First Blood at the Candidates Forum (February, Week 2)

Tonight we were finally able to see the electoral combatants up front, face to face in eye-gouging, eye-watering individual combat even Hayek - or the grotesque rats in the Hobbesian sewers for that matter - would be severely disappointed in yet mildly entertained nonetheless. That's the problem with a three-way race full of generally affable candidates. Not enough blood! 

              Q1: What makes you stand out as a candidate?

  • Ms. Smith (Greens) was quick to bolster her reputation and appeal to her base by immediately dispelling any notion of receiving corporate donaions. Following this Ms. Smith spoke of her own virtues in philanthropy by giving away $30,000 of her salary to charity each year. Praiseworthy comments, but a noticeable void of policy achievements despite stating to have made 159 speeches and 25 questions over the last four years. Details and specifics were lacking in all respects.

  • Interestingly, and perhaps the first political faux pas of the night, Ms Smith stated people only enter her office as a last resort. Don Page was well liked precisely because you didn't need to go to his office as a last resort and the best politicians are those who are pro-active, seeking out the issues in there community to fix them and understanding the power differential and confusion which acts as a deterrence towards approaching politicians for aid. Whether Ms. Smith intended to imply a lack of pro-activity will just be another forgotten carcass, ignored particularly by the quiet but ravenously hungry vegans just to the south in Byron Shire, and resonating with the rumours circulating previously of a bullying management style (seems a trend in the NSW Greens) and a hands off approach to public interaction.

  • Mr Pugh (NSW Labor) spoke of his life growing up in the area, the values he developed working alongside his father at a young age in environmental activism and later fighting for workers as a Union advocate. Quoting Julia Gillard, Mr. Pugh articulated his commitment to running on the values and principles he believes he shares with the electorate - the area in which they were formed. Mr Pugh finished by acknowledging the abysmal state of politics at this time and the need for trust in our political institutions to be restored through proper governance built on community relations.
  • Mr Franklin (Nationals) promised a bed tax....awaiting details, of course.

            Q2: On Trust and Politics

  • Mr. Pugh opened by stating "everything we have said we will do", yet noted they can't deliver unless Labor forms government. The list of Labor election commitments included permanent firefighters for Ballina, an Ambulance Station in Alstonville, stronger local (not highway) police presence and $100,000 for an Arakwal cultural centre after consultation with Indigenous Elders. In a sign of good faith, Mr. Pugh also said that these commitments will be implemented irrespective of March 23rd's outcome but, if elected, he says he will be fighting for far more.

  • Mr. Franklin took a radically different response, stating he has not made any commitments (despite just doing so with the previously unannounced bed tax promise) but delivered actual outcomes. This is odd wording given his appointment to the North Coast as an Member of the Legislative Counciil meant he was doing nothing more than his job. And, if that's the case, it really does raise the question of where he has been for the last decade. Mr Franklin's esoteric references to "sacred institutions" we must retain trust in aside, he also acknowledged that any commitments would be honoured regardless of his status at the end of election day.

  • Mr. Pugh immediately asked Mr. Franklin whether he can ensure this would happen, to which Mr. Franklin replied: "No, I assume they will."

           Q3: Campaign Ethics

  • Ms Smith raised the issue of porkbarrelling on account of the flood of money handed out in the last six months by Ben Franklin. From here, Ms Smith argued that the marginality of a seat is directly related to the positivity of its outcomes as the major parties spend big and and make abundant promises to win. Notably, Ms Smith characterised "wheeling and dealing" (presumably this refers to the negotiations in governing a democracy) as a means to acquire funds as inherently bad. The Greens, Ms Smith says "are irrelevant to the process of wheeling and dealing. Given this statement, it is unsure what Ms. Smith's stance is on negotiation or what was intended by "wheeling and dealing" other than a slur.

  • In response, Mr Pugh stated that he and Labor are interested in evidence-based policy, iterating that major parties are required to cater to every electorate in the
    state, not just those in electoral doubt. As an example, Mr Pugh explained the $16 million commitment to North Coast roads is part of a $900 million package across New South Wales.

  • Mr Franklin returned the discussion to community matters to defend himself against the accusations of pork-barreling the electorate. This statement was met with laughter from the audience. However. Mr Franklin's oral skills were on display as he presented a sound, albeit emotive argument as defense: "If your child died due to poor infrastructure outside their school ou wouldn't call it pork barreling." 
  • Incredibly, at this stage Ms Smith gave Mr Franklin what was effectively a "Dorothy Dixer", asking what was so "super special" that he had done. Mr. Franklin was extremely happy to list off a string of funds and help he has provided to residents. My jaw just about hit the floor when Ms Smith, a politician with four years experience, gave such a tactless and well-known free kick to her opponent. Currently her debating skills are being floored by both Mr Franklin and Mr Pugh.

  • Ms. Smith followed up by criticizing the type of governance seen in the last four years, vocally supporting Mr Pugh's stance on evidence-based policy and pushing for needs-based funding principles as the central principle of economic management. Policy details were again notably absent... but sentiment and vibes were very high /sarcasm.

      Q4: Economics: How do we develop our area sustainably?
  • Ms Smith very clearly has a short-term plan to keep money flowing in: "you stay a marginal seat". This strikes me as particularly irrational and myopic as seats tend
    not to stay marginal for eternity and the plan to build our economy hinges on factors largely out of her, or any other groups, control. Following this Ms Smith touched on some policy themes, such as a bed tax on visitors, disproportionate land taxes and an increasing population. Ms Smith said: "We give more bang for our buck so what I propose is a very different way to fund things, or a bed tax." Again, no actual detail to comment on and with Labor on the same page this will be a difficult issue for them to win on.

  • Responding to the notion of marginal seats being desirable, Mr Pugh fired back by emphasising the need for long-term strategy and vision for our area with a local member inside the party room fighting for outcomes every single day rather than wait four years for a small top up on election eve.

  • Mr Franklin shot back in similar fashion, arguing the money spent in recent times is just business as usual in his role overseeing the North Coast. To quote: "This view
    we've been starved is nothing further from the truth. Don Page delivered consistently for our commmunity...". Mr Franklin also supported Mr Pugh's argument that a party of government cannot be entirely focused on marginal seats as they are required to service the entire state. In his own words, Mr Franklin alleges he "never wanted to run for Ballina but I did because the people asked for more funding and that's why we have got now."

       Q5: Local Government: How Important is Collaboration?
  • "Incredibly", started Mr Franklin's own description of his ability to work with local governments of all political persuasions to deliver community outcomes.

  • Ms. Smith echoed a similar resoponse in terms of working closely with local government. However, perhaps a slip of the tongue, but Ms Smih alleged "councils are only as good their revenue streams." This seemed to me like a good way to insult the people you need to work with, although Ms Smith is known for being at odds with the Green majority in Byron Shire Council and the animosity between them so it may not matter as much in this case. There have also been examples, such as Fairfield, where councils had a severe lack of funds yet were recognised as best practice in certain areas like resettlement for refugees. Of course money is vital and can help immensely if spent wisely, but to have this as your sole metric of local government performance screams inexperience and dulled innovation.

  • On an unrelated note, Mr, Pugh took thirty seconds to announce the ALP's $100,000 pledge to fund the Arakwal Cultural Centre and provide assistance to the Indigenous groups that need it most. Sadly, not even from the Green-leaning audience, or due to the sound of the camera, not a single clap was heard for the plight of the First Australians.