Priestly's fight for fairness

Fighting for fairness: Independent candidate for Nicholls Rob Priestly. Photo by Evan Wallace

Fairness is front of mind for Rob Priestly.

The Independent candidate for Nicholls is fed up with what he describes as the neglect the electorate has experienced under Liberal and National Party representation.

“It's a tragedy if you fail to step up and lead,” Mr Priestly says.

“But there's one thing worse than that — if you occupy the seat of leadership and then you don't use it adequately.

“And in my view, in this part of the world that's a real concern.”

Mr Priestly is particularly concerned with how this approach is setting up barriers for younger generations.

“If I'm a kid born in Seymour, I should get access to a decent quality of education, whatever my parents’ circumstances,” he says.

“(I should) have the ability to go on and do university or a trade, if that's what I want to do and I've got the capability for it.”

This outlook separates Mr Priestly from his Liberal and National Party rivals and the difference in their outlook to this year’s federal budget is stark. Mr Priestly is not impressed.

“This federal budget is the biggest ever spend on infrastructure in regional Australia and the seat of Nicholls was basically allocated nothing in our budget,” he says.

“The system as it's working is letting us down and we've got fantastic opportunities in this region. We’ve got some pretty serious challenges and we need a partner in government that's interested in our part of the world that wants to help capture those opportunities and help us deal with those challenges.”

It’s impossible to drive through a town in the electorate that stretches from Broadford to the Murray River without seeing Mr Priestly’s ‘time for change’ posters.

The motto forms part of his desire to “have a crack” and change what he has identified as formerly safe seats such as Nicholls not receiving “their fair share of services and resources”.

“If I’m going to whinge about it, then I’m gonna do something about it,” he says.

“I don’t want more than anyone else, but I want to make sure that we’re looked after like any community.”

As he criss-crosses Nicholls, Mr Priestly says health, aged care and “standards of behaviour in politics” have been cited as the major issues. But he is quick to point out the different dynamics that feature in Seymour.

He believes there is “a much more diverse range of issues” in Seymour with “infrastructure support” and “investment in job creation” featuring prominently in his conversations.

Mr Priestly is emphatic his absence of ties with a political party means he is best positioned to represent the electorate.

“I am going to be absolutely hard-nosed in my approach of putting this community in front of any other loyalty,” he says.

“The fact that we've attracted basically zero investment in the largest ever infrastructure spend … (shows) that system is not working. I think it's time for us to step outside of the party and use our vote and say our vote is for our community.”

On the key issues of aged care and housing, Mr Priestly is concerned they have not been treated as emergencies and broken systems.

Although he shares the same assessment as his rivals Sam Birrell and Steve Brooks that supply is the major problem with respect to housing, he portrays the situation as reflective of a larger structural problem where the Federal Government can play a role.

“It’s really a major problem in Australia … how complex and how timely and how expensive it is to go from a block of farmland to an estate,” he says.

“It's extraordinarily complicated and expensive and it's got more complicated.

“The overheads are so large that there are now fewer and fewer companies that can deliver major developments.

“In a small community, like a Shepparton or like a Seymour, you end up with relatively few developments because they've got to be so big to carry those overheads. So, you've got limited competition in the market, and when things get out of whack, it takes so long to deliver new land to market.

“So what can the Federal Government do? My Federal Government's got the big financial stick.

“If they've got some vision about this, they can provide the leadership to the states and say if you conduct these reforms in your planning schemes, and meet these benchmarks about how quickly and how efficiently you deliver land, we will incentivise you, (we’ll) provide an infrastructure fund.

“That is going to have a huge impact on the speed and availability of land and, therefore, price of housing.”

As Mr Priestly talks meticulously through his assessment of the current housing crisis, it is apparent his motivation to see change is driven by his desire to address the growing generational gap in access to housing.

“We're trying to put a Band-aid on a war wound with social housing,” he says.

“The government can never supply enough affordable homes to deal with the prices … in order to deal with the crisis, we've got to deal with structural issues. We've got all sorts of people that are employed and can't afford homes now. There's something wrong in the system.”

It’s a similar analysis that Mr Priestly applies to the government’s approach to aged care, which he believes has failed woefully.

“We should be funding aged care providers for additional staff and tackling the enormous financial pressure they’re under so that they've got wiggle room to find creative ways to … provide better care immediately,” he says.

“The stories that I am hearing from aged care are harrowing and it's not the fault of the people working in it that are doing the best that they can in what is an emergency. We're not treating it like an emergency.”

A significant effort has been made by Mr Priestly’s opponents to group him with what they describe as ‘disruptive’ or ‘unreliable’ independents.

What they have missed is the core of Mr Priestly’s appeal: a desire for a government that places fairness over factions.

This interview is part of a series of conversations in The Telegraph with candidates for Nicholls.

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