Wentworth Forum

Posted on August 20, 2010 by

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Wentworth candidates are busy rounding up last minute votes in inner Sydney, with less than two days left until Australian’s hit the polling booths.

Last Saturday, political activist group GetUp! hosted the Wentworth Candidates Forum at Paddington Town Hall.

Oliver McColl from GetUp! said that one in nine locals are members of the political activist group, making it a prime location to push the issues they see as important in the election.

“I take heart in the fact that we have been able to come so far,” he said.

But only three of the seven candidates were invited to debate the topics carefully selected by GetUp!, which was much to the dismay of others.

Unhappy that he wasn’t invited, independent candidate, Malcolm Bruce Duncan kicked off the debate before it had officially begun by demanding a seat on the stage. After being refused, he took a vocal stance at the back of the hall for the remainder of the debate.

Incumbent Liberal member, Malcolm Turnbull was invited to debate the topics of mental health, asylum seekers and climate change alongside Greens candidate Matthew Robertson and ALP candidate Steven Lewis.

If a show of hands at the forum was any indication of the election result for Wentworth, Matthew Robertson would win the seat with a clear lead. But with the electorate still largely considered a ‘safe’ Liberal seat, many people believe that Malcolm Turnbull will retain his seat on August 21.

Mental health at the heart of election

Dr Michael Dudley, from the University of New South Wales, opened the debate by asking the candidates to outline their commitment to improving mental health services.

Malcolm Turnbull said he was committed to mental health, particularly in Wentworth where the cliff face, known as The Gap, is one of the countries most notorious suicide spots. He said that if elected he would allocate $2 million towards preventative measures, such as surveillance cameras and telephones so that people can call Lifeline.

“It remains a matter of intense disappointment that this is still an issue of debate in this election campaign,” he said.

Backing increased funding for mental health, Matthew Robertson said The Greens are calling for a Minister for Mental Health to manage the issue.

“It’s only due and proper that you have a minister answering to the considerable amount of funding that has been announced so far,” he said.

Steven Lewis said that if elected he would fight hard to improve mental health care, with the Labor party allocating $9 million to suicide ‘hotspots’ across the country.

Ending the fear mongering on asylum seekers

Dr Mary Crock, whose recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald detailed Australia’s immigration history of fear, said the current election campaign “is depressing beyond belief.”

She called for an end to political fear mongering, deploring the use of terms such as ‘an armada of boats’ and ‘a silent invasion’. Receiving the loudest applause of the night, Dr Crook asked the panel: “what will you do to inject more humanity and sanity into the debate [on asylum seekers]”.

Stephen Lewis used his time to criticise the opposition parties approach to asylum seekers.

“I find it amazing that a leader of a political party in this election campaign … has a mantra that is ‘stop the boats’,” he said. “We don’t hear [Mr Abbott] saying “stop the planes.”

Matthew Roberton said that a vote for The Greens would see “a do-away with the hysteria around something that is essentially a non-issue.”

He said The Greens would advocate the closing of Christmas Island and abolishing mandatory detention.

Ending the responses, Malcolm Turnbull said that the issue of asylum seekers was a difficult policy issue, but one that Australia should treat generously and compassionately.

“But at the same time we should discourage, and ideally eliminate … people smugglers. The problem is finding a policy that achieves that aim,” he said.

Political will missing on climate change

Finally, Iain MacGill, senior lecturer in energy systems at the University of New South Wales asked the candidates to outline their policies to address climate change both in Australia and internationally.

Malcolm Turnbull, whose election campaign drawcard is largely based on his declared ‘conviction’ to tackle the issue of climate change, admitted that he was unhappy with his party’s current policy. Mr Turnbull said that the most effective method to address climate change is to put a price on carbon.

“The Coalition’s policy doesn’t have that market based policy anymore, I regret that. Having said that, the [Coalition’s] policy is better than Labor’s, which is a notice for a meeting.”

Stephen Lewis said that while his party remains committed to introducing an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), community consensus needed to be built under a people’s forum.

“There is no perfect solution but the government is still committed to the ETS, it is just going to take a little time to do it,” he said.

Matthew Robertson ended the discussion by urging voters to support The Greens’ policy of a carbon tax, saying it would lead to greater reductions in emissions than the both the targets set out by the major parties.

“The Greens couldn’t support the ETS in the Senate, but to try and break the impasse on the issue, we’ve put a carbon tax on the table,” he said.

Words – Joel Tozer

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Posted in: Joel Tozer, Reports