mr Fraser may be biased, but he now believes the advertising standards are better at the (hungry for votes) Nats.
Electioneering is also providing the 33-year-old National’s candidate with a healthy serving of what’s on the full-time menu, if he eventually lands in Canberra, in terms of unsavoury political hypocrisy and hyperbole.
Ms Elliot stood down from her role as the ALP’s Parliamentary Secretary for Trade earlier this year so she could campaign against CSG in her marginal electorate. Those anti-CSG views were seen as a conflict of interest with her party’s overall policy support for CSG mining and trading.
Ms Elliot was replaced by Victorian MP Kelvin Thomson, who has a similar story attached to his rights of passage from the backbench into the ALP’s senior ministerial ranks.
Mr Thomson has been one of the biggest critics of live animal exports, making repeated public calls during this term of government for the trade to be banned, despite the lack of commercial connection between beef cattle production and voters in his Wills electorate on the outskirts of Melbourne.
“Wills is a dynamic hub of small businesses and a growing café and restaurant culture servicing professionals, students and families,” his website says.
“Professionals at 26 per cent represent the top occupation, clerical and administrative workers make up 16pc, with technicians and trade workers coming in at third at 13pc.”
But now Mr Thomson is one of the government’s key negotiators vested with governmental powers to try and rebuild strained diplomatic and industry relations, and open new livestock export markets.
Ironically, that’s in response to the very damage caused by the ALP’s snap suspension of the live cattle trade to Indonesia in June 2011, following intense public backlash sparked by an ABC television program.
He’s also been barred from making any more anti-live exports commentary while acting in his new trade role and industry has warned he must stick like glue to the ALP’s policy, supporting the trade.
Meanwhile, Ms Elliot has now returned to the backbench and is free to deep-fry the CSG industry and pepper with criticism the industry she once supported in a ministerial role.
Despite all the fuss about CSG in Ms Elliot’s advertising material, Mr Fraser said the issue of illegal immigrants was by far the biggest concern for people in Richmond.
He says the electorate’s top five menu items, or key political issues, are illegal immigrants; cost of living pressures /economic management, the carbon tax, jobs and roads.
Mr Fraser said Labor was running an anti-CSG scare campaign in Richmond and Ms Elliot wanted people to think a gas well is about to pop up in their backyard.
“Everyone knows this is absolute rubbish,” he said.
“There is no commercially viable gas in Richmond. Even if there was you couldn't mine it because of the tough NSW government regulations.
“This is evident by Dart and Metgasco announcement to suspend operations NSW - operations that weren't in even Richmond.”
Ms Elliot has accused the National Party of doing the bidding of CSG companies, while ignoring the concerns of Richmond locals.
But in a unique response, Mr Fraser has challenged his rival to a public debate on CSG and also offered to donate $1000 to charity if she can identify any CSG located in the electorate.
He said the $1000 bet was simply to highlight Ms Elliot’s fear campaign focus and force her into making an admission of mischief.
In response, Ms Elliot has said CSG companies wouldn’t have taken out exploration licences if they didn’t think there was anything to extract.
“Politically she has done a disservice to the community," Mr Fraser said.
“No one wants their MP to scare them into belief - people just want to know the facts and this will hurt her at the ballot.”
“She was nowhere on this issue when the previous NSW State Labor government where handing out mining licenses like confetti with little or no regulation.
“The Greens even supported the expansion of the CSG industry only as far back as 2008.”
In counteracting other criticisms, Ms Elliot has accused Mr Fraser of being “not from here”, of coming from outside the northern NSW coastal electorate.
“When I read statements like that I know she's desperate,” he said.
“It’s another ploy to avoid talking about boats, cost of living and jobs."
Mr Fraser said his father worked for Telstra and his mother was a primary school teacher and they both voted Labor their entire lives.
But he says they’re now swing voters and will vote for the Coalition this year.
“It's got nothing to do with me either,” he said.
“The turning point for them, and a lot of other traditional Labor voters, was when Julia Gillard knifed Kevin Rudd in the back. Since then they haven't recovered.”
In 2008, Mr Fraser sold his home loan business and invested in a Hungry Jack’s franchise in South Tweed with his fiancée Paula. Ironically, the childhood sweethearts met as teenagers while working for McDonald’s. They now own a second Hungry Jack’s outlet in Tweed Heads, with Paula managing the businesses while Matthew is in campaign mode.