The New England by-election battle took to the streets of Armidale on Wednesday – with two major players butting heads over what’s best for our region.
Nationals’ candidate Barnaby Joyce pounded the pavement down Beardy St while Labor’s David Ewings threw his support behind a protest against TAFE cuts outside the city’s campus.
But the rivals had some solid questions for each other, too.
“Do you support the decentralisation of government jobs to Armidale via the APVMA yes or no?” Mr Joyce said.
“Don’t tell us it’s not happening … it’s been signed off by the Finance Minister. It’s all happening and it’s happening now.
“The CEO, Chris Parker, is moving to Armidale.”
But Mr Ewings said when the Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon, visited the Armidale pesticides authority office last week there was “nobody in there”.
“There’s not even a phone number,” Mr Ewings said.
“Now there’s talk about having APVMA people working from home.
“Even if it was a good idea, and it’s not, where are these people?”
By Mr Ewings’ side in Beardy Street, Labor senator Doug Cameron was also quick to slam the move.
“It was simply a rort by Barnaby Joyce,” Senator Cameron said.
“I attended the estimates hearings in Canberra about the APVMA moving here (and) Barnaby Joyce was warned what would happen – that it would destroy the capability of the APVMA … that it was about servicing the whole of Australia.
“To protect his own position … he talks big but delivers little … that was one of the priority areas and it hasn’t worked out.
“Regional Australia is not being looked after effectively by the National Party and you’re (Barnaby) part of the problem not the solution.”
From national chemical regulators to more local issues like securing Guyra’s water supply – Mr Joyce had more than one question for the Labor candidate.
“What about the water infrastructure fund, do you support it?” Mr Joyce said.
“We are applying through that to get a pipeline from Guyra to Malpas – do you support that yes or no?”
But Mr Ewings said the Coalition’s policies were hindering, not helping.
“You need policies that help those things come about,” Mr Ewings said.
“None of those projects … would have been helped by Coalition policy and I should say lack of policy – particularly in energy which is of interest to me.
“It would be hard to know where to start with this government, with their absolute chaos on energy policy.
“The policy that we have is 50 per cent renewables by 2030, that brings in certainty for investors.
“I remember what Barnaby Joyce said last year all of a sudden he was agrarian socialist, all of a sudden he was starting to question his views that ‘maybe climate change is a thing’.
“Well guess what climate change is actually a thing Barnaby.”
When it comes to the local economy, Mr Ewings said Labor’s goal is to bring equality to regional areas from investing in courses and more jobs in TAFE to reinstating weekend penalty rates.
“Across the electorate we’re talking about accommodation, retail, the service industry – about 11,500 people just got a pay cut,” he said.
“That’s not good enough and it doesn’t just effect them, it effects local businesses here and the local economy.
“This all ties back to the equality and opportunity that Doug and I have been talking about, trying to close that gap.”
But Armidale needs to encourage small business, not choke them with penalty rates, Mr Joyce said.
“McDonald’s and all your big (traders) are actually on enterprise bargaining agreements which are not effected,” he said.
“The ones that are effected is small business and what small businesses say is ‘if we’re going to have to pay ... we’re just not going to open’.
“I’m sitting in the mall here and I’m thinking what you do need is open shops.
“If all the shops close, that’s not helping the town.”
Mr Joyce said so far Labor had failed to pitch any ideas for Armidale.
“What is your plan for Armidale? What’s your plan to take us from 28,000 (people) to 50,000?” Mr Joyce said.
“Why is the only promise the Labor Party makes is to make us poorer?
“We got through Cabinet the decision to move the APVMA, it’s not just my decision.
“The Labor Party roll into town and say this is all fantasia but regardless, if it ever happens we’re going to move it all back out again.
“This has given a kick to the Armidale economy because people see a prospect for the city to grow.
“Labor Party come and say ‘we’re going to make you poorer, we’re going to make you smaller and we want you to vote for us’.
“They haven’t really come up with any policy for Armidale – not one.
“This is what is so frustrating. Talk to us about Armidale, about the Guyra to Malpas pipeline, the decentralisation of jobs to Armidale, the New England Highway.
“Don’t come up here and say ‘we want you to not like the National Party because they smell of old socks and you’ve got to be loyal to us even though all we want to do is crap on you’.”
Mr Ewings said he can’t comprehend why people continue to vote for the National Party.
“It’s absolutely beyond me,” he said.
“We will keep rolling up at every election and we will keep building up our grassroots support base and we will keep putting forward alternatives to people so that they don’t have to keep voting for the Nationals.
“The New England has a lot of natural resources.
“We’ve got wind, we’ve got sunlight, we’ve got water and topography, we’ve got resources that people in the city don’t have and we need policies that bring all that together.
“That’s what Labor is interested in doing.”