Just a stone’s throw from the Corridor of Oaks, where many people would dearly love to see him plant his own prime ministerial tree, Malcolm Turnbull came face to face with the people of the Blue Mountains as the federal election campaign heated up.
As part of the political battle for Sydney’s greater west the Opposition spokesman for communications met with 65 local residents at the Faulconbridge Centre Community Hall on Saturday to talk on the national broadband network (NBN). But during his visit he also fielded questions about council parking fines, asylum seekers, leadership speculation, foreign aid, graffiti, education and local youth unemployment.
“The NBN stuff goes over my head but I like him because he is honest and he talked about some local issues like graffiti,” one 78-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous, said after the visit.
Rusted-on Labor voters in Blaxland and Valley Heights also admitted being impressed by the man.
“I think I love him,” one said laughing.
Mr Turnbull was in the Mountains on the invitation of MP for Macquarie Louise Markus. He came a day before Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s much-hyped five day visit to Rooty Hill as part of a struggle to maintain seats in the Greater west.
A poll by Fairfax on Saturday indicated only Kevin Rudd could win back the Labor heartland. Mr Turnbull told the Gazette he thought the polls were spot on.
“I think they probably would do better with Kevin but how much better is anyone’s guess.”
Mr Turnbull said the public was now starting to listen to opposition concerns about costing and timing on the NBN.
“The roll out is proceeding at a snail’s pace [and] we believe that the actual cost of the NBN will be in excess of $80 billion.”
Due to legal constraints NBN would go ahead under the coalition with a mix of other technologies - but he promised to look into concerns raised by Blue Mountains City councillor Chris Van der Kley about where NBN would be rolled-out first - residential areas like Yellowrock, Mt Victoria and Mt Riverview - instead of business centres like Springwood and Katoomba.
“It’s costing way too much and taking way too long, it’s all very well to get the Rolls Royce model but if it is going to take 10 years...”
New Zealanders were “more sensible than our government” because they were taking that business-first approach which could then finance other stages of the broadband roll-out, he said.
Mrs Markus said it was an important opportunity for residents to have their say on what is a challenging and important issue for the Mountains.
“Six years on and we are still waiting for the government to announce when construction will start in key areas of the Blue Mountains.”
Earlier in the day, on a street walk through Blaxland, fruiterer Sam Turcasio who works about 80 hours a week, told the Member for Wentworth he was sick of the “mess” and “shenanigans” of the Labor Government which had led to extra red tape for his business.
“I’ve talked to other greengrocers and everything is just getting more and more complicated whether it’s hiring people or anything really.”
“Yes, it’s like being in a boat with a skipper that doesn’t know where they are going,” said Mr Turnbull, who worked in a fruit store between school and university.
Some Blue Mountains residents told Mr Turnbull they desperately wanted to see him in The Lodge and others believed he was running for the wrong party, believing Labor was his natural home.
Mr Turnbull scoffed at suggestions he would one day plant his own tree at the Corridor of Oaks.
“It’s very unlikely. People are very kind but we have a leader of the Liberal Party, a leader of the opposition who is doing a very good job. I don’t foresee any change there but listen anything’s possible, it’s an unpredictable business.”
Mr Turnbull expressed an interest in visiting the famous Oaks but Mrs Markus’s schedule didn’t allow it.