Meet the Candidates – Long Post

Bowral Chamber of Commerce hosted a ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum at Bowral Memorial Hall on August 28, 2012. It was a long night and a lot was spoken about. I have collected my tweets from the event in a separate post and this one is mostly made up on my written notes. All teams plus solo candidate Duncan Gair were present. Jim Mauger was the only candidate not represented. Bowral Chamber president Geoff Hosey later said about 100 people were present.

The candidates were given five minutes to present their credentials to the audience, followed by moderated and submitted questions from the public, followed by questions from the floor. This post only includes details of the statements to the public. The questions and answers will be covered in other posts.

Labor’s Graham McLaughlin spoke first, and opened by asking how many people in the audience were under 30. Aside from a couple of school children and journalists (including me!) there was no-one at that time who identified that they were under 30. McLaughlin used this to launch into his platform, saying “if we don’t create jobs, we’ll just be a dormitory suburb.” The sitting councillor called for a residential university campus in the region. He also spoke of the need to protect manufacturing jobs and connected it to Council’s withdrawal of support for some of Boral’s operations. McLaughlin also noted that we have less than 17 ratepayers per square kilometre, which makes it very difficult to provide services, and that the workload on Councillors had significantly increased with the reduction from 12 to 9 councillors in 2008.

Juliet Arkwright, the only female councillor (and one of only two women on the stage), said even though she is affiliated with the Liberal party, “the party does not dictate to me anything to do with Wingecarribee.” But, she said the affiliation means her philosophy is clear. Arkwright said that problems hanging over council in 2008 included low morale, poor governance and the significant losses on Collateralised Debt Obligation (CDO) investments. Arkwright takes credit for bringing litigation funders IMF to the court case, saying it saved Council money. She stressed that there was more to do and said she was passionate about the arts. Arkwright promised to push forward with gallery and theatre proposals and hinted that she expects Council amalgamations during this term.

Maree Byrne represented the Greens. Byrne is second on the Green ticket and talked about the need to make the right decisions for the next generation. She supports the Moss Vale Aquatic Centre development and said “the Greens want community space to remain green.” She would love to see the Bowral Memorial Hall upgraded to the proposed performance space and wants to see creative thinking in the Bowral CBD to make it more people-centric. The Greens say no to K-Mart in Bong Bong St.

Larry Whipper spoke very strongly against the K-Mart development and said he would lobby for improved broadband internet services in the Southern Highlands. He is anti-mining and anti-Coal Seam Gas but pro-business. Whipper called for development of a university specialising in the environment, arts and technology. This would help keep younger people in the shire. He wants to approach ANU “or any others that would be interested.”

Grahame Andrews spoke of potentially delaying upgrades to the Civic Centre in light of Council’s difficult financial position and commitment on the Moss Vale Aquatic Centre. He endorsed calls for a fully-fledged University campus in the region and other issues for young people. Andrews also tackled some more difficult issues like housing affordability, saying he believed new greenfields housing sites were inevitable and that they would take pressure off the community because the developer covers infrastructure costs and pays Section 94 contributions [PDF]. Andrews talked up tourism and aged car as major interests for council and raised the possibility of allowing vineyards to provide onsite accommodation. Andrews drew on his long history in sport to state that the user pays system works and he believed Wingecarribee’s fields were of good quality compared to nearby regions. He would like to see a multi-purpose sports arena including an indoor pool and other indoor sports facilities and a decent outdoor oval with grandstands and intimated that we could host events such as City V Country rugby league with a good field.

Former Liberal David Stranger spoke of the need to properly utilise the Moss Vale Economic Enterprise Zone. He said that “Council is a business and if that business is run well the community will prosper.” He talked about being available to help residents and acknowledged the contradiction in calling for jobs but opposing K-Mart. He does support McDonalds at Moss Vale and wants to work with the University of Wollongong and TAFE Illawarra to expand existing campuses rather than look to new facilities.

John Uliana talked about supporting businesses (especially retail) in the Highlands but said the shopping strips look tired and needed revitalisation. “We propose to make the streets more welcoming.” He said jobs can be created at the Moss Vale Economic Enterprise Zone and promised a business forum to draw on the expertise of the corporate high flyers who live here but work elsewhere. Uliana said ultimately its about families having opportunity to do what they want to do.

Garry Turland says he wants to be realistic and that K-Mart complies with planning laws, so “why should we spend $250,000 fighting it?” If residents and businesses are upset, they should have got more involved with the LEP planning process, says Turland. And on that note, people should be participating in the Bowral Traffic and Parking study and reading the demographic study and be aware of the implications of these planning guides. Instead of just saying no to K-Mart, Turland suggests working with Coles to get it incorporated into the redevelopment of Oxley Mall.

Ian Scandrett talked a lot about what he did in Sydney, including setting up a chamber of commerce, resisting density changes and staging events. Scandrett announced a policy to install free WiFi in the main towns, at a cost of $15-20,000 per installation, starting with Bowral. He also said the region should attract and develop more events and get businesses involved with those events. He said we can’t attract a University campus and the inland port proposal should be rethought.

Former Mayor Duncan Gair said he decided to nominate again because he wanted to have an input: “You look back and think, at the end of the day, it may not have happened if you weren’t there.” He said he has the commitment, desire and knowledge to lead and be part of a stable and strong council. He pointed out that Council has to repay loans on the Moss Vale Economic Enterprise Zone site and it should be better utilised. He agreed with Garry Turland that some plans are fixed and should be worked within rather than fought against.

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