Tourism operators grilled the three main candidates for the Blue Mountains seat of Macquarie last Tuesday [August 6] with the National Broadband Network, delays to the Great Western Highway widening and a possible second airport the hot topics.
In a first for the election campaign in the battle for the seat of Macquarie, the Liberal, Labor and Greens candidates appeared together to answer questions from more than 25 tourism and accommodation operators in the Mountains.
After group expressions for better internet services, Labor candidate for the region, Susan Templeman, said the NBN planned to roll-out to Linden by July 2016 and it was expected in the Upper Mountains soon after.
On a second airport for Sydney, all three passed on Badgerys Creek, with sitting member Louise Markus expressing a commitment to stick with improvements at Mascot and Ms Templeman saying they were examining options at Wilton.
"As a Labor government we haven't pandered to the politics of it ... and we are moving to the next phase of exploring the possibilities of Wilton," Ms Templeman said.
Greens candidate Danielle Wheeler, who was almost hoarse from a night spent on a picket line in the Hawkesbury fighting to save the historic Windsor Bridge, said the group was against a second airport in the Sydney basin but if needed would look at Wilton.
"It's probably no surprise to you that Greens don't support a second airport in the Sydney basin, Wilton is the closest we would stomach [but] we would rather look at a very fast train to airports outside the Sydney basin," Ms Wheeler said.
Earlier the Greens candidate told the assembled group of about tourism operators their sector was "the envy of the Hawkesbury and we often look to you as an example of what could be done down the hill". She also cited small business experience.
"The Blue Mountains has led the way in NSW with slow food, eco tourism and natural heritage. We want to add another point of difference through renewable energy. Blue Mountains tourism could be a leader in energy efficiency and renewables," she said.
Ms Wheeler talked about threats to tourism too.
"The NSW Government planning reforms -known as the White Paper -) will fast-track more than 80 per cent of developments, including commercial buildings, apartment blocks and land subdivisions. Local councils will not be able to refuse proposals which comply with relevant codes.
"In short, if you want your customers to keep coming back to the Mountains to visit our historic towns, eat local food and enjoy our national parks, you need a party in government, and holding the balance of power in the senate, that understands the fragile nature of the Blue Mountains World Heritage area and the economic benefits it brings. You need a party that will stand up to mining companies and short-sighted, self-interested state governments."
Sitting member for Macquarie, Louise Markus, told the Blue Mountains Accommodation and Tourism Association that the Coalition had "always been a friend of Australia's tourism industry and the people it employs."
"We don't just fight for tourism because it's a nice little addition, we fight for tourism because we believe in it -it's in our very DNA and it is a part of our national identity."
Mrs Markus said her government had a strong track record on tourism.
"When the Coalition left Government in 2007, funding for Tourism Australia was at $136 million a year, this year it is $130 million. That's a four per cent decrease, without taking into account inflation of over 15 per cent during the same period".
She said Labor had increased tourist visa fees by 53 per cent and also put up the Passenger Movement Charge from $47 to $55 and broken a 2010 election commitment to spend $10 million every year in tourism grants."
"I speak to small business owners everyday who are struggling with rising electricity bills because of [the carbon] tax. The cost of gassing for refrigeration has gone up by 400 per cent [and] they can't take any more. Colless Foods is one example of a local business that have seen costs rise because of the carbon tax."
"This government was warned by the Tourism Transport Forum that the carbon tax could threaten 6,400 jobs in the tourism industry, but yet they went ahead."
Ms Templeman said she was "really reluctant" to focus on the money invested solely in tourism, adding "one of the key jobs of federal government was not just to give money to tourism but to spend on infrastructure so people could get to the Mountains easily".
"It all comes down to infrastructure," she said. "Labor has invested $300 million to get that road [the Great Western Highway] finished and the federal government [also] has a role in public transport, not just in road building."
Blue Mountains Accommodation and Tourism Association vice president David Holmes said he was pleased with the event turnout and questions asked by his members. He was also delighted that Mrs Markus was able to attend at the last minute. The other two candidates had agreed eight weeks before the event but the sitting member agreed just 24 hours before the forum, he said.
Mrs Markus did not attend two Gonski Education funding forums (in the Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains), the Friends of the ABC debate on the weekend and has so far declined an invitation from the unions to a Politics in the Pub debate on August 24 at Katoomba's Blackburn Hotel- invitations the Greens and Labor candidate had accepted. The candidates are however all expected to attend a debate in Wentworth Falls on August 18 run by Radio Blue Mountains