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Election Editorial: A matter of trust and representation

THE NSW election is coming up on March 28 with pre-polling starting earlier in the month. The Bulletin asked the three major candidates to express their policy views on issues including jobs, public asset sales, commitment to renewable energy, and the taxpayer-funded Ellerton Drive extension in Queanbeyan. (More on that p5.)

Labor candidate and former member for Monaro Steve Whan is facing a tight rematch against first term National Party representative John Barilaro. The Greens’ Peter Marshall, also a Palerang Councillor, can expect to influence the contest with ideas and preferences.

We did not get a response from Barilaro to our 10 candidate questions as you see on the following pages. In fact we have been excluded from receiving press releases and have not had previous requests for comment answered for many months. A visit to the Barilaro website to see what community issues he champions yielded a shopping list of money brought into the electorate.

While this is certainly welcome, voters would also want to consider other aspects: like a record on voting, promises kept and representation of community issues.

On that front, Barilaro has a more arguable history. The Bulletin archives have several examples. In April 2011 we ran a feature on the newly elected member for Monaro. We asked him his position on hunting in national parks. The response: “Aren’t we a bit over that as a society? This has never come up in Monaro and it’s not part of our mandate on taking office.” On 21 June 2012, he voted for legislation that would have opened Kosciusko and other regional parks to amateur hunters.

In that interview he also spoke of creating jobs by lowering payroll tax for private enterprise, expanding the number of public sector jobs and decentralising public sector offices to the regions. In reality, the opposite has happened to public sector employment in our region.

The interview also recorded Barilaro saying he “loved the idea of Monaro being part of a renewable energy precinct”, as developed by Labor representatives in preceding years. In the event, he spent much of 2014 publicly bagging renewable energy projects, wind and solar.

Perhaps the reason Barilaro’s office stopped speaking to the Bulletin was our publication in April 2014 of community association outrage after he took up the cause of a group of Palerang residents (with Liberal party connections). They were attempting to overturn Palerang Council’s E4 designation of rural residential land with ambit claims about onerous environmental protection, while pushing an alternative zone that could have opened the door to more subdivision. They got the member for Monaro and even federal representative Angus Taylor to publicly take up the fight.

We reported that [Barilaro] “has been roundly criticised by the President of the Wamboin Community Association” for his “wholesale misrepresentation of the Wamboin and neighbouring areas in his recent communication with [the Minister]”.

She said he did not consult her association or listen to the wider community while reporting to the minister that there was “overwhelming” local opposition to the E4 zoning, which was not the case. Neither Burra nor Bywong community associations had heard from the member for Monaro either.

Rightly so, the record of representation and how a community is listened to goes along with incumbency.

It’s about policies and ideas

Looking to the challengers, it is evident from responses we received that Labor and the Greens view many public interest policy issues with a similarity that outweighs their differences. Many in the electorate would agree with both on various policies.

The ‘conservative’ side is not called the Coalition for nothing. It represents two parties with similar if not always identical ideologies, the Liberals and the Nationals. That provides a natural advantage.

If Labor and the Greens and their voters (and any independents or minor parties with compatible views) fail to support each other in a tight race at least with preferences, the danger is that not just candidates lose, but a whole direction of policy ideas loses.

— Maria Taylor

[Full disclosure: I am a resident of rural residential Bywong next to Wamboin.]

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