Following the forum, Northern Rivers Social Development Council (NRSDC) CEO Tony Davies has called on political candidates to develop stronger social policies.
Mr Davies said that on a personal level the candidates were aware of the key social issues but there was a lack of policy on these longstanding, complex issues.
The Tweed Heads forum, organised by NRSDC and The Family Centre, focused on social issues for the local region, including education, refugee policy, transport, housing and homelessness.
Palmer United Australia candidate Phil Allen unveiled plans to make tertiary education free. He also wanted to make the first $10,000 of everyone’s home loan tax deductible ‘to get more people into their own homes’.
But when asked about reinstating parenting payments, Mr Allen referred to national debt and the lack of money at hand to address the issues.
Nationals candidate Matthew Fraser gave his personal views on the housing crisis, but couldn’t commit to future funding.
Mr Fraser also delivered the surprise of the night when he said the Nationals would reinstate parenting payments, despite it’s being against party policy.
‘It was hard to get a sense of whether they will be able to deliver,’ Mr Davies said of the candidates’ responses.
‘Both of the major parties are softening us up for more cuts to vital programs rather than realising investment is the key preventative in social services. For example, supporting services to ease homelessness will reduce costs in running hospitals, mental health services and in dealing with substance abuse.’
Labor’s Justine Elliott wanted to see the federal government working more closely with states and local government on the issue of homelessness.
Asked whether parenting payments should be reinstated to households with children up to 12 years old, Ms Elliott defended the government’s handling of the issue so far.
Former Tweed mayor Kevin Skinner was aware of the large numbers of people sleeping rough the area and wanted to make sure the new community centre in Murwillumbah, which helps out the homeless, is replicated across the region.
Greens candidate Dawn Walker recognised the issues and detailed the Greens Homelessness Action Plan to see 7000 new homes built by 2020 and to double the funding for Specialist Homelessness Services Australia.
Ms Walker added that the Greens would raise Newstart and parenting payments.
David Boutkan from The Family Centre said having these forums offered a way for our future leaders to articulate a vision for our region and to understand what the community is feeling.
‘We need leadership in this region that distils the party line into local community issues,’ Mr Boutkan said.
NRSDC and Echonetdaily will hold a Richmond electorate forum tonight at the Lismore Workers Club from 6pm.