Five candidates vying for the federal seat of Mackellar faced off last night at a public forum.

Moderated by ABC presenter Geraldine Doogue AO, five of the Mackellar candidates were given the opportunity to speak at a public forum held last night (Monday, 09 May) at United Cinemas, Avalon Beach, and organised by local book store Bookoccino.

The generally well-mannered forum was expertly conducted by the highly experienced Ms Doogue but was not without testy moments, such as when The Greens Ethan Hrnjak attacked Dr Sophie Scamps’ climate credentials.

“Unfortunately, when it comes to climate action, Dr Sophie under-prescribes. Her 50 percent target, despite being marginally better than Labor’s, is still not enough to keep us within 1.5 degrees of warming.

“The Greens 75 percent target, which is actually in line with the science, will keep us well within 1.5 degrees of warming, will save us billions of dollars, countless lives and vulnerable species from extinction, like the koala and the platypus,” said Mr Hrnjak.

Ethan Hrnjak

Dr Scamps hit back with a gentle jibe at 18-year-old Ethan Hrnjak, asking him why he chose to become involved in politics at his age and whether politics should be ‘left to the adults’ as suggested by Scott Morrison.

Mr Hrnjak responded that more young people needed to take an interest in politics and that he had emerged from his first meeting of The Greens as the candidate for Narrabeen ward in last year’s Council election.

Dr Sophie Scamps

Dr Scamps was put on the spot about who she would support to form government, and denied a suggestion the so-called ‘teal Independents’ were intending to form a voting bloc.

“The policies that I’m taking to this election are crystal clear and they’ve come from the people of Mackellar. It’s very clear what I’m standing for. It’s an integrity commission, it’s a minimum of 50 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030, they are the big ones.

“I need to wait until I get to the negotiating table to find out what either of the parties would offer me. We all know that you do not show your hand in poker, before you start the bidding, that would be crazy,” said Dr Scamps.

Asked by Ms Doogue if she would guarantee supply, Dr Scamps responded that she would need to ‘wait and see’, which prompted incumbent Liberal MP Jason Falinski to ask whether she was proposing to offer confidence but withhold supply, at which point Dr Scamps accused Mr Falinski of trying to confuse the situation.

Geraldine Doogue

Ms Doogue came back to the question of whether the Independent candidates were intending to hold the balance of power as a voting bloc.

“It’s quite a significant group now, I think people are starting to say this is a new world we’re entering. We’ve never been in a situation before where we actually could have a bloc of people who do appear to represent a certain set of attitudes. So I think people are saying, will they be a bloc?” pressed Ms Doogue.

“No,” responded Dr Scamps. “We’re independent. We are representing our electorate. When I’m making a negotiation, it’s about what are the issues that are important to the people who live here in Mackellar, that’s where it begins and finishes. The issues that I’m taking are very clear. It’s action on climate change, it’s the federal integrity commission.”

Paula Goodman

Labor candidate Paula Goodman challenged Dr Scamps on the Independents not coordinating like any other political party.

“If it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck and looks like a duck, it’s a duck. I actually think that you guys are a party, it is just a really clever way, a very financially clever way of getting control over parliament, quite frankly.

“I know you’re going to say you’re totally independent. When I ran for the local government, we had the same scenario. We had heaps of people turning up and they all had t-shirts the same colour,” said Ms Goodman.

Mackellar Candidate forum

Incumbent MP Jason Falinski also faced questioning on a range of issues, including housing affordability. He was asked to explain what was wrong and what could be done to fix it.

“You can’t fix housing for one group of people, you need to fix housing for every group of people and we can do that in Australia. Going back to first principles, Australia has some of the highest average weekly earnings in the world, we have the highest minimum wage in the world, we have more land in the world outside the penguins of the South Pole. We should have the most affordable housing market in the world, not the least affordable housing in the world.

“The biggest contribution to the unaffordability of Australian house prices is absolutely the role of planning in the way that we build houses in Australia. Taxes have an impact but when they did the econometric analysis, they found that in apartments near the inner-city, taxes added four percent to the price. The cost of poor planning added 68 percent,” said Mr Falinski.

Jason Falinski

Ms Doogue acknowledged Mr Falinski’s explanation of the problem but pressed him on what actions could be taken to resolve the issue of housing affordability.

“The first issue is supply. When you talk about supply, the issue comes into three key areas. The first is further densification, close to cities and work. The second is on the outskirts of cities and to have available zoning land. And the third is allowing regional and rural towns to be able to build more houses.

“During COVID, when people were moving to regional NSW, Coffs Harbour ran out of zoned land in the first three months, and it will take them seven and a half years to get more zoned land available. Indigenous communities in the Pilbara have a housing crisis because they don’t have enough land.

“The second issue is transport infrastructure, which is so often unaligned to where people are living and where work is happening. And the third, especially for younger Australians, is the ability to raise a deposit,” explained Mr Falinski.

Barry Steele

TNL candidate Barry Steele spoke of his work on the Great Barrier Reef and his concern for saving it from the effects of climate change. He did not appear to win fans as an adherent of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) which is an economic theory involving government funding deficits by printing money to pay for them.

Economists have largely discredited MMT as a viable solution to deficit funding due to its potential inflationary effect, leading to the erosion of value in assets, such as superannuation funds.

The candidates for UAP (Christopher Ball) and One Nation (Darren Dickson) were not at the forum.

Watch the video of the full event below.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate
Video: Bookoccino

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