Five of the six candidates for the seat of Richmond faced-off at the penultimate meet-the-candidates forum at a combined Tweed business chamber breakfast at Kingscliff yesterday.
The final forum, hosted by the Byron Shire Echo, will take place at the Byron Bay Community Centre tonight (September 5) from 6pm.
The moderated format provided a welcome opportunity for incumbent Justine Elliot (Labor) and political hopefuls Matthew Fraser (Nationals), Dawn Walker (Greens), Dr Phil Allen (Palmer United), and Kevin Skinner (independent) to go head to head on policy issues.
Participants spoke in the order they appear on the election ballot. After apologies from John Ordish (Christian Democratic Party), proceedings got under way with former Tweed Shire councillor and one-time mayor Mr Skinner.
He pointed to Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor as recent examples of successful independents delivering for their constituents.
Mr Skinner predicted Saturday’s election result would be closer than widely expected and that independents and minor parties could again combine to provide the balance of power in a new parliament.
He referred to double-digit population growth statistics as reasons why it was important for regional planning to be more pro-active and for government to get in ‘ahead of the game’. Infrastructure would be a main priority if elected, he said.
Mathew Fraser committed an incoming Coalition government to a $3.3 million upgrade of Kennedy Drive in Tweed Heads. He also cited interest in a possible ecotourism rail trail along the disused Murwillumbah to Casino line, referring to it as an exciting project worthy of full consideration.
He described the previous six years of Rudd/ Gillard government as a ‘Labor stranglehold’ that Australia and the business community could ill afford, and there was too great a burden on small business when it came to red tape.
Mr Fraser said he had doorknocked 7,000 homes during the campaign.
Justine Elliot, the member for Richmond since 2004, told the early morning crowd she was a proud Labor Party member, citing Medicare and the national disability scheme as important historical milestones.
In her time as a local MP, Ms Elliot said she had helped deliver school, road, health and other funding to the tune of $1.5 billion.
She said Saturday’s election would be a choice about the ‘community and country we live in’, and warned a future Abbott government would cut jobs and services.
Dawn Walker presented her credentials to the business audience by referring to a lifetime engaged with small business starting with the one run by her parents.
She said the Greens had developed an array of practical fiscal and tax policies aimed at helping small businesses.
Ms Walker pointed to record profits among Australian banks and overseas mining companies at a time when the poverty gap was widening.
She believed there was much that could be done in supporting research and development with a view to a lower carbon economy and developing more sustainable Australian industries.
Dr Phil Allen for the Palmer United Party introduced himself as a candidate whose professional background as an orthopaedic surgeon had provided him with useful insights into people and issues.
Dr Allen described attending thousands of local patients, and said this gave him an independent and passionate perspective.
He warned that whichever of the major parties were elected, life would be harder than it should be and listed policies which would help, including paying tax in arrears, abolishing the fringe benefits tax, and a 20 per cent increase in the old age pension.
Candidates fielded questions from the audience, which included acting National Party leader in the senate, Fiona Nash, and former member for Richmond, Larry Anthony.
Secretary of the Kingscliff and District Chamber of Commerce, Dennis Eyre, said he was pleased with the morning’s proceedings and the turnout.
‘It’s an important platform for candidates to address local business operators and tell us what they believe,’ he said.
Stephen Senise is a Tweed-based freelance journalist