Costo – The Local You Know

Jason Costigan, or just ‘Costo’ to those who’ve followed his career in the media, well before he entered politics, is a father of a two, fiercely proud fifth-generation North Queenslander and First Fleet descendant.

The first of the Costigans arrived in North Queensland in 1848 after explorer Edmund Kennedy and his party, including Jacky Jacky and William Costigan, had sailed from Port Jackson (Sydney) and made landfall just north of present-day Cardwell, then still part of New South Wales, to commence their ill-fated expedition to the northernmost point on the continent, Cape York.

Sadly, most of the team perished including Kennedy and Costigan, who disappeared without a trace in remote eastern Cape York Peninsula.

In 1865, six years after Queensland had broken away from New South Wales, Jason’s Irish-born great-great grandfather, Patrick Costigan, arrived in the North, taking up his appointment as Mackay’s first police officer when the fledgeling settlement on the Pioneer River was just three years old.

At that stage, Bowen was four years old and Townsville was barely 12 months old and there was no Cairns or Charters Towers, let alone Cardwell, Cloncurry, Mareeba, Atherton, Ayr, Innisfail, Ingham, Proserpine or Airlie Beach!

Constable Costigan, previously with the Royal Irish Constabulary and officer No.111 in the history of the Queensland Police Service, lived in Mackay on the corner of Gordon (then Albert) and Sydney Streets on the site of what is now a coffee shop – directly across the street from where Jason was born, at Mackay’s Mater Hospital, more than a century later.

Constable Costigan was also among a group of community-minded citizens who established the Catholic Church in Mackay, helping finance the construction of the first-ever St Patrick’s Church on the corner of Gregory and North (now River) St – the site of St Patrick’s College where Jason began his secondary schooling in 1984 whilst living on the city’s northside.

Constable Costigan later served at Walkerston and then Nebo before retiring from the QPS to become a small dairy farmer near Denison Creek on the western side of the Eton Range prior to his death in 1895.

Jason’s great grandfather was James Ignatius Costigan (pictured, right) who spent much of the 1890s working with cattle and horses at the iconic ‘Valley of Lagoons’ near the headwaters of the Burdekin River where he had developed a reputation as a “splendid horseman” working alongside his brother John.

In 1901, in the presence of legendary French-born priest Fr Pierre Bucas, Jason’s great grandfather married Mary Agnes Maclean, from a well-known Central Queensland family (her grandfather John Shand Maclean died in 1862 and was a pioneering pastoralist in the Cracow area) and they had three children: William, Kelly (Jason’s grandfather) and Warren.

Tragically, William was killed in 1919 at the tender age of 14 in a horse fall on ‘Fort Cooper’ station near Nebo where Jason’s great grandfather had worked for the respected Michelmore family for 30 years as head stockman.

In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, Jason’s grandfather Kelly owned and operated MJ Costigan’s General Store in Nebo and not surprisingly, supplies would come from Michelmore’s in Mackay – in those days, a household name in commerce, encompassing wholesale and retail operations in the city.

In 1971, Jason was born in Mackay and at one stage, his baby sitter was the grand-daughter-in-law of the first Member for Whitsunday, the late Lloyd Roberts MP, who served as a Minister under Premier Sir Frank Nicklin.

Jason spent the 1970s growing up in working-class South Mackay where he was educated at St Mary’s Catholic Primary School before the family relocated to North Mackay, overlooking Goosepond Creek, in the early 80s.

On the northside, which historically was almost always in the State electorate of Whitsunday from 1950, Jason played junior rugby league for Magpies in between soccer for West United (where he is club patron nowadays) and he also spent many hours on his bicycle, riding across the river for school and as far afield as Kuttabul and Calen – such was his love for pedal power!

Jason’s secondary education was completed at Mackay State High School and by that stage, he was already carving out a likely career in the media, becoming a TV presenter every Friday night on the local MVQ-6 News as a rugby league correspondent, in addition to his weekly column for “The Pioneer News” and weekly appearance on the ABC 4QA’s weekly sports program.

In 1989, straight out of high school, Jason began his journalism career with News Corp in the Whitsundays, undertaking police and council rounds as well as general news and rugby league reporting for the “Bowen Independent” before he returned to Mackay to continue his cadetship with “The Pioneer News” whilst also churning out crisp copy for other sister publications focusing on the agricultural and tourism sectors in Mackay and the Whitsundays.

After less than 18 months as a cadet journalist, Jason returned to News Corp after he was offered and accepted a ‘graded’ position to cover rugby league for the “Townsville Bulletin” which required him to travel around the North and Far North, covering the famous Foley Shield competition, which had been the cornerstone of inter-town rivalry since it began in 1948.

By the age of 20, Jason had joined WIN TV, then the Nine Network affiliate, as a reporter and within 16 months, he was reading the 6pm news in North Queensland, as well as the bulletin for the Far North.

Jason soon became a familiar face for viewers up and down the coast – from the Burdekin to Port Douglas, as well as inland communities such as the Atherton Tableland and Charters Towers and that growing profile was only enhanced when the Cowboys entered the NRL (then the Winfield Cup), with ‘Costo’ heading up WIN’s commentary team – fulfilling a childhood ambition that pre-dated his school-age efforts for MVQ-6 (now part of the Seven Network).

In 1996, Jason embarked on a round-the-world adventure, taking him to Britain, Ireland, France, The Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the USA and during this time, he had the opportunity to develop his commentary skills, calling English Super League on commercial radio in West Yorkshire.

Costo also worked as media manager of English Super League club, the Bradford Bulls, and wrote about the game, as well as cricket (England was hosting the Ashes) for various publications including “The Yorkshire Evening Post”.

After almost 12 months abroad, Costo was lured back to Australia and his hometown of Mackay to become the first-ever CEO of the Mackay and District Rugby League, with a brief to get Mackay back into the State League competition, now called the Intrust Super Cup.

After the MDRL postponed that move, Costo relocated to NSW where he would spend the next decade of his life, working for Prime7 News in Wagga Wagga and Tamworth and in between, a stint as media manager of NRL team, the Canterbury Bulldogs and their sister sporting franchise, the West Sydney Razorbacks, who played in the National Basketball League.

However, the bulk of Costo’s time in NSW was spent calling the NRL on Fox Sports in Australia, Sky Sport in New Zealand and on other networks via international broadcast partners as he regularly commuted across the Tasman to call every NRL game in New Zealand from 2001 to 2010, as well as international fixtures involving the Kiwis against touring teams from Australia, Great Britain and France.

Costo was also used by Fox Sports as a back-up rugby league caller, broadcasting NRL games from Victoria to North Queensland and during the summer, he called NBL and international basketball games from Sydney to Auckland for trans-Tasman audiences.

In 2009, Costo also joined Triple M’s ‘Cowboys Call Team’, calling NRL games for three years for listeners in Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, the Whitsundays, Rockhampton, Gladstone and Charters Towers.

In 2011, Costo decided to pursue a career in politics, and just 12 months later, he was elected as the State Member for Whitsunday, an electorate at that stage, which included not only Proserpine, Airlie Beach and the world-famous Whitsunday Islands but also Mackay’s fast-growing Northern Beaches, suburban Mt Pleasant and Glenella and parts of Beaconsfield and a host of rural and seaside communities including Farleigh, Kuttabul, Seaforth, Calen, Bloomsbury, Midge Point, Dingo Beach, Hydeaway Bay and Cape Gloucester. 

That result in 2012 ended a 26-year drought for the Liberal National Party in Whitsunday and in the process, Costo won every booth in Whitsunday. It is the only time since the merger of the former Liberals and Nationals in Queensland that an LNP candidate, State or Federal, has achieved that feat in any electorate on the coast from Bundaberg to the Cape.

Costo was re-elected in 2015, defying a state-wide trend that saw the Newman Government booted from office and was subsequently promoted by then Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg as the Shadow Assistant Minister to the Opposition Leader in North Queensland. He continued to serve in that role, despite a mid-term party room coup resulting in Mr Springborg being toppled 27-25 in a leadership ballot and his 2IC, Surfers Paradise MP John-Paul Langbroek, declining to nominate for the job of Deputy Leader.

In 2017, Costo was again re-elected, defying his critics yet again and prompting him to contest the Deputy Leadership of the LNP. With just two MPs left in the party room north of Bundaberg, not surprisingly, Costo was rolled 37-2 and despite his extensive knowledge of communities north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and his special ability to connect with everyday people, not to mention his hat-trick of victories, he was overlooked for Shadow Cabinet – a surprise to most political observers, especially in North Queensland.

From that point, after ridiculing the LNP’s election strategy outside the SE corner, Costo was seen more than ever as the maverick MP from the North and that was underlined by his position on hot issues such as energy, water infrastructure, crocodiles and northern development.

Costo’s national profile grew significantly in 2018 when he became a regular guest on Sky News programs hosted by Gary Hardgrave, Peter Gleeson, Peta Credlin and Andrew Bolt, as well as several appearances on Channel 10’s ‘The Project’, sparked by his hugely successful World Bikini Day promotion for cyclone-damaged Airlie Beach and the Whitsundays.

It was only a matter of time before he ruffled too many feathers and consequently, Costo was expelled by the LNP on 1 February 2019 after a complaint from a person he has never even met!

On 2 September 2019, after serving as an Independent MP, Costo revealed on the eve of State Parliament sitting in Townsville that he would be establishing a new political party and on 31 October 2019, North Queensland First was registered by the Electoral Commission of Queensland.

On 26 November 2019, Costo walked into the Parliament as the NQ First Member for Whitsunday and therefore, the Leader of NQ First and he wasted little time in making an impact – gazumping the Opposition by grilling the Mines Minster in Question Time after the seventh death in 16 months on the Central Queensland’s coalfields, in keeping with his previous work in lobbying the Government to set up the Mine Safety and Health Authority in Mackay.

Going into 2020, Costo looks forward to continuing to serve the good people of Whitsunday and more broadly, the people of Central, North and Far North Queensland in his new role as Leader of NQ First, which as the name suggests, is all about putting North Queensland FIRST!