RUPANYUP farmer Ray Kingston put himself on the Mildura map with the standout performance of Sunraysia Daily’s federal election candidates’ forum on Wednesday night.
From his opening address, in which he proclaimed “we have allowed ourselves to not matter by voting the same way for 70 years and not demanding to be heard”, Mr Kingston’s argument that an independent candidate could break the mould and make a difference in the halls of Canberra was delivered with strength and conviction.
“If (Labor or the Coalition) are our only two choices, then we are in deep strife,” he said to applause.
Mr Kingston, a former mayor of Yarriambiack Shire, has a strong supporter base in the Horsham region but his reach in Mildura, perhaps until now, has been limited.
But he would have given voters pause for thought on an independent breaking the 70-year reign of the Nationals in Mallee and making a real difference.
“I’ve never pushed that I’m going to hold one of the major parties to ransom in a hung parliament,” he said.
“If I saw one of the parties as being the best solution for Mallee, I would have joined one. I’ll be sitting on the crossbench.
“I will not be helping someone form government. Simple as that.”
Mildura-based candidates – The Nationals’ Anne Webster and independent Jason Modica – were also strong performers on the night.
With Nationals Federal president Larry Anthony and retiring MP Andrew Broad in the audience, Dr Webster was poised in the face of some pushback from the audience and spoke with authority on topics including addressing health service needs.
She said a doctors’ training scheme, which would start in Mildura in 2020, would be crucial to help address shortages.
“If people live local and train local, then they will stay local,” she said.
“We need to incentivise nurses who live around our region to skill up to become nurse practitioners because they can take quite a load in terms of triage work, chronic care and repeat prescriptions, which are quite often the time consumers for GPs.
“With our lack of GPs at the moment, while our school is getting going, I think that is a huge step forward.”
Dr Webster toed the company line somewhat on water, not surprisingly supporting the continuation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan (MDBP) rather than a federal royal commission.
Independent Cecilia Moar and Labor’s Carole Hart were the only other candidates not to support the idea of a royal commission, instead advocating one regulatory body to oversee management of the basin and moving the Murray-Darling Basin Authority to Mildura.
The most disappointing performance of the night came from Ms Hart.
With water arguably the biggest issue for the electorate, she seemed lost on her position on the MDBP.
She didn’t outline Labor’s water policies –which include a $120 million pledge to guarantee the delivery of 450 gigalitres of water for the environment, scrapping the 1500GL cap on water buybacks and holding a commission of inquiry into a controversial buyback from Eastern Australia Agriculture that has been dubbed “Watergate”.
The door was open for her to attack The Nationals – and especially former party leader Barnaby Joyce – on Watergate and buybacks, but instead she stumbled on the issue of whether there should be a royal commission into the MDBP, asking whether the audience wanted her personal opinion or that of a candidate.
It was left to Mr Modica to pick up on water, which he did with gusto and eloquence – to the agreement of many in the audience.
He warned of pending crisis on the Murray River if the growth of almonds continued.
“The scariest thing is in the financial year 2018 back to ’17 in Mildura there was 4500 hectares of almonds (planted) and there’s 15,500 predicted in the next six years,” he said.
“They want to put 80,000 (hectares) more almonds on the NSW side of the Murray.
“If this happens, we are sleepwalking into a Darling (River)-style disaster on the Murray.”
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party candidate Dan Straub faltered badly when having to admit he did not know what fracking was, but was saved in a “hold my beer” moment when Fraser Anning Conservative National party candidate Rick Grosvenor intervened to declare the controversial gas extraction method was “safe”.
“If fracking is done correctly it is very environmentally friendly. It’s safe,” he said to jeers and laughter from the audience.
“If the wells are logged correctly and the casing is cemented correctly there is no problem for the environment at all.”
This story appears in Friday's Sunraysia Daily 10/05/2019. To subscribe to our Digital Edition Click here