NSW election: Northern Tablelands candidates face voters at forum

Adam Marshall, Debra O'Brien, Rayne Single and Dorothy Robinson.
Adam Marshall, Debra O'Brien, Rayne Single and Dorothy Robinson.

Climate change, nurse to patient ratios, youth unemployment and infrastructure for the bush for among the issues raised by voters when the got the chance to question the state election candidates. 

All four candidates running for the seat of Northern Tablelands in the NSW Election later this month, were brought together for the only Meet the Candidates Forum, on Friday evening.

Candidate had one minute to answer five submitted questions, the first being where the candidate's preferences were being given and why.

While Country Labor and the Greens preferenced each other, Rayne Single said his preferences would not be going to anyone because he didn't believe either of the major parties, including the Greens.

Nationals candidate Adam Marshall said he would not try to tell people how to vote and was happy to let the voter decide. 

"I'm happy just for you to just vote 1 and walk out if you wish. That's a valid vote, but it is up to you," he said.

The second question was about Climate Change policies. Debra O'Brien led off saying Labor would introduce NSW's first renewable energy target.

"At least 50 per cent of energy from renewable sources by 2030, it's now 13 per cent," Ms O'Brien said.

She said Labor would appoint a minister for climate change, ll government departments running on renewables by 2025 and a climate change forum to form legislation for a climate change act. Ms O'Brien said there would be a state owned energy company and the equivalent of five new power plants in NSW over the next decade.

The Nationals candidate Adam Marshall said the climate was changing and future floods, fires and droughts were all shaping up to be more severe and unpredictable, and government at all levels, and individuals, needed to be mindful of the fact. 

"It's difficult for governments because we do want to support and encourage a better energy mix with more renewables. We're at the forefront of that in this region. I'm incredibly proud of those wonderful new renewables developments in this region."

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate Rayne Single agreed with Mr Marshall and said we needed to be mindful of what was happening and look into it in terms of every decision we make.

Greens Dorothy Robinson said she believed we were in the middle of a climate emergency.

"We need to fix a broken energy market," she said.

The Greens would start renewable energy hubs and a new retailer to deliver cheaper power that could save families about $200 per year by avoiding retail costs.

When the question of youth unemployment was asked none of the candidates seemed anxious to take the microphone.

Ms O'Brien said from her recent travels, the incredibly high youth unemployment seemed to be the heartbreak of most communities and she thought we had to invest in those things that would give young people the chance of a start in life. 

"Labor is going to be training 600,000 places over the next 10 years, free TAFE for skills shortage areas. We need to create industries to allow them to get those jobs," she said.

Mr Marshall said the simple answer was to create more employment opportunities and they would be created mainly by private industry.

"We need more people to get trades. I mean, we've got an abattoir in Inverell and a tomato farm at Guyra crying out for workers," he said.

"There's 400 jobs in those two facilities that are currently being performed by people who don't even live in this country. Not because it's cheaper - it's actually more expensive - but because they can't find people to actually work there.

"And I don't understand. We've got youth unemployment, but we've got plenty of jobs. We need to make those connections a bit better."

Rayne Single said he was one who had to leave here to go to Sydney to get a trades apprenticeship. 

"Our party has put forward policies tax exemptions and and removal of payroll taxes for the region to attract businesses to the region.

"A lot of this work, as Adam said, there is no connection between the school leavers and the jobs they're doing."

Ms Robinson said TAFE needed fixing, with its higher education costs and fewer courses being offered. She said we need to fix transport and health so people wanted to come here.

Hospitals and nursing ratios had Rayne Single saying it was pretty straight forward.

Nursing ratios was one topic raised at the Meet the Candidates forum.

Nursing ratios was one topic raised at the Meet the Candidates forum.

"At the end of the day ... if you're on a medical ward in Armidale you could have one nurse to eight patients or one to 20, in the city you would have a ratio of one to four," he said.

"With this new hospital we have, yes it's a nice place, but they can't use all the beds because they don't have enough nurses to cover all the beds, and we don't want this to happen to Inverell when it is completed."

Ms O'Brien thought nothing symbolised the difference between city and country more than nurse patient ratios. 

"People in the country live two years less than people in the city and it is because of conditions like this. We deserve a lot better, and there is nothing that illustrates that better than the nurse patient ratio," she said.

She said Labour would legislate a one to three nurse patient ratio.

Mr Marshall said we needed both infrastructure and staff.

"In the last four years my focus has been delivering on commitments to see new facilities in the region and, as Rayne has mentioned, I have made a commitment to deliver two more hospitals," he said.

Mr Marshall said the NSW needed another 4500 nurses.

Ms Robinson also highlighted the different life expectation between city and country residents. She said the Greens were more focused on preventive health and wanted to extend Medicare to cover dental. She said country towns needed to attract more doctors.T

The last submitted question was about the candidate's vision for infrastructure.

Ms Robinson said this area needed good transport, and the cost shifting by State Government needed to stop so the council could fix the roads.

"Let's make sure we take advantage of the NBN," she said.

She said we needed the infrastructure to make the town attractive to get people here to live.

Mr Single said unfortunately the bush only got about half its share when compared to the city.

"We need to invest a lot of money in the bush. At the end of the day we've been left behind in the bush. We need to spend more money and more time and resources to the whole of NSW," he said.

Mr Marshall said government was making sure that there was strong foundations for key infrastructure. He used the example of the development of Armidale Regional Airport as a success story, but also expressed some frustration.

"Armidale, out of all the places I have worked at, in country NSW, has more going for it and more potential than any other place I know," he said.

"Yet it fails consistently to just grasp those opportunities and just bloody-well run with them. And it just frustrates the bejesus out of me because other places in our region have far less on offer and say 'Whatever you can give us we're going to triple it or quadruple it', but here ... As I have said on multiple occasions, here it is a conundrum a bit of a riddle that I have yet to work out because we have all of the basics here."

Friday evening's forum was held at Armidale Town Hall and hosted by the Armidale Business Chamber.

This story Candidates grilled by voters ahead of the state election first appeared on Glen Innes Examiner.