PAUL TURTON, HOST: Today our focus is on Shortland, a safe seat with a current margin of almost 10%. It was won by Pat Conroy in 2016 after he moved across from the dissolved seat of Charlton to replace the retiring Jill Hall. Now, this electorate is squeezed between Lake Macquarie and the Pacific Ocean and stretches from the southern suburbs of Newcastle all the way to the Central Coast – we’re talking Redhead to Budgewoi. It includes Charlestown, Cardiff, Belmont, Swansea and Budgewoi. It’s named after Lieutenant John Shortland, the first European to discover the Hunter River. Shortland has had only four members since its creation, all representing the Labor Party: Charlie Griffiths, for a period from 1949 to 1971, Peter Morris from 1972 to 1998, Jill Hall from 1998 to 2016, and Pat Conroy, as we mentioned from 2016. Well, thanks to all of those who contributed questions. The ideas came through to Dan and Jenny on ABC Newcastle Breakfast this morning, then of course we asked you to vote during Kia Handley’s Morning Show, and the questions you’ve requested we ask are: What is your plan to grow jobs in our region? And what actual infrastructure spending are you committed to for Shortland? Well, we’ve got our two candidates with us now at this stage. I’ll start with incumbent Pat Conroy. Thank you for coming in. It’s nice to have you with us. I’ll start by asking you about going around again. As we mentioned you’ve moved across, just down the road, from Charlton to Shortland. Since 2016, how has that period been for you and you’re obviously looking forward to going around again.
PAT CONROY, MEMBER FOR SHORTLAND AND LABOR CANDIDATE FOR SHORTLAND: It’s a great privilege. I’ve always represented an area that I live in. A big chunk of Charlton got moved into Shortland and I’ve previously lived in areas such as Belmont and Dudley, and I grew up on the Central Coast. I was familiar with the area well and truly before I ran for the seat, and it’s a great privilege to represent 150,000 people in Parliament and to be their voice and to fight for the issues they care about and stand up for some of the best communities in the country.
TURTON: And Wylie Campbell is with us also. Wiley is representing the Greens. What is it about the Greens that attracted you as a relatively young man?
WYLIE CAMPBELL, GREENS CANDIDATE FOR SHORTLAND: I’ve always had a very keen eye for the environmental sciences and having studied environmental science at uni, it’s very close to my heart in that way. I want to go into this election with an eye for welfare and caring for those most vulnerable in our community, and I feel that the Greens policy reflects this quite well.
TURTON: And, you’ve always lived down around the area?
CAMPBELL: Yes, I’ve always lived in Belmont.
TURTON: So you don’t have to fudge the address then as we’ve seen over the years. Fabulous, that’s a really good start. Righto let’s get to the questions. You know the process. We’ve asked our audience to put these questions to you because they believe they are the most significant of those proposed. So I’ll start with you, Pat Conroy, what’s your plan to grow jobs in the region?
CONROY: We’ve got a very significant package of job support policies that will drive jobs growth in Shortland. The first one is the New Job Tax Cuts that will provide a 30% deduction for employers when they bring on someone who is over the age of 55, or under 25, or is a carer returning to the workforce or is a parent returning to the workforce. They are four groups of people that really suffer discrimination in the workforce. So, that’s policy number one. Policy number two is the Australian Investment Guarantee which will drive a big investment in new machinery and equipment for businesses which will lead to more employment. We’ve also got the Advanced Manufacturing Future Fund, that will provide our great manufacturers in this region with finance to grow their businesses. And we’ve also made big announcements around the shipping industry. We’ve got a lot of seafarers in our area and a lot of them are out of work because this Government has encouraged shippers to replace Australian workers with foreign crews earning $2 an hour. So, we will reverse that and make sure we have Australian flag vessels with Australian crews. The other part is around my portfolio, which is around energy. So, we’ve announced a $1billion hydrogen plan which will create up to 16,000 export jobs and the Hunter Region is really well situated to take advantage of the hydrogen boom, which will drive job creation. And our renewable energy policy will drive 71,000 jobs in Australia and since the Hunter and Shortland is virtually the power house of the nation with a great skilled workforce, great companies, we will definitely win some of these jobs. And the final one is any government procurement, any government purchase, we have a strong domestic purchasing policy which will give Australian manufacturers and Shortland manufacturers a good chance, including a guarantee that every dollar spent on infrastructure that involves Commonwealth funding, one in 10 workers must be an apprentice. So we’ve got a huge jobs package that will grow jobs in this area. And that’s really important when you’ve got youth unemployment rising, underemployment rising, and wages are stagnant.
TURTON: Pat Conroy, the incumbent and Labor candidate for the seat of Shortland. Wiley Campbell represents the Greens. What’s your strategy, what’s your plan to grow jobs?
CAMPBELL: So, the Shortland area has historically had a very large reliance on coal and fossil fuels but the Greens are going into this election with a platform of 100% renewables by 2030. So, the plan is that in the transition, reskilling coal workers to create roughly 180,000 new jobs in the renewables sector as well as 5,000 jobs in NSW alone to clean up the disused coal mines. As far as small businesses go, the Greens plan to ensure that penalties are attributed to companies that do not pay within 30 days. I want to stress that we are attempting to reskill coal workers, those who are relying on the fossil fuel industry.
TURTON: We’ve been joined now by Susan Newbury from Sustainable Australia who is just running a fraction late. Susan, we gave the other two the opportunity just to introduce themselves a little bit. What’s brought you to this election as a candidate?
SUSAN NEWBURY, SUSTAINABLE AUSTRALIA CANDIDATE FOR SHORTLAND: I’m from the lower, the southern end, of the electorate. I’ve lived on the Central Coast all my life. And I’ve been really appalled by the amount of environmental damage the area has sustained, particularly the Tuggerah Lakes system and even Lake Macquarie. And when I received a flier saying that Lake Munmorah was going to become part of the Greater Lake Munmorah area, thousands of new homes being brought into the area, that motivated me to start thinking about why we were growing at such a rate.
TURTON: Alright, I’ll get you to move on then to the jobs approach. That’s the first question as recommended by our listeners and our readers online. What’s your plan to grow jobs in our region?
NEWBURY: I think that we could try having better support for Australian products and services through government purchases and public marketing campaigns. Then we should have some more support for not-for-profit entities and mutual enterprises and businesses at a community level. We should establish trial job guarantee programs for youth and long-term unemployed people. We should have support for a fair industrial relations system, implement an effects test in competition policy to protect small businesses from unfair market behaviour by larger companies. As Wylie said, a maximum 30-day period for payment of invoices from government to small businesses – from government bodies and big businesses. Reduce company tax for local manufacturing; remove trade agreements that prevent government from buying local goods – that’s things we have actually signed up to – that multinationals can act against us. We need to try to favour our own home-grown industries. And carry out extensive environmental rehabilitation projects, for example restoration of Tuggerah Lakes.
TURTON: As you mentioned at the start that’s one of your key concerns around the Tuggerah area. Thank you Susan Newbury from Sustainable Australia. That brings us to our second question. What actual infrastructure spending are you committed to for Shortland? Pat Conroy, we’ll go back to you to kick this question off.
CONROY: Thanks again. It’s a massive issue. We are a growing area; we need to make sure people can get to work and school and everywhere in between. Labor has announced $88 million worth of infrastructure programs that will benefit Shortland. The first is a $13 million contribution to the Glendale Transport Interchange. All 11 Hunter councils have stated that that is most important infrastructure priority for the entire region. This project will provide, for every dollar of government investment, $94 of private investment, and will unlock up to 10,000 jobs in the northern Lake Macquarie area. So, we’re committing $13 million to get that project going to build the Pennant Street Bridge which is the second stage. Labor funded the first stage when we were last in Government. That’s commitment number one, and that is vital. Commitment number two is a $60 million Central Coast roads package that will benefit the southern section of the electorate. $60 million that will be spread between Shortland, Dobell and Robertson, and that will go to fixing the big backlog of road maintenance that is there on the northern Central Coast. And third is the $15 million shared pathways program that will build the Mannering Park to Chain Valley Bay foreshore pathway. So that’s $88 million of direct infrastructure funding that will benefit Shortland, starting with Glendale, which is the most important project in the region. The other really exciting infrastructure project that will benefit people in Shortland is our commitment to high-speed rail. So we did the planning when we were last in Government , we’ve committed to establishing a High Speed Rail Planning Authority and we’ve also announce that we will allocate $1billion to start purchasing the rail corridor to build high speed rail in this country. It’s something that people want but don’t think it is ever going to be built. But we are putting real cash on the table to start that process so that people can get from Shortland to Sydney in 39 minutes, and onwards from there. That will be a game-changer for our region for improving infrastructure. Glendale, Central Coast roads package, shared pathways, and high-speed rail demonstrates Labor’s commitment to Shortland.
TURTON: You mentioned the words ‘real money’. The $88 million is all within the forward estimates, so that’s over the next four years?
CONROY: Absolutely, the $88 million is all within the forward estimates.
TURTON: Wylie Campbell from the Greens. What’s your commitment to infrastructure?
CAMPBELL: So, for Shortland our two main commitments we are taking into the election are high-speed rail, number one. Since 1981 the first model of high-speed rail linking the eastern regions of Australia’s coast was planned but has never been developed. We want to pursue this by bringing about the Australian High-Speed Rail Authority and contributing $1.6 billion in the first term of government to fully fund this. And, secondly, in the community of Shortland, you have a lot of workers working in coal, in the fossil fuel areas, we want to, in transitioning away, invest in renewable infrastructure around the Shortland area to generate jobs and make sure that in the future we’re set up to not be waylaid by the need to deal with climate change.
TURTON: Thank you, Wylie. That’s Wylie Campbell from the Greens. And Susan Newbury, Sustainable Australia, what’s your approach to infrastructure. What actual infrastructure spend are you committed to in Shortland?
NEWBURY: We, as Sustainable Australia, would really like to get the rate of population growth under control, so all the infrastructure can catch up with what’s happening in the area. But my main concern is the lack of affordable housing – does that count as infrastructure?
CONROY: Well, if it’s public housing, it would.
NEWBURY: There seems to be, in the southern end of the electorate, a lot of low-income people that have moved up from Sydney because it’s too expensive now for them to live in Sydney. And there’s a chronic shortage of rental housing for them to go into. So, Bill Shorten has promised 250,000 rental houses at 20% less than market value. That’s still unaffordable for people that are on social security. We need public housing where the rent is tied to the income of the occupants. And we need about 25% of that to be single occupancy because that’s how many people actually live in one-person dwellings.
TURTON: You mention the Labor Party policy there; I’ll give Pat Conroy the chance to respond to that. We’ll talk about negative gearing, and there’s been a lot of criticism that negative gearing is going to have an adverse impact on the amount of rental stock available which will obviously impact on prices.
CONROY: Well, that is absolute rubbish and every reputable economist who is not in the pay of the real estate industry has rebutted that. When negative gearing was abolished in the 1980s rent did not go up nationally. It went up in a couple of cities because of the mining boom, but went down in other cities. There is no evidence it will drive rent increases; that’s point number one. Point number two, everyone who is negatively geared now is grandfathered so the properties that are negatively geared are preserved. What this does is level the playing field. So, when a new home buyer goes to an auction they are not bidding against someone with seven properties who is getting a tax break which obviously makes their financial position a lot more advantageous. So this is about levelling the playing field between first-home buyers and property investors. Independent economists have said that it will have a negligible impact on prices but it will increase affordability for first-home buyers. And it will help fix up the budget deficit we are facing at the moment. We’ve allocated $6 billion for affordable housing so I’d disagree with my colleague over here. The experience for the National Rental Affordability Scheme is that this does drive rental affordability quite significantly. So, 250,000 new affordable homes is the biggest commitment to affordable housing in this country since World War II. We’ve made reforms about Build to Rent as well. So, we’ve got a comprehensive package to make housing more affordable for both people wanting to buy and people wanting to rent.
TURTON: Pat Conroy, thank you. I’ll ask a question of Wylie as well and Susan before you leave us. Thanks for coming in this afternoon everybody, by the way. Wylie, you’re a young person interested in the environment and interested in politics, are you the exception or the rule coming through? Because, three years ago in 2016 the climate would have appeared well down the agenda in terms of public interest topics but now there is the sneaking suspicion that if it’s not paramount it’s certainly very, very close to the top. So, how many of you are there out there, coming through?
CAMPBELL: The Greens this election have an ample amount of young candidates, actually. One of my close friends, I went to school with him, Matthew Thompson, he’s the candidate for Sydney, even in my local group I have many colleagues who are young. And just being present in my own community seems like that it is at the front of young people’s minds, and even old people. I was recently at Dora Creek for a Coal Ash Action Group committee and there’s a lot of older citizens with concerns about the health of the lake, stuff like this, it’s very obvious that the climate is at the front of people’s minds going into this election.
TURTON: Wylie, thank you, and Susan, the fact that you have so much in common with the Greens. You’re not worried that you are diluting their vote?
NEWBURY: I think we are appealing to a different demographic, not so to the left of politics, more in the centre, that are still very much concerned about what’s happening to the environment.
TURTON: OK, thank you all for coming in.