Nita Cunningham launches Local Government Week at Kings Beach in 2003.
Nita Cunningham launches Local Government Week at Kings Beach in 2003. Lou O'Brien

Parliament's "lolly queen" remembered

FONDLY labelled the "lolly queen of parliament" and the "Bundaberg Belle", Nita Cunningham has been remembered in the Queensland Parliament as a politician dedicated to her community.

Bundamba MP Jo-Ann Miller also described the former Bundaberg MP, who died in February at age 75, as "the real fashionista of parliament during her time that she was here".

"The people of Bundaberg will tell you that Nita Cunningham had a wonderful ability and practicality to mix economic growth through infrastructure development projects while at all times recognising the social needs of her," she said.

"She was totally instrumental in progressing the growth of the Bundaberg Airport, and one of her major accomplishments was the revitalisation of the Bundaberg CBD to produce a very liveable and attractive city.

"Nita was also a person who was quiet and dignified, and she was beautifully groomed. She never, ever had a hair out of place.

"Nita used to have snakes and jubes and peppermints in huge plastic bags and then towards the end of the evening she would then get chocolates and put them in her drawer.

"She knew that we would always take the lollies out of her drawer in the parliament."

Mrs Cunningham was the first woman to serve on the then Bundaberg city council and the city's first female mayor until she won the Bundaberg state seat in 1998.

She became the first woman to represent Bundaberg in any parliament and in 47 years was the first Bundaberg MP elevated to cabinet.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told parliament Mrs Cunningham never missed a chance to promote her local community and its needs.

"Former minister Robert Schwarten tells the story of how Nita would bring to cabinet lots of those big, red, juicy strawberries grown in the Bundaberg region," she said.

"Ministers would gratefully eat them and remark on how big and tasty they were. Nita would say, 'You know we can't grow them without water. That is why we need the Paradise Dam.'

"Finally, that lobbying saw the government commit to build the Paradise Dam."

Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg also noted Mrs Cunningham's role in the campaign to attract a university campus to Bundaberg but said the Paradise Dam plan was "already on the way".

"I found her to be an absolute lady, someone who was completely and absolutely dedicated to her family and to her community and someone who ... always conducted herself with the utmost decorum and politeness," he said.

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad spoke of Mrs Cunningham's Bundaberg CBD "beautification", which changed the physical look and feel of Bundaberg while mayor, and major infrastructure upgrades to sewerage, water and recycling.

"At Nita's funeral the overwhelming message was that people believe Bundaberg is now unquestionably a better place - a fairer place, a more modern place, a progressive community - because of the contributions she made," she said.

"Nita should be remembered not only for her wonderful spirit, her immaculate style and her determination, but her sense of fairness. People will never forget her contribution to the Bundaberg region."

Bundaberg MP Leanne Donaldson described Mrs Cunningham as a trailblazer for Bundaberg.

"Bundaberg is the city it is today because of pioneers like Nita who have listened to the community and turned that intelligence into action," she told parliament.

Burnett MP Stephen Bennett added two new weirs, the daily tilt train service from Bundaberg to Brisbane, the new TAFE hospitality building, a new marine centre at the port and the $42 million massive ring road project to Mrs Cunningham's list of achievements.