The great debate

IN THE rundown to the 2019 Federal election, Mount Barker has hosted the last of three debates between candidates vying for the Division of O’Connor.

On May 9, 24 people listened intently as six of nine candidates for the Division pressed their case at the Shire of Plantagenet Council Chambers.

In the audience was Great Australian Party Leader Rod Culleton who has been the only party supremo to visit O’Connor during the Federal campaign.

O'Connor candidates
Ian t’Hart, Rick Wilson, Nick Robinson, Plantagenet Shire President Chris Pavlovich, John Hassell, Anthony Fels, and Nelson Blake Gilmour before the great debate. Photo: Chris Thomson

During the debate, O’Connor incumbent Rick Wilson told The Voice of the South that leaders needed to focus on key marginal seats.

“During an election campaign, we’re trying to win government, and we’ve got probably 20 seats that the Prime Minister’s working very hard to make sure we win because at the end of a day it’s a number’s game,” the Liberal MHR said.

“I’d prefer to see him working hard in the seat of Pearce or the seat of Hasluck than spending time here and not win government.

“If we do win, then I’ll be making sure he comes here plenty of times.”

Nationals candidate John Hassell said that while his leader Michael McCormack had not visited the electorate during the campaign, he had in recent months, and had campaigned in Perth.

Australian Christians candidate Ian t’Hart quipped he did not know who his leader was, and that he answered to a higher power.

United Australia Party hopeful Anthony Fels said his party’s National Director had been in the electorate and, as revealed here, his leader Clive Palmer visited Western Australia last week. He confirmed Mr Palmer had cancelled a planned trip to O’Connor last week at very short notice.

Greens aspirant Nelson Blake Gilmour said Greens Senators Rachel Siewert and Jordon Steele-John had campaigned in O’Connor.

“I think that speaks to the collaborative, consensus, teamwork approach of The Greens,” he added.

Conspicuous by her absence at the Mount Barker debate, as well as preceding debates in Kalgoorlie and her home town of Esperance, was Labor candidate Shelley Payne.

Also conspicuously absent, given that six of the nine candidates are from the Great Southern, were the Great Southern Weekender, Great Southern Herald, Extra which claims to serve the Great Southern, Albany Advertiser, Denmark Bulletin, and ABC Great Southern and GWN7.

With five of the electorate’s candidates – including Mssrs Wilson, Hassell, Fels and the Great Australian Party’s Nicholas Robinson – being farmers, The Voice of the South asked what they would do for non-farmers if elected, and what the non-farming candidates planned to do for farmers.

Mr Hassell, a farmer from Pingelly, said that “without agriculture, we have nothing”.

“If we don’t have food, nobody eats, there is nothing,” he said.

“So, I think it’s really important we recognise agriculture as being an extremely important industry for Australia.”

Mr t’Hart a teacher from Albany, said that, without farmers, other businesses in Mt Barker and Albany could not survive.

“Our party has a policy of keeping local families on the farm,” he said.

Mr Wilson, a Katanning farmer who lives in Albany, said “Australians should be really proud of” the agriculture industry.

“Australian agriculture sets the standard for the rest of the world in terms of animal welfare, and our R&D and our productivity gains,” he said.

Mr Robinson, a small-scale farmer from Porongurup, said his party would push for a moratorium on interest repayments to banks from struggling farmers so “they are protected and can begin trading their way out of that situation”.

Mr Gilmour, a bar worker from Denmark, said The Greens were very clear on what they would take to the election for farmers.

“$80 million for direct subsidies to farmers for water saving initiatives and innovations, increased funding for Landcare, $84 million to create 2000 scholarships and increase jobs in Landcare, conservation cognizance and a national scaling up of whole-of-paddock restoration,” he expanded.

During the debate, Mr Hassell told The Voice of the South he would “love to say” his position at the top of the ballot paper was “worth a whole lot, but as far as I know it’s only worth one per cent”.

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