29 April 2022

All eight Riverina candidates front the public for Wagga community forum

| Chris Roe
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Riverina candidates pose for a group photo

Moderator Olivia Calver and the Riverina contenders lined up for the NSW Farmers community forum. Photo: Shane Manning.

The full cast of candidates for the Riverina gathered in Wagga last night, Thursday 28 April, to answer questions from local voters ahead of next month’s Federal election.

Labour shortages, housing, water, agriculture and infrastructure were key topics, along with a surprise cameo from former independent candidate Pennie Scott, who missed the cutoff for nominations last week.

The event was hosted by the Wagga District and Ganmain Coolamon branches of NSW Farmers and was kept to a tight schedule by moderator Olivia Calver from ABC Riverina.

Each contender was given two minutes to make their pitch in order of their ballot placement before the Q&A where answers were capped at 90 seconds.

One Nation’s Richard Orchard got the ball rolling with an acknowledgment of the migrant settlers who “founded this country”, a nod to his farming forebears and a quick run through his credentials as a former employee of NSW Agriculture and a descendant of the “risk-takers and nation builders”. Just as he was warming to the task, his time came to an abrupt close with the pinging of the timekeeper’s bell.

Next, second-time candidate for the ALP Mark Jefferson highlighted the privilege of participating in our democratic process and outlined his local credentials as a 35-year Wagga resident and businessman who has known hard times.

Daniel Martelozzo from United Australia Party described himself as a businessman with little knowledge of farming but was keen to listen and learn. He suggested that farming and business had a lot in common and congratulated farmers on being “the backbone of Australia”.

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Steve Karaitiana from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party was a surprise attendee, travelling from Forbes for the event. A self-described “third-generation travelling showman”, Mr Karaitiana said he had seen the best and worst of the country on the show circuit before joining the Forbes council five years ago.

Incumbent member Michael McCormack of the National Party thanked farmers and businesses for their sacrifices through the COVID-19 pandemic and said he was proud to be a part of the government that has helped Australia through it.

“If COVID has taught us one thing, it is that regional Australia is the key to unlocking our future wealth.”

He wrapped up his two minutes by highlighting the importance of bipartisan collaboration and touching on the infrastructure he had been able to deliver over his time in office.

Independent Darren Ciavarella outlined his background as a mechanic and his experience in agriculture. He said it was an experience with “endemic corruption” that compelled him to run and detailed how “swindling and racketeering” had impacted him as a farmer and landowner. He raised concerns over inland rail projects and said it was vital for national security to protect the Riverina’s food growing areas.

Dean McCrae from the Liberal Democratic Party said he’s “a Temora boy, born and bred” who saw the world as a chef and understands the endpoint of farming and “how to get it to a plate”. He said he stands for freedom and liberty, was opposed to government overreach through the COVID pandemic and stands for small government, lower taxes and personal responsibility.

Finally, Greens veteran Michael Organ touched on his experience as his party’s first member of the House of Representatives in the early 2000s. He said the Greens were a mature party with a broad range of policies and highlighted recent commitments to protect agricultural land. He said they care for people and for country and feel the government has lost perspective. Climate, rising prices and the need for an ICAC are all on his agenda.

The quick-fire Q&A covered issues around transport, aged care, cost of living and job security.

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All the candidates acknowledged the challenges around a shortage of labour, housing and rising costs and offered a broad spectrum of solutions.

The conversation livened up when Pennie Scott delivered a “question” from the floor on one of her platform issues, challenging the rollout of the inland rail corridor.

Ms Scott exceeded the question time limit as she laid out her concerns about a lack of consultation and the impact on community, forcing the moderator Ms Calver to broadly summarise the question for the candidates.

While most challengers echoed concerns over the process, Mr McCormack was dismissive, saying there had been extensive consultation and that there was broad support for the project.

Mr Karaitiana agreed saying he had personally attended at least six information events, while Mr Orchard was more pragmatic saying “this thing is unstoppable”.

When the question of water and protection for irrigators was raised, Mr McCormack didn’t hold back taking a swipe at Labor’s commitment to return 450 gigalitres of environmental water to the Murray-Darling Basin. He also reiterated Coalition support for the raising of the Wyangala Dam wall.

The night came to a dramatic close as an audience member asked for a one-word answer on whether candidates support the establishment of an ICAC.

All candidates answered in the affirmative except for Mr McCrae, who said it should be the police who conduct the investigations.

The event was livestreamed to Facebook via NSW Farmers, view it below.

Posted by NSW Farmers on Thursday, April 28, 2022

Original Article published by Chris Roe on About Regional.

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