With pre-polling opening this weekend ahead of the 25 March NSW state election, Dr Joe McGirr said it was an “invigorating” time.
Contesting the seat for a third time after winning the 2018 by-election, Wagga’s independent member is keeping his cards close.
“I’m not going to make a prediction and I’m also not going to be taking anything for granted,” he said.
“All I can say is that I have received positive feedback in my interactions with the electorate. Which has been very pleasing.”
Dr McGirr expressed surprise after an attack from federal Nationals leader David Littleproud, who visited Wagga this week and described independents as “a professional complaints desk”.
“If you’re not the ones inside the tent, you’re not the ones cutting the cheques, you get nothing,” he declared at a media conference with candidate Andrianna Benjamin.
Dr McGirr described the comments as “disappointing” and “old-fashioned personal attack politics”.
“But that also cuts both ways, doesn’t it?” he mused.
“If Chris Minns is elected, and there’s a Coalition rep here, how are they in the tent?”
Dr McGirr said it was an attitude that reflected how out of touch the major parties had become.
“They just don’t seem to get it. I mean, their primary vote is at an all-time low across Australia … and people are choosing alternatives, one of which, of course, is independents,” he said.
“All the polls point to quite a close election, and it also points to quite a substantial crossbench.
“Whoever is in government is going to have to deal with a wide variety of independents and I think that’s good for democracy and I think it’s a win for communities.”
As for ”cutting the cheques”, it is true that an independent member is dependent on negotiations with the government of the day to deliver on infrastructure promises.
Some $20 million was promised in 2018 for the addition of a recital hall to the Riverina Conservatorium of Music, funding that was apparently withdrawn as the former Liberal member was investigated by ICAC.
“The wording at the time was a little unclear about whether the money was there or whether it was set aside in the future,” Dr McGirr explained.
“The point is, there was still a commitment there, and with the right work being done in the community now, for example, to look at the feasibility around Riverside three, that I think there’s the opportunity to get that money. We need to keep the government accountable for it.”
Another undelivered project lingering from 2018 is the widening of the Marshalls Creek Bridge, on the Sturt Highway, which was due to start in 2022.
“It appeared to me that the planning had been going quite well. We have a delay. Government needs to sort that out,” Dr McGirr said.
“It’s something I’m going to be pursuing with whoever’s in government next term if I’m elected.”
Dr McGirr argued that it is possible to get things done by taking issues directly to the parliament, making a case and negotiating solutions for the electorate.
“As an independent, you have no place to hide, so there’s a high level of transparency and scrutiny of what you do,” he said.
“But that brings with it a level of respect for the position that you take on issues.”
He points to the push to scrutinise the HumeLink electrical infrastructure project as an example.
“It was a non-issue three years ago when it started. I’ve almost pretty much led that on my own,” he said.
“We completely reset the consultation process, a CEO departed TransGrid, we’ve had route changes with a compensation deal that has never been done before and we’re still trying to raise the interest around this undergrounding issue.
“I think that shows that an independent voice can raise issues and get action.”
With a predicted swing against the Coalition and the looming likelihood of a hung parliament, crossbenchers such as Dr McGirr could soon be negotiating to install the next government.
“I’ll be looking for a tackling of cost-of-living pressures,” said Dr Joe, laying out his priorities.
“I think there needs to be action to address our workforce shortages in this region; teachers, nurses and immigration services that actually tackle workforce issues.
“Regional health. I continue to ask for a regional health department. I also would like to get the problem about out-of-pocket costs for radiotherapy sorted.
“A public inquiry into the undergrounding of the HumeLink would be important. I’ve spoken about the need for better federal animal control, particularly for Kosciuszko National Park, and I’d like to see some action on payroll tax for businesses.
“And of course, the duplication of the Gobbagombalin Bridge.”
Early voting centres are open from Saturday, 18 March ahead of the election on Saturday, 25 March.