BY BEN HABIB.
Monday 22nd November 2010
Performing Arts Centre, Wodonga Senior Secondary College
Candidates (in ballot order):
Jenny O’Connor (Greens)
Bill Tilley (Liberal)
Robert Cavedon (Family First)
Haden Macaulay (Country Alliance)
John Williams (Labor)
Joseph Thomsen (ABC Goulburn Murray)
Brad Worrall (Border Mail)
Ben Habib (La Trobe University and Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga)
This event represented an exiting first for Wodonga, with the Border Mail, ABC Goulburn Murray and La Trobe University Albury-Wodonga joining forces to host a candidates forum for the Victorian state seat of Benambra, in the lead-up to Saturday’s state election. The discussion covered a lot of ground, on the back of some excellent questions from the audience and the panel. Let’s briefly review each of the key issues, with links to audio snippets from ABC Goulburn Murray…
Sophie Mirabella’s Controversial Pamphlet
When I received this pamphlet in the mail a couple of weeks ago I nearly cried laughing; the tacky, scare-mongering pamphlet was so comical it could have been printed in the cartoon section of the Herald Sun between Fred Bassett and the Phantom. Humorous though it may have been, the pamphlet raised important questions about the member for Indi’s use of federal tax dollars to fund a smear against rival parties in a state election campaign.
Delay on Wodonga-Melbourne Rail Line
Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga contributor Martin Dickens raised a question from the floor about delays to the completion of the Wodonga-Melbourne railway corridor. As with many big infrastructure projects that run behind schedule, no-one wants to take responsibility for the delays.
Making Benambra a Marginal Seat
It’s often said in Australian politics that marginal seats are the greatest recipients of pork-barrelling come election time, because a swing either way in such seats could be critical to the overall election result. It has been argued that service provision to Benambra has been less than impressive, in part because it has long been a blue-ribbon conservative seat.
Law and Order
As I said during the forum, political parties of all persuasions have been trotting out the “tough on crime” mantra at every state election, in every state, for the past 100 years. Seldom does this issue receive the thorough intellectual treatment that is required to separate rational debate from shameless fear-mongering. Here’s what the candidates had to say…
Often discussion of education gets bogged down in the public vs private school funding debate (which is less a state prerogative and more to do with Federal government grants to private schools, though it does touch on issues of social justice for the less well-off) and fails to address real issues related to class sizes and teaching resources. Sadly, discussion of education during the forum followed the usual trend.
The health debate was far more lively, with candidates discussing the merits of more hospital beds as opposed to a focus on preventative health. Whatever way you look at this issue, there is no money to be made in preventative health. Read from that what you will…
Interestingly, the portion of the discussion on climate change did not earn an audio snippet on ABC Goulburn Murray. To summarise, in response to the panel question “why is climate change policy important?”, Jenny O’Connor and John Williams agreed and called for a strong policy response in this area; Bill Tilley stated that he agreed with the climate science but did not want Victorians to bear a disproportionate burden for climate action; Robert Cavendon and Haden Macaulay stated briefly that they were climate change sceptics.
In response to an audience question from Lizette Salmon of Wodonga and Albury for Climate Health (WATCH) regarding the Liberal Party’s failure to release its climate change policy, Bill Tilley stated that the policy would come out in due course (an unsatisfying answer).
The Greens are currently the only party in Australian politics with a credible climate change policy (which is not difficult, given the poor performance of thier competitors in this area). Sooner or later, all sides of politics need to grasp that climate change is the fundamental public policy issue facing Benambra, Victoria, Australia and the world moving forward, because it will impact on all policy domains and departmental jurisdictions. That elected officials and political aspirants pay this issue lip service without credible policy, or engage in outright climate denial, is cause for dismay and distress.
One unfortunate aspect of the evening was the lack of young people in the audience. A notable exception were members of La Trobe University Albury-Wodonga’s Politics Awareness Club, who asked a question during the forum and gave comments to local media after the event. More work needs to be done in the border region to get local youth more engaged in the political process. It is no accident that this politically disengaged age demographic is also the most marginalised. One of the primary objectives of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga is to get more young people interested in politics, with a view to developing a renewed culture of political consciousness in the region.
The Verdict: You Decide!
Citizen engagement is an integral feature of a vibrant democracy. Our politicians often pay lip service to the strength of our political system, but it takes active participation from everyday people like you and I to make true democracy a reality. Public events such as the Benambra candidates forum are vital to the democratic process as a means of surveying the broad range of view in the community (yes, there’s more to Australian politics than the Liberals and the ALP) and as a means of keeping our elected officials accountable. It now falls to you, the voter, to cast your vote intelligently and strategically to advance not only your personal interests, but the well-being of the entire community. All the best on election day, don’t take your vote for granted.
Related Media Coverage:
ABC Goulburn Murray:
Candidates Forum (video & audio highlights)
Candidates Quizzed (review and photos)
Benambra Election Forum (photo gallery)
Benjamin Habib is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga. Ben’s research project projects include North Korea’s motivations for nuclear proliferation, East Asian security, international politics of climate change, and methodologies for undergraduate teaching. He also teaches Australian politics. Ben undertook his PhD candidature at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and has worked previously the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship. He has spent time teaching English in Dandong, China, and has also studied at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea.
Ben welcomes constructive feedback. Please comment below, or contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga gratefully acknowledges the Border Mail, ABC Goulburn Murray and La Trobe University Albury-Wodonga for facilitating the Benambra candidates forum and for their continuing coverage of the forum and the Victorian state election.
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.