Lismore City Hall seemed an optimistic choice of venue for Tuesday night’s Page candidates’ forum, hosted by GetUp. But it was almost full, perhaps surprisingly given the state of roads after Saturday’s storms.
Colour was provided by the Bentley Angels and the Knitting Nannas but the candidates, especially the ones most likely to win, largely stuck their party playbooks.
Full story beneath photos
Photos Tree Faerie
All six candidates graced the stage: Mark Ellis from the Liberal Democrats, Anna Ludvick of the Animal Justice Party, the Christian Democrats’ Bethany McAlpine, Labor’s Janelle Saffin (Page MP to 2013), Nationals incumbent Kevin Hogan and the Greens’ Kudra Falla-Ricketts.
While most had obviously come to hear what their Labor, National and Greens candidates had to say, the three minor candidates provided entertainment value with their sometimes bizarre mix of policies and unscripted comments.
Mark Ellis pointed out the LDP supported marriage equality but wanted sections of the Anti-Discrimination Act abolished and the right to own firearms enshrined.
CDP’s Bethany McAlpine, needless to say, was implacably opposed to same-sex marriage but supported the region being declared a CSG-free zone. Her comment, ‘God made the world for us to take care of, so we shouldn’t trash it but doesn’t mean we should put it above everything else,’ drew an interesting response.
Anna Ludvig pointed out that most of the Animal Justice Party’s policies were directed towards the betterment of animals but acknowledged this gave her the happy opportunity to agree with ‘just about any of the other candidates’ if their policies agreed with her principles.
After an opportunity to outline their policies the candidates were each asked to respond to around 30 questions covering areas including climate change, CSG, education, hospitals, the Barrier Reef and fossil fuel subsidies.
Each audience member was given a ‘yellow card’ and MC (former Sex Party candidate) Larissa Zimmerman asked the audience to raise it if the candidates went off-topic. If it continued, they would be ‘gonged off’.
In reality, the time given to answer questions (maximum 30 seconds) was so brief that by the time cards went into the air speakers were almost finished. But that didn’t stop Mr Hogan getting carded – and gonged off – a couple of times.
There was one question on which all parties agreed, and it was a bit of a Dorothy Dixer, ‘Do you support the protection of core koala habitats?’ The poorly structured question allowed candidates to get off the hook with a simple ‘yes’.
In fact most of the questions were much more complex.
Company tax cuts
On the issue of the Coalition’s promised $48 billion corporate tax cut and the notorious 2014 budget cuts to schools and hospitals, Janelle Saffin said it ‘wouldn’t happen under Labor’, ‘funding to hospitals would be fully restored’, adding ‘the trickle-down effect doesn’t stack up.’
Kevin Hogan quoted the Irish example, where the government cut company tax from 30 per cent to 10 per cent and ‘within three years was collecting more money’.
The other candidates mostly agreed the tax cut should go and the funding be reinstated, with the exception of LDP’s Mark Ellis who said, ‘the idea of tax cuts is consistent with our philosophy. Schools are full of waste and inefficiency with teachers spending 20 per cent time filling out reports [for bureaucrats].’
The future of Medicare was warmly embraced by all, except Mr Ellis who supported full privatisation to heckling from the audience.
There was also some audience scepticism about Mr Hogan’s response that there were ‘no plans to privatise Medicare.’ He added the Coalition ‘have increased funding for health, which is going to reach more than $79 billion by 2020.’
Ms Falla-Ricketts said the Greens wanted Medicare to ‘remain fully publicly funded, plus dental care, plus a rural health plan’.
Ms Saffin said Labor had ‘given a commitment to “unfreeze” the GP freeze and make sure a body that looks at privatising the functions of Medicare is disbanded’.
Mr Hogan denied Medicare privatisation was on the agenda, saying the Coalition had ‘increased funding for health,’ which was ‘going to reach more than $79b by 2020.’
Education & Gonski
A similarly predictable response came from the majors on the question, ‘Can you commit to delivering the $29 billion Gonski needs-based funding for schools?
Ms McAlpine said CDP believes there were ‘other ways schools can be funded and supported,’ with presumably extra money for Christian ones.
Mr Ellis said, ‘no [the LDP] won’t support it. Who was Gonski? He was a lawyer; he never worked in a school.’
Ms Saffin said, ‘Labor’s committed to fully fund Gonski. It’s a fair funding formula, supported by the states and territories.’
Ms Falla-Ricketts agreed, saying, ‘you can’t put a price on kids’ futures’, and Ms Ludvick added, ‘education for our children. Is there anything more important?’
Mr Hogan wouldn’t mention the ‘G’ word but said, the needs based formula going to stay, increased every year to $20 billion by 2020.’
Closing refugee camps
Neither of the major parties wrapped themselves in glory on this one but Mr Hogan drew uproar with his response, ‘To refer to detention centres as concentration camps is an insult to every Jew.’
After the heckling died down, he added the Coalition was ‘committed to increase the country’s humanitarian intake over three years.’
Ms Saffin said Labor policy is ‘to fund UNHCR $450 million over three years to speed up processing in SE Asia, including at Manus Island and Nauru.’
The Greens said there was ‘a desperate need to close the camps.’
‘We’re torturing people who are fleeing countries because it’s not safe [there]. People my age [in the camps] are setting themselves on fire, getting raped, not getting access to healthcare. It’s a disgrace,’ Ms Falla-Ricketts said.
Mr Ellis said refugees should be ‘released in Australia after due processing,’ while Ms McAlpine said CDP, ‘supports processing as quickly as possible but not everyone is fleeing desperate circumstances.’
Fossil fuel industry
Again the majors were caught wriggling around this one, with Mr Hogan particularly skewered.
The question asked if the parties would refuse donations from the fossil industries and drop subsidies.
Mr Hogan said that ‘state Nats don’t accept donations from the industry’, despite being a federal member. He added the question of fossil fuel subsidies was ‘more complex’, citing the diesel fuel rebate, which is paid to farmers as well as miners.
Ms Saffin said she had ‘made a personal pledge and a commitment to continue discussion and debate within the party.’
Ms Falla-Ricketts said the Greens were currently the only one of the three main parties that don’t accept subsidies from fossil fuel industries and ‘have been putting up legislation to stop it that’s been blocked by Labor and the Libs.’
The other three groups were honest enough to admit they had never been approached with the offer of cash, with Ms Ludvick even making a light-hearted appeal to the audience for donations.
Mr Ellis said the LDP doesn’t support subsidies, adding they would ‘take a donation from Satan but it doesn’t affect our principles at all.’
More to come
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Six assorted optimistic candidates for Page were all up there on stage at the Lismore City Hall in their get up, to be squeezed by the equally optimistic assorted country-people populous to see which candidate would be more popular, in a contest of just who could be more verbal answering more than in a burble of a straight-laced question in a very short time like in the local courthouse dock by the time-keeper’s mention, in a city hall of a place where people usually have a ball.
Someone was sure to have a fall.
I agree that the koala question was poorly structured.
The question registered was, “What will you do to protect core koala habitat and feed trees in State Forests and in private forests?” bringing in the issues of Federal involvement in the RFAs and IFOAs.
Perhaps the organisers thought it a bit too esoteric for the candidates?
That would be Northern Rivers Climate Angels not Bentley Angels