Fifty devoted political junkies braved a chilly Mountains Sunday evening to watch the three major candidates slug it out for the seat of Macquarie.
This was the first open forum where members of the public were able to hear the three major combatants (sitting Liberal MP Louise Markus, Labor candidate Susan Templeman and Danielle Wheeler from The Greens) ruminate on education, health, the economy and small business. The candidates also had a chance to explain why they deserved to represent the electorate.
The two-hour debate last Sunday August 18 was hosted by Radio Blue Mountains in the Wentworth Falls School of the Arts. It concluded after a short question and answer session with the audience just before 7pm with many wags suggesting the outside temperature of 4 degrees was warmer than the inside of the unheated room.
The audience became most animated when The Greens and Labor candidates raised State Government issues including hunting in national parks and coal seam gas drilling — issues they said indicated the need for a strong environmental focus federally.
Labor candidate Susan Templeman said after a career as a radio journalist and media consultant she decided to try to enter politics because she was “ashamed” of Australia during the “inward looking” Howard years.
“What I think I can bring to it [the electorate] is life experience of raising kids, facing mental illness in family, having ageing parents, all the things we go through. Parliament needs diversity and it needs small business. It shouldn’t matter what postcode you’re born into, it shouldn’t determine your health and education outcomes.”
Ms Templeman said recently the opposition had been “dragged kicking and screaming to provide a little extra [education] funding”.
She said she had turned the National Broadband Network on in Windsor and Richmond last Friday —a project “as essential as water and electricity to the way we live our lives” and would bring the “world class infrastructure from Lapstone to Linden by July 2016”.
Mrs Markus said “people were concerned about the level of debt”. The Coalition would cancel the carbon tax, red tape and “Labor’s $1.8 billion hit on the fringe benefits tax ... to get the budget back under control to ensure our children aren’t left with the soaring debt”. And she added they would “build a 15,000 strong Green Army to clean up the environment”.
She said she had fought hard on aged care and when she was a social worker had always seen a rise in need when Labor was in power.”Every time Labor was in I saw people coming through my door that never should have walked through my door.”
Mrs Markus said she would match Labor on Gonski education reform funding but the Labor candidate said the commitment equated to $34 million less for schools in the electorate as the bulk of funding came in the final two years of the six year plan.
The Greens candidate Danielle Wheeler said both Labor and Liberal were caught up in the “xenophobic rhetoric of shock jocks” on asylum seekers with “cruel, expensive, regressive policies [that] are doomed to fail”.
“The communities that have had refugees integrated into them are thriving. We did it very successfully post World War II and with Vietnamese refugees in the 1970s.”
She said climate change was real and urgent and the carbon tax policy “was a good piece of policy” with average electricity bills only increasing by $3. She looked forward to seeing concrete costings from the Coalition.
“A Green Army is a lovely idea, we Greens love wearing green T-shirts and going out planting trees, god knows we’ve been at it for quite a while now, but it’s useless if we don’t act on climate change —it’s not going to compensate for the business as usual policies of the Coalition.”
Questions from the crowd related to state issues —namely graffiti and late night train travel which was deemed to be unsafe — with the candidates agreeing to lobby the state government.
On Friday eight candidates were given their ballot positions by the Australian Electoral Commission with Christian Democrat candidate Tony Piper (Fred Nile group) getting the number one spot, followed by the incumbent MP Louise Markus, Labor’s Susan Templeman, Teresa Elaro from the Democratic Labour Party, Philip Maxwell from the Palmer United Party, Matt Hodgson from Australia First, Danielle Wheeler from The Greens and finally Mark Littlejohn from The Sex Party.