A PASSIONATE audience, outspoken candidates and more questions than time to give answers were indicative of a new level of political debate at last night’s Indi election forum in Wodonga.
An enthusiastic crowd of more than 300 people filled The Cube to quiz candidates on the issues most important to them.
Hot election issues — same-sex marriage, asylum seekers, paid parental leave — all got a look-in, as well as regional issues like the Murray-Darling Basin plan and broadband.
Among the eight candidates were Indi incumbent Sophie Mirabella — who gave up a spot on ABC’s Q&A to attend — and her biggest challenger according to opinion polls, independent Cathy McGowan.
The audience wasn’t shy on grilling the pair on where they stood.
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For Ms McGowan it was which way would she vote in a hung parliament; for Mrs Mirabella, how could she serve in cabinet as well as respond to constituents?
Ms McGowan said the community’s response to a hung parliament was that it was not her job to be kingmaker, and instead she should side with the popular vote.
Mrs Mirabella said her experience would allow her to balance being a local representative while “giving Indi a voice at the cabinet table — and that’s where the decisions are made, you can’t get any more direct”.
Paid parental leave elicited strong reactions, particularly on the issue of who would pay for the Coalition’s scheme.
Mrs Mirabella insisted it would be funded by a levy on Australia’s biggest 3000 companies, but the Greens’ Jenny O’Connor said this would affect shareholders — including self-funded retirees.
Mrs Mirabella said the Coalition would get the nation’s debt down to 1 per cent of GDP within 10 years, following an audit; Labor’s Robyn Walsh was unclear on her party’s promised timeline for debt reduction, either four or five years.
Ms O’Connor said the constant focus on reaching a surplus was “nonsense” and stopped governments investing in projects like high-speed rail — eliciting a cheer from Bullet Train for Australia’s William Hayes.
On Albury Wodonga Health, Mrs Mirabella said the Coalition had already promised a $5 million cardiac lab and said she would continue pushing for more funding, particularly in aged care.
Independent Jennifer Podesta said AWH needed ongoing, sustainable funding and the increasing concentration of services moving to Albury and away from Wodonga needed to be addressed.
Ms Walsh said health needed to first be addressed by state governments, and Ms McGowan said she would work with the states, hospitals and federal government to secure funding needed well into the future.
Five of the eight candidates were in favour of same-sex marriage — Mrs Mirabella and Rise Up Australia party’s Bob Dudley were against it — while Bullet Train for Australia’s William Hayes said his party had no position.
All said they would vote to preserve workers’ penalty rates, except Ms Podesta and Ms McGowan, who was unsure.
Ms McGowan said she would back the Murray-Darling Basin plan while Katter Australian Party’s Phil Rourke said it “gutted” small towns.
All candidates affirmed a desire to secure broadband and fix mobile phone blackspots, with Ms O’Connor adding: “If this seat is marginal, I guarantee we’ll get all the blackspots fixed by next week”.