Battle positions

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(From left) candidate Austin Curtin, Tenterfield Business Chamber's Vince Sherry, MP Thomas George and candidates Peter Petty and Andrew Gordon at the Nationals' forum.

(From left) candidate Austin Curtin, Tenterfield Business Chamber's Vince Sherry, MP Thomas George and candidates Peter Petty and Andrew Gordon at the Nationals' forum.

While recent events for the Nationals at the federal level have somewhat overtaken the candidate pre-selection process for the state seat of Lismore, the three finalists duly met with Tenterfield voters on Thursday, October 26 to state their case.

The forum at Our Place Wine and Espresso Bar was hosted by the Tenterfield Chamber of Tourism, Industry and Business following a reciprocal arrangement in Lismore the night before. In that case it was up to Tenterfield mayor Peter Petty to introduce himself to the more densely populated hub of the electorate, where real estate agent and Lismore Business Chamber joint vice-president Andrew Gordon and farmer Austin Curtin are much better known, the latter through the wide reputation of his surgeon father of the same name.

Peter Petty.

Peter Petty.

Candidate Peter Petty

Back on home turf, Mr Petty praised MP Thomas George’s efforts in bringing more money to regional areas, driving big projects and getting things done. He aims to continue the cash flow for infrastructure improvements, and to strengthen community support systems like the ambulance and helicopter services.

He sees employment opportunities and ongoing support for tourism to be major issues for the district, and the retaining the seat of Lismore for the Nationals as a major factor whoever wins the pre-selection.

“We all want to win this but we’re all on the same team and that’s good for the Nationals.”

Mr Petty said as mayor he fully supported MP Thomas George in the extension of the Lismore seat to encompass the entire Tenterfield local government area, and Mr George has done an outstanding job.

“It’s a unique seat which has its challenges, but has its beauty.”

He said it’s imperative to make people aware of the community pre-selection process, and for them to cast their preference.

Andrew Gordon.

Andrew Gordon.

Candidate Andrew Gordon

Mr Gordon’s address was more Lismore-centric, lamenting the city’s high unemployment rate particularly among youth. He said the more industrious are moving out to find work, leave the less-motivated behind. 

As a member of a five-generation business, he believes it’s time to hand over the reins to the next generation in order pursue his political beliefs.

“It’s important that I do this, and it’s important for the National Party to win,” he said.

He feels the party may be its own enemy, overlooking its grassroot members.

“At the last National Party convention, 50 motions were put forward, and none came back,” he said.

He believes farmers should be given to the opportunity to do what they do best, without distractions from government.

“We have good stewardship. We don’t need further imposition.”

Mr Gordon admitted he doesn’t know enough about the western end of the electorate to determine its major issues, but he’s here to learn. He wants to give people the opportunity to be the best they can be.

He said left-wing politics is about control, citing the 50,000 boost in electoral enrolments ahead of the same-sex marriage poll and theorising that the majority weren’t conservative voters.

“It’s what we’re up against,” he said.

While coal seam gas was the ‘hurdle’ of the last Lismore election, he projects that campaigning in the next election may focus on clean energy. He said conservatives can be their own worst enemy, busy running businesses and paying staff rather than campaigning.

“I’m a reluctant pollie, born from frustration,” he said.

While he concedes that Mr Petty may have the home ground advantage, he is aiming for the number two spot on local ballot slips when preferential voting takes place on November 18 to choose the Nationals’ candidate.

Austin Curtin.

Austin Curtin.

Candidate Austin Curtin

Austin Curtin instead played the youth card, appealing for the support of community leaders of the future.

He said at the end of his life he’d be satisfied to be known as a member of a happy family and a hard worker. He hoped his epitaph could read ‘He stuck his head out for rural and regional australia, and it’s better for it.’

He aims to build a connected community which grows in unison, with reciprocal visits bet ween the coast and highlands. He wants to support a community that “gets off their bums and makes things happen” with the right mix of investment and doors opened to new businesses.

“Agriculture and tourism are our future, and they need to continue to be enabled by government,” he said. Along these lines, he said the Tenterfield Chamber’s upcoming Peter Allen Festival is a “no brainer”.

Alongside business strategies, he cited Mingoola’s social experiment rehoming refugees as an example of a connected community’s caring aspect.

He sees the electorate’s major issues being health services, cross-border cooperation and roads, Mt Lindesay Rd in particular. He would like to see more Lismore residents come up to Tenterfield’s beautiful national parks for holidays as he does.

“The time is right for someone of my age,” he said.

Our Place was packed for the Nationals' pre-selection candidates forum.

Our Place was packed for the Nationals' pre-selection candidates forum.

Party battle

Tenterfield National Party branch secretary Josh Moylan asked candidates how they proposed to bring people into the party ahead of a difficult election, which Mr Gordon predicts will be a “filthy, filthy war”.

Mr Gordon said 80-90 per cent of voters make their decision as they go through the polling gates, so it’s important to be part of the community, informing them of policies.

“We need to think strategically about what we do, and become part of the drivers in our community.”

Mr Curtin pushed the need for generational change, saying young people need leadership and encouragement to contribute to their community, not wait for what the community can do for them.

“It’s about being on the ground, listening,” he said.

Mr Petty said across the board voters will generally be 30 per cent conservative and 30 per cent Labor with the remaining 40 per cent a protest vote.

“If you want good education, good health, good roads to drive on, a government working hard to create employment and support tourism, you need to vote for the party that’s going to get it done.

“The independent won’t get it done, the Shooters and Fishers won’t get it done. I’m damn sure the Greens won’t get it done.

“We need to listen to concerns and assure them we’ll be working as hard as we can to make that happen.”

Mr George was on hand to witness how his potential successors performed at the forum, and said whoever is selected will be well aware of what the Tenterfield community needs. 

The non-compulsory poll to choose the Nationals’ Lismore electorate candidate on November 18 is open to anyone on the electoral roll. The polling station at the Tenterfield School of Arts will operate from 8am to 6pm.

Recent polling suggests the successful pre-selection candidate will have a battle on their hands to keep Lismore in National Party hands.

A ReachTel poll shows the Nationals primary vote at 32.8 per cent, Labor on 23.9 per cent and the Greens on 22 per cent. One Nation is on 6.8 per cent, others on 5.6 per cent and nine per cent are undecided.

On a two-party preferred basis, the poll has Labor leading the Nationals by 57 per cent to 43 per cent, based on preferences stated by the 753 residents surveyed in early October.

Tenterfield’s voters favoured Mr George at the last state election in 2015, which prevented him from losing the seat to the Greens in a close election. The next state election, which is more than a year away, will be held on Saturday, March 23, 2019.

Here’s a recording of the entire forum...