Incumbent Barnaby Joyce was a no-show but six other contenders for his New England seat in the May 18 federal election met Tenterfield voters at Wednesday night's Candidates Q&A forum, hosted by the Tenterfield Chamber of Tourism, Industry and Business.
Mr Joyce won New England for the Nationals with 58.52 per cent of vote over independent Tony Windsor on a two-party-preferred basis at the last general election. He extended that lead to 73.63 per cent over Labor candidate David Ewings at the 2017 byelection following a High Court ruling on his ineligibility to hold office due to his dual New Zealand citizenship, courtesy of his father.
Independent Natasha Ledger, who's drawn the number one spot on the ballot paper, was not involved in the forum but Christian Democratic Party's Julie Collins, Labor's Yvonne Langenberg, the Greens' Tony Lonergan, United Australia Party's Cindy Duncan and independents Adam Blakester and Rob Taber all laid their claim to the seat, each with their particular areas of focus.
As an Armidale-based nurse it's not surprising that Ms Langenberg's area of interest is health. On introducing herself she said six years of cuts to the health system under the coalition government spurred her to stand, along with the rising cost of living and inequities.
Her priorities are more funding for regional hospital beds, doctors and nurses, more funding for the public schools system on a needs basis, and improvement to regional infrastructure particularly for mobile and internet reception.
Mr Blakester similarly was motivated to stand by what he considers to be a dysfunctional parliament. He's a city boy who has returned to his family's roots in the Werris Creek/Gunnedah area, concerned by parliamentarians electioneering for their entire terms.
"There are crises in areas like the Murray Darling Basin and Barrier Reef, and structural changes in economy, technology and globalisation. We're not on the front foot."
He said his one interest is this electorate and its priorities and opportunities.
Ms Duncan grew up in Wallangarra and attended Tenterfield schools, and now lives in Glen Innes.
"I miss this country, and our people," she said.
"We are so divided. People should be able to disagree without hating each other."
She feels Australia is on a downward spiral and that its resources are being taken away from it.
"This is a most defining moment for us. We've got to get out health system and roads back, and everyone has to be transparent."
Mr Lonergan grew up on a sheep and wheat farm outside Aberdeen in the south of the electorate, and now teaches high school in the area. He's contesting the election due to climate change concerns.
"The coalition is responsible for where we are at the moment," he said.
"Labor would like to do something, but is not quite game to."
He feels the recent Tasmanian fires, 664,000 head of cattle lost in the North Queensland floods and the Barrier Reef being down to 50 per cent cover should be incentive enough.
"We have to change how we live. It's more serious than I can express.
"A two per cent increase (in temperature) is too much. We're currently on track for four."
Rob Taber, also from Armidale, is arguably the most familiar face having contested that past three elections.
"I feel like the shadow minister for New England," he said, "but all the issues I stood for before are still the same."
His priorities are climate change ("it's worse than ever"), small business and agriculture, having been involved with the land all his life.
"We really have to look at the economy of our small towns, like Tenterfield," he said.
He has lobbied for the hump to be removed from the Tenterfield airstrip to provide access to air ambulances, and for the mobile phone tower at Deepwater. He called the lack of maternity services at Tenterfield Hospital "shameful".
"You've got to think about what you want for your community, and go and get it," he said.
Ms Collins calls herself a country girl, although her stomping ground was Goulburn rather than this electorate. She's a domestic violence survivor and social welfare is her platform, particularly the unreported abuse of children.
"Every child that's broken needs masses of dollars, masses of counselling and masses of assistance," she said.
"I have ideas to implement straight away to protect our children."
Several candidates noted the auspicious surroundings, with the electorate's first public candidates forum taking place that night in the birthplace of the country's federation. As the Business Chamber's Vince Sherry noted, we're in the midst of a fascinating run up to the election and the outcome in all seats is going to be interesting, including this one.
Questions and answers
Mr Taber wants to see more money for farmers to invest in silos, hay sheds and other food and water storage infrastructure such as new bores and dams, to help now and to drought-proof them for the future.
Mr Blakester said the country has no national strategy on water, and there needs to be a focus on the entire water cycle and getting the biology working again.
"If all we do is focus on dams, we will be damned."
He backs calls for one per cent of the federal budget to be allocated to local infrastructure.
Ms Langenberg supports more direct financial assistance to farming families, along with financial counselling to run their businesses more efficiently and a 'proper' NBN and mobile network, as well as roads and rail.
"There are too many blackspots," she said.
In posing his question on renewable energy, Vince Sherry quoted Nature magazine's profile of Germany which has 340,000 people in the renewable sector, 180 universities and 120 research institutes also involved and an investment of 800 million euros a year.
This has put the country on track to reach its target of 100 per cent renewable energy by the year 2030.
"Why does Australia ignore not only the science but the investment potential in job opportunities," he asked.
Ms Duncan said a transitional approach is necessary and it isn't plausible to do it all at once, having heard it takes more money to make one windmill than the value of the power it generates.
Mr Langerman was blunt in saying the answer to Mr Sherry's question is money.
"Political donations determine what gets done in this country," he said.
"One hundred per cent renewables can be achieved with the technology we have today."
Ms Collins said the CDP's policy is that nuclear power is the answer, but Mr Blakester said the lowest cost of electricity generation is a combination of wind, solar and storage systems, lower than the cost of building new coal stations.
Furthermore a nuclear power station currently being constructed in the UK would triple the price of what Australians pay now for electricity, and it would be 30-50 years before a similar facility could be operating here.
"Most people support a sensible transition from coal and gas to clean, renewable technologies," he said.
"Parliament does not lead in that direction."
He would call for a plebiscite to have a national legislation and strategy to meet the 1.5 degree (increase in temperature) target, incorporating fair transition for workers in the coal and gas industries.
State of the NBN rollout and mobile phone coverage
"It's a schmozzle, a dog's breakfast," Ms Langenberg said.
She supports fibre-to-the-kerb, but concedes it won't be possible in all locations as the rollout is too advanced in some areas and therefore too expensive to rectify.
Mr Taber has always been a proponent of fibre to the house, but fears the technology is outdated now anyway. As to mobile blackspots, he said he was disgusted to learn that the mobile tower for Deepwater was in fact positioned to benefit those on the highway rather than the Deepwater community.
Mr Lonergan feels fibre-to-the-kerb is sufficient for most applications, and those with higher data traffic needs should have the capacity to connect themselves to the kerbside network.
Mr Blakester said on both issues it's a case of politics over democracy.
Ms Collins wants mobile phone towers put where they're needed. As fibre rollout is unfeasible in many rural areas she proposes government rebates to rural users to give them greater mobile data download allowances.
"We have to look at how to make it fair and equitable," she said.
Foreign ownership of Australian resources
Mr Lonergan said our water is precious resource and he laments the separation of water rights from land.
Ms Duncan feels too much of our resources is being sold overseas in an non-transparent manner, and she is concerned about Chinese ownership of Australian ports.
"We can't get in bed all the time with foreigners, economically," she said.
Ms Langenberg grew up in a mining family and doesn't mind who does the mining.
"But what's important is getting the tax dollars back," she said.
Here's a livestream recording of the proceedings...