Lismores four political candidates for this Saturdays state election fielded a host of questions when around 100 people turned out for The Northern Rivers Echo Meet the Candidates forum last Thursday night.
While consensus was obvious among the four on the need to address problems such as global warming and improving health, transport and education services for the region, it was the political parties different approaches or policies which stood out.
Nationals Thomas George said health needs, particularly a planned radiotherapy unit for Lismore was vital as well as the Coalitions promise to reinstate the Casino-Murwillumbah rail line.
The Australian Democrats Julia Melland said that voters could count on the Democrats to be your third-party insurance in the Upper House.
Andy Gough said voters knew The Greens would act on climate change whereas the two major parties were dependent on coal and would not act to reduce coal mining to cut global warming.
ALPs Peter Lanyon said Labor would help working families instead of cutting their rights.
The first set topic was climate change, which
triggered the first question about what each party was doing to set mandatory greenhouse-gas emission reduction targets.
The candidates all rattled off figures and percentages on targets and initiatives committed by their respective parties but, not surprisingly, the Greens boasted the most urgent platform for action.
The topic of health and education drew questions on what each party would do to improve these services in the region.
Mr Gough said preschools in the area were desperate for state government funding and that university students were struggling under current federal government policies.
Miss Melland said dental and mental health services in the region had been ignored and that she supported a world-class public education system and universal preschool access as part of a free education system.
Mr George said he would like to see an improvement in maternity services in the region, especially outlying towns like Kyogle and Nimbin and the Coalition, if elected, would address the regions schools needs as several schools had no school hall.
Mr Lanyon said that as a primary-school principal he strongly believed that many social ills could be removed through high-quality education.
The transport issue also highlighted differences in policy and vision after a question by a Trains On Our Tracks (TOOT) campaigner wanting an outline of policies to provide sustainable transport options on the Northern Rivers.
Mr George said the Coalition had promised $100 million to reinstate the Casino-Murwillumbah line with a commuter service to run around six services a day and there was a need for extra bus services after hours between major centres to help young people and students.
Mr Gough said the Greens supported the reinstatement of the line and a commuter service but also wanted to see an extension of the line to Queensland and moving freight off the roads and onto rail.
Miss Melland said the Democrats also wanted the line reinstatement, commuter service and Queensland connection as well as a low-impact community bus service to complement it.
Mr Lanyon said trains were not the only transport issue and the region needed coaches which could go places trains could not. He said a vote for trains was a vote for Debnam and job cuts.
But on a question about the actual costs of getting the train back, Mr Lanyon said the train was simply not economically viable when the state Labor government axed it and subsequent promises of millions of dollars to reinstate it amounted to a lot of preschools.
Mr George said the Coalitions reasoning for reinstating the train service was that the Northern Rivers faced a 62 per cent increase in population over the next 25 years and his party believed it could bring trains back for $100 million.
Mr Gough said rail was the backbone of infrastructure in the states fastest growing region and the line was closed without community consultation which, if it happened in Sydney, the politicians wouldnt get away with.
Miss Melland said maintenance of the track had been ignored for 20 years and neither major party had done anything about it so theyve saved money by not doing so.
All candidates backed a vision for more bike paths in the region and suggested ways of promoting the low-impact mode of transport.
In the forums law and order segment, candidates were asked if current drug laws and the so-called war on drugs was working, given the increase in the use of the methamphetamine called ice and all said no.
Mr Lanyon said Labor supported heavy penalties for the commercial sale of illicit drugs but viewed alcohol as the substance which caused the most harm and distress.
Miss Melland said drugs were not a law and order issue but a health and education problem and fighting it was futile, just like any prohibition.
Mr George said he did not support the decriminalisation of drugs and believed laws should be stronger while Mr Gough said drugs was a health issue and Greens drugs policy was based on harm minimisation.
Mr George agreed with another questioner that alcohol caused the greatest amount of harm in our society, but thats another problem and there were laws already against people drinking alcohol such as drink-driving.T
he forum closed with moderator S Sorrensen saying Lismore was very lucky to have such calibre in the four candidates vying to represent them, as they all seemed very ethical.
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