While the party animals (I mean the Animal Justice Party) candidate Cathy Blasonato admitted that she didn’t really want to get elected and James Wright from Keep Sydney Open was philosophical about his chances it was the constant ‘personal opinion’ of Nationals candidate Ben Franklin – that were in apparent direct opposition to his own party’s policy positions – that really stood out at last night’s Ballina candidates meeting in Byron Bay.
From supporting the Student Strike 4 Climate action, to recognising that we need to do more to support our environment and take action on climate change Mr Franklin repeatedly expressed that he could ‘work from within’ his party effectively for change on both these more global issues as well as gaining better outcomes for the electorate of Ballina. Though one has to admit this has not been effective in relation to the regional forest agreements (RFA) recently delivered by the Liberal National government that have delivered appalling environmental outcomes in relation to land clearing and habitat destruction.
Further, as we all know from the past experience of being a ‘safe National’ seat – as soon as the risk of losing this seat is off the table all the money that we’ve seen rolling in will be off the table too.
From short-term holiday letting to medium density housing Country Labor, The Greens and The Nationals were all trying to ‘make exceptions’ for Byron (Nationals) or remove damaging legislation brought in by previous governments to win your vote.
Country Labor’s Asren Pugh as a first time political candidate made some good arguments as to the advantage of Labor winning and gaining government and there wasn’t much disagreement in the audience that the Liberal/National government had handed down some pretty awful legislation over the last eight years. Issues particularly in relation to land clearing, ‘that has increased by 300 per cent’ according to Mr Pugh – though there are estimates that it has actually increased by more like 800 per cent.
Ms Blasonato from the Animal Justice Party, who are promoting the rights of animals and the need to look after the environment, said that the elections gave parties like hers and Mr Wrights the opportunity to raise issues that were important to the community in the hope that the major parties might drive them forward when they were elected.
On the issues of ‘handing back control to councils on development decisions’ neither Country Labor or The Nationals came clean. There was no commitment from either party to assess the impact and effectiveness of the NRPP (Northern Regional Planning Panel) or the state taking control of ‘state significant development’.
Decisions by these two bodies have taken considerable power out of the local community hands forcing endless battles with bureaucrats and Sydney based decisions that appear to have little local support. These include the Byron bypass and the current state imposed Transport Hub in Byron that will fundamentally change the look, feel and amenity of the town. The NRPP while having rejected West Byron is known to rubber stamp 98 per cent of the development applications that come to them.
The Greens candidate Tamara Smith and Country Labor’s Mr Pugh both spoken in favour of impairment based roadside drug and alcohol testing while Mr Franklin from the Nationals failed to comment on the topic.
Clearly The Greens are not going to win government but sitting MP Tamara Smith urged voters consider the power of ‘sitting on Labor’s shoulder’ to keep them on the right path. If Labor needs The Greens to create a minority government (ie Labor can only form a government if they make a deal with The Greens) then The Greens will have the ‘balance of power’ giving them some clout to negotiate the outcomes of a Labor led policy framework.
While Nationals member Ben Franklin only recommended voting one for him the rest of the candidates acknowledged the importance of preferencing your vote – putting a 2, 3, 4 or more next to the candidates in order that you prefer them ending with your least favourite party. This way your vote doesn’t get thrown away and the party you really don’t want to get elected has a better chance of being beaten.