New England byelection candidate Rob Taber was back on familiar ground while campaigning in Tenterfield on Wednesday, November 22. Politics aside there are a number of local projects he’s involved with, particularly proposed upgrades to Tenterfield airstrip.
Mr Taber has participated in several meetings on the issue and inspected the site. With his background in earthworks he estimates that an investment of $0.5 million dollars would level the strip and construct the hard apron and shed required by the Royal Flying Doctor Service.
He said he approached then-MP Barnaby Joyce after Mr Joyce’s win in the last election and invited him to meet at the airstrip to discuss the project, and was disappointed by the lack of response. Mr Taber said he’s maintaining his involvement in the project should he be elected or not.
Mr Taber said he’s also across local concerns with the health service through having a relative working at Tenterfield Hospital. While health funding flows from both federal and state reserves and he could have some say over health matters should he be successful at the polls, he said it’s up to the community to determine whether it’s more advantageous to remain with Hunter New England Health or join Lismore-based Northern NSW Health.
Deepwater mobile phone service
He said he has also championed a better mobile phone service for Deepwater, a key issue for those residents given it was standing room only in the CWA Hall at the first meeting he called to discuss the matter.
Mr Taber arranged for Telstra’s Northwest manager to attend the second community meeting and said as a consequence signal strength in the area seemed to improve, something he’s happy to take credit for.
He feels communication black spots along the highway from Tamworth to the border now appear to be getting worse, and he suspects it may be due to the network’s capacity to adjust signal direction.
“With the NBN’s fibre-to-the-node to be outdated so quickly, I think more communications are going to depend on mobile networks as technology progresses,” he said.
Youth support services are close to Mr Taber’s heart, being the former chair and now vice-chair of Jobs Australia. He said we need to think laterally on ways to support young people who don’t fit into the system.
“I see a real need for progress particularly for youth outside of school, but still school-based,” he said.
He cited the project through Armidale-based youth support service BackTrack where such students attend two days a week to work with a teacher, and spend the remaining days working on farms or volunteering with community groups.
“(Such projects) could be rolled out to any town,” he said.
“It needs a good, sharp look.”
The new Jobs Australia-backed gym in Inverell catering to mostly indigenous youth offering boxing and other activities is also something that could work in towns like Tenterfield, he said.
“If government is serious about this its needs to look outside the square.”
Mr Taber feels government is on the verge of losing its grasp on agricultural issues, and he’s pushing for a royal commission on the banking industry particularly relating to farming clients. He wants to see the establishment of an agricultural bank where farmers can access finance at reasonable rates from a trusted institution.
He’s aware of several farming businesses farther west on the brink of losing their farms to the bank, and said there has to be a better way.
While he hasn’t had a chance to study the maps which are causing grief as farmers try to get their head around new native vegetation legislation, he feels most farmers appreciate there has to be some degree of restriction and control, but that those controls have to be reasonable.
He’s keen on the development of a micro-hydro scheme but said with such enterprises there’s going to be some degree of impact on the environment.
“If there had to be no environmental damage, nothing would be developed,” he said.
This is the third time Mr Taber has contested the federal seat of New England after securing 36 per cent of the votes last time around on a 2-candidate preferred basis.
Now a week out from the polls he’s confident of winning votes in Armidale due to his high profile there, but spent several hours in Tenterfield introducing himself to people in Rouse St in order to win a few more votes at the northern end of the electorate.
His chances may be boosted by receiving second preferences on Mr Joyce’s ticket, but vehemently denied any deal to swap preferences with the front-runner.
"I don't allocate preferences," Mr Taber said.
"I only say to vote 1 for me. I believe preferences belong to people not parties."
Mr Taber said the first he knew that the Nationals were giving him second preference was when he saw their flyer.