Climate change, the economy, conservation and housing affordability were among the hot topics at a Federal election forum at Arana Hills yesterday.
Hosted by the Hills and Districts Chamber of Commerce, the forum attracted a capacity audience of 100 people keen to question candidates in the seats of Dickson and Ryan – including the four captains from Ferny Grove State High School - as well as Everton State MP Tim Mander and Ferny Grove State MP Mark Furner.
Seven of Dickson’s eight candidates attended – Independent Alan Buchbach, Peter Dutton (LNP), Thor Prohaska (Independent), Tamera Gibson (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation), Alina Ward (United Australia Party), Ali France (ALP) and Vinnie Batten (Queensland Greens). Lloyd Russell from the Liberal Democratic Party did not attend.
Six candidates from Ryan fielded questions from the audience – Damian Coory (Liberal Democratic Party), Janine Rees (Australian Progressives), Elizabeth Watson-Brown (Queensland Greens), Peter Cossar (ALP), Julian Simmonds (LNP) and Axel Dancoisne (Australian Federation Party). Kathryn Pollard (United Australia Party), Joel Love (Pauline Hanson’s One Nation) and Jina Lipman (Justice Party) did not attend.
Each candidate gave a short speech about themselves and their policies before the forum was opened up for questions from the floor, moderated by MC Ian Skippen. Those asking questions could nominate who would answer them.
Ferny Grove State High School captain John Gill addressed his question to Peter Dutton and Julian Simmonds, asking why the government-funded national average per student per year was higher for Independent schools than State schools.
Mr Dutton said the Federal Government provided funding to the State Government and wanted the money spent wisely, while Mr Simmonds said the government wanted families to have freedom of choice in where their children went to school.
“My belief in government is that we should be facilitating those choices,” Mr Simmonds said.
Alan Chenoweth asked Ryan candidates about their parties’ long-term vision for the Australian economy.
Peter Cossar said boosting the nation’s manufacturing was the key.
“Our party believes in bringing back manufacturing in this country,” he said.
“We have seen through COVID how decimated we were by not having manufacturing in this country.”
Mr Simmonds said having a strong economy would ensure robust services for the community.
Guy (no surname given), from Melbourne, wanted to know about public debt accrued under the Coalition Government.
“Is there any way the Coalition can present itself as a fiscally responsible party?,” he asked.
Damian Coory said the answer was an unequivocal “no”.
“I think there needs to be radical chance in the Liberal Party,” he said.
“A trillion-dollar debt is inexcusable.”
Peter Cossar questioned the Coalition’s economic credibility.
“It’s not just about the economy, it’s about what we have to show from their time in government,” Mr Cossar said.
Ferny Grove State High School vice-captain Oscar Ratcliff was interested in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and whether candidates would support drastic action.
Vinnie Batten said his biggest passion was representing young people to enable them to “face the climate crisis head-on”.
Key to this, Mr Batten said, were transitioning to renewable energies and supporting workers in the fossil fuel industry to repurpose their skills.
Mr Dutton said the LNP supported a transition to sustainable energy, but “the point of difference might be the trajectory – your argument is that we should get there more rapidly”.
“We could all purchase electric vehicles tomorrow – the question is when we get them home and plug our vehicle in, is that realistic.”
Sticking with the topic of the environment, Kerry Levingston asked candidates to demonstrate their understanding of the importance of the Ramsar-listed wetlands which cover much of the Moreton Bay Region.
Ali France said the ALP believed there had been a gaping hole in environmental protection policies in the past 10 years and would conduct a “wholesale review” of the Environmental Protection Act if elected.
Vinnie Batten said local wetlands were “a crucial ecosystem that we need to protect at all costs”.
Jen Basham raised concerns about Federal funding for the Urannah Project, which proposes to build a dam and hydroelectric scheme 80km west of Mackay, with water to be used for coal mining and agriculture.
Elizabeth Watson-Brown said the Greens did not support the plan.
“We support clean energy and clean manufacturing jobs – the Urannah Dam is going in the opposite direction.”
Mr Simmonds declined to comment in detail, saying his wife was working on the project, but said: “I do focus a lot on protecting our local lifestyle and practical environmental measures”.
Abraham Arends, a sole practitioner solicitor, told the forum he acted for people with significant disabilities, and they were concerned about the complicated assessment process for the NDIS, as well as providers rorting the system.
Mr Dutton said the number of NDIS users had increased significantly in the past three years, up from 277,000 in 2019 to 517,000.
“There is a lot of pressure for more conditions to be recognised,” he said.
“How do we keep the NDIS sustainable and provide support to those in need and not overservice others? We are now spending more on the NDIS than Medicare.”
Ms France described the current state of the NDIS as “heartbreaking”.
“There are people who are finding their places unilaterally cut in half with no discussion or consultation and being told if they want to challenge the decision they have to go to the (Administrative Appeals Tribunal).
“We will do a review of what’s going on with the NDIS.”
Attendee Janine (no surname given) said teachers and nurses were frontline workers and questioned why both had been categorised as needing to be vaccinated to do their jobs.
In response, Alina Ward said she was concerned about the resulting drop in available healthcare workers and teachers.
“When you mandate medicine that’s a death sentence for some people,” Ms Ward said.
Ash (no surname given) asked about Ms France and Mr Dutton’s stance on border protection.
Ms France said the ALP supported turning back refugee boats from Australian shores.
Mr Skippen then invited “Peter” to speak, prompting Peter Cossar to rise to his feet.
Mr Dutton rose too, quipping: “Peter Cossar cuts a poor imitation,” in reference to their shared lack of hair.
Returning to the question, Mr Dutton said the problem of illegal refugees was not going away.
“We have stopped the boats on the water, we have closed 17 detention stations.
“It’s about temporary protection visas – what the smugglers want (is) Labor’s permanent protection visas.”
Vinnie Batten predicted the number of illegal asylum seekers would increase as rising sea levels caused by climate change displaced more people from their homes.
“We need to have a really honest conversation about immigration while protecting our security.”
Picabeen Community Centre manager Jill Warren raised the issues of housing affordability and social housing, saying the number of people facing homelessness was rising and seeking answers from Ms France and Mr Dutton.
“The Federal Government provides support to the State Government – some states do it exceptionally well, others are lagging behind,” Mr Dutton said.
Ms France said homelessness was a huge issue right across Australia.
“Women over the age of 50 are facing growing homelessness,” she said.
“If elected we will have a national housing plan – we do need to build more social and affordable homes.”
Mr Batten said the Greens had a comprehensive plan to build one million homes across the country, while Ms Rees said the issue was close to home for her and her family.
“I was made homeless through domestic violence,” she told the forum.
“We need laws to end domestic violence so we don’t have a crisis of women over 50 being a homeless statistic.”
Ms Rees said she finally found somewhere to rent after four months of staying with family and friends.
Ferny Grove State High School vice-captain Jasmin Peters told candidates people in non-traditional relationships and families were struggling in the property market because they found it difficult to get home loans.
“How are you going to allow them to get the property they deserve?,” she asked.
Mr Simmonds offered to discuss the issue with Jasmin in more detail after the forum.
“Obviously as a government we don’t want to see discrimination,” he said.
St Andrew’s Anglican Church Indooroopilly Parish Priest Sue Grimmett said people were concerned about political donations.
“The Centre for Public Integrity has reported that $1 billion was donated to political parties between 1999 and 2020,” she said.
“I speak to people who are very concerned about the threat of this to democracy.”
Mr Cossar said he did not accept donations from developers, while Ms Watson-Brown said the Greens only accepted private donations.
Mr Simmonds said he did not equate donations with political favours and queried the ALP’s acceptance of donations from Unions.
Grant (no surname given) questioned candidates about their view of foreign ownership of ports and other infrastructure.
Ms Ward said the UAP did not support foreign ownership, while Tamera Gibson said Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party believed water resources and major infrastructure should remain in Australian hands.
“Infrastructure and investment are really important, but foreign ownership is not the same thing,” Ms Gibson said.