Key moments from Tuesday night’s candidates’ forum
Nine candidates for the seat of Nicholls met on stage on Tuesday night at Eastbank in Shepparton for a community forum.
Questions tackled everything from environment and water policy to trust in government ahead of the May 21 Federal Election.
The candidates’ forum for the seat of Nicholls was held by the Committee for Greater Shepparton, with chief executive Lindy Nieuwenhuizen and News chief correspondent Darren Linton hosting the event.
Nine of the 11 candidates for the seat were on stage, with more than 100 questions from the 200-strong audience condensed into the two-hour event.
The Nationals’ Sam Birrell, the Liberals’ Steve Brooks and independent Rob Priestly were in attendance and shared equal time with One Nation’s Rikkie Tyrrell, Labor’s Bill Lodwick, Australian Citizens Party’s Jeff Davy, United Australia Party’s Rob Peterson, the Greens’ Ian Christoe and Fusion Party’s Andrea Otto.
Australian Federation Party’s Eleonor Tabone wasn’t in attendance, nor was the Liberal Democrats’ Tim Laird.
Each candidate was given one minute to talk in response to each question, with some questions directed at individual candidates but most questions being answered across the board.
No one candidate landed a knockout blow, and no one issue dominated the evening.
Here are some of the major talking points to came out of the night.
Toxic behaviour in parliament and a Federal Independent Commission Against Corruption
The question of the night was from 16-year-old Shepparton student Alexis, who bemoaned the behaviour of parliamentarians, saying if she and her classmates acted like that they would be suspended from school.
All candidates said politicians’ conduct over the past three years had been a poor reflection on Australia.
Mr Birrell said “I don’t like what I’m seeing in Canberra and I don’t like the way some of our leaders behave", and that he would act respectfully in parliament no matter whom he dealt with.
Mr Brooks said, “if I was a member of parliament, I'd be a member of one of the largest parties and I would call out behaviour like that”.
Mr Priestly said “we have a culture problem in our politics in Australia and particularly within the parties” and those parties would continue to be happy with that environment existing.
Mr Lodwick said the best way to improve the culture of Canberra was to “get rid of the current government because a lot of it seems to be coming exactly from that point”.
“You can see the way they act with each other. You can see the way they turn on each other the minute they're leaving parliament,” he said.
It led into discussion about the establishment of a Federal ICAC, a promise the coalition took to the last election but failed to deliver. All candidates supported a corruption commission of some form.
One of the key issues in the election will be the cost of living, and candidates threw the kitchen sink at what Mr Birrell called a “multi-faceted issue” on Tuesday night.
Ms Tyrrell gave a one-sentence answer, listing One Nation’s solution as providing “home-grown affordable energy, freedom to grow, produce and manufacture our own goods and maintaining a net-zero emissions policy until we’re back on our feet”.
Mr Peterson said the United Australia Party would keep mortgage rates at three per cent to help home owners stay afloat, and also said the party would continue keeping coal and gas power plants working to keep the cost of power low.
Both Mr Priestly and Mr Christoe found common ground talking about housing prices and rent prices, which have shot up across the country.
Ms Otto floated the idea of a universal income for people without work and also spoke about the need for more housing.
Mr Brooks said childcare was one of the biggest factors in the rising cost of living, and pointed at coalition policies aimed at driving those prices down, as well as pension increases.
Mr Birrell pointed to the measures taken in the federal budget last month, such as cutting the fuel excise and tax offsets “to try and make life that little bit easier for people”.
“I think there's been great strides forward, particularly in this community in terms of how well the economy's going, and people could take advantage of that,” he said.
Action on climate change
The question around climate change was a curveball, as moderator Ms Nieuwenhuizen asked candidates for three specific things they would do to chase net zero and why they would be good for Nicholls and Shepparton.
No candidate was able to list three specific things in their one minute, and few of them were able to detail how their response related to the seat of Nicholls.
Mr Birrell, speaking first, spoke about using technology to get biogas and green hydrogen to be made in the region, and Mr Priestly echoed Mr Birrell in saying bio-energy was a huge opportunity for the region, and the country “needs to get its skates on” to invest in new technology and remove red tape.
Mr Brooks said “we’re all going in the same direction” in regards to net zero but said he refused to support policies that would increase taxes on manufacturing.
Mr Lodwick tried to temper expectations of “how quickly these things (like net zero) can be achieved” and said climate change “wasn’t as urgent as some people made it out to be”.
Mr Davy called for investment in nuclear power, while Mr Christoe said his party would ban the opening of any new coal mines across the country because “whether we burn it here or burn it elsewhere, it's contributing to the problem”.
Ms Otto said her party had an 800 per cent renewable target from solar, wind and water power to allow Australia to export electricity, as well as improve rail networks to get trucks off the road.
Ms Tyrrell said the climate agenda was a way to suck up government subsidies, while Mr Peterson said Australia still needed to have 80 per cent of its power generated by coal and gas to prevent manufacturing collapsing and power price hikes.
The banking issue
It didn’t matter what the question was — First Nations rights, climate change, anything — Mr Davy kept bringing his answers back to his calls for a complete reform of the banking and financial sector.
He called for a return to John Curtin-era credit policies and spoke glowingly of reforms made by Alexander Hamilton in the United States’ formative years.
Mr Davy did say what was wrong with the current financial system, which he said was on the verge of collapse due to debt.
We’ll have more coverage, and a video of the forum, available on Wednesday and later on in the week.