The downstairs meeting room at Glebe Town Hall was barely large enough to seat the 150 or so people who came on Monday 26 August to meet the candidates for the electorate of Sydney in the 2013 Federal Election.

The meeting was chaired by the Glebe Society’s President, John Gray, who acknowledged the original owners of the land. He welcomed those present, who ranged in age from about eight to 80 and who included, among others, Glebe Society members, Glebe residents, members of Get Up (who had planned to hold their own meeting but came to ours instead) and many others.

All nine candidates were invited, and five were able to attend.  They were, in the order in which they were drawn to speak:

  1. Peter Boyle, Socialist Alliance
  2. Joanna Rzetelski, Independent
  3. Tanya Plibersek, Labor
  4. Dianne Hiles, The Greens
  5. Lesley Mason, Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group)

Three other candidates sent their apologies.  They were:

  • Sean O’Connor, Liberal
  • Leah Gartner, Bullet Train for Australia
  • Jane Ward, Independent

The five candidates who attended had previously been given five prepared questions to address, either separately or in total, in an uninterrupted five minutes.

The primary questions focused on climate change, public housing, infrastructure development, education and health services, and required the candidates to provide responses related principally to the local electorate’s interests.

The summaries which follow indicate the emphasis each candidate placed in his or her responses, and are presented in the order given.

Peter Boyle – Socialist Alliance

Peter commenced by recognising the importance of Aboriginal people’s  acceptance of economic migrants and ‘boat people’ to Australia, then went on to indicate that we are facing a climate crisis, primarily due to the market’s failure to address the problem. He indicated that investment in renewable energy, with a 100% renewable target in 10 years, and social investment to address sustainability issues, in public housing, health and education were priorities of his “social justice” platform.

Joanna Rzetelski – Independent

Joanna indicated that clean energy was a priority but that retention of jobs in industry must be part of the needed structural change. She carried this idea forward to the question of housing, where she emphasized the need for measures to address the causes of homelessness, while maintaining adequate public housing availability. Her references to education suggested that a holistic approach was needed in that sector so that no level would suffer funding losses.

Tanya Plibersek – Labor

Tanya addressed all five areas under review by referring to the Labor Government’s record, quoting many statistics to illustrate her answer. Some of the developments given particular weight included local improvements such as the provision of 21,000 new public housing dwellings, 1000 of which are in Sydney, the building of Annie Green Court in Redfern, funding for the Chris O’Brien Cancer Centre at RPA and major federal expenditure on rail infrastructure, the national disability insurance scheme, the NBN and education

Dianne Hiles – The Greens

Dianne began by reference to Paul Keating’s landmark Redfern speech, and used statistics to show how deep divisions still exist between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians’ life opportunities. She continued by labeling the toxic nature of the ‘national debate’ surrounding the asylum seekers issue but concluded that while ‘planning, vision and finance’ were essential to our need to act now for the future, the environment was of paramount importance and must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

Lesley Mason – Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group)

Lesley chose to preface her address by placing ‘traditional values’ at the core of her platform. This was manifest in her support of small business, protection needed for the most vulnerable, such as through public housing, the abolition of the carbon tax in order to reduce living costs and an unapologetic “pro-life” stance which extended into aged, palliative and mental health care areas. She also agreed that education and infrastructure needs should be addressed.

Following their initial statements the candidates, collectively and individually, were asked to address a number of questions from the audience. These ranged from the question of asylum seekers where all agreed that present public disinformation was colouring the debate, through nuclear power which no-one expressed support for, to defence spending where views differed widely.  The need for a carbon tax also saw mixed response, as anticipated along party lines.

There was, however, general agreement that the quality of political debate and decision-making in Australia was hampered by the role of vested interests including the media.

A question from a young participant regarding animal rights drew focus to the need for sustainability in our economy and the importance of global influences on our local practices. The final question, relating to workplace legislation and the importance of this to a strong economy and a fair and equitable society highlighted yet again, the inadequate distribution of wealth within our wider Australian community and drew varied responses from the candidates, largely according to their own political philosophies.

The meeting proved that we can have civic conversations in our Town Halls. We were all struck by the candidates’ discipline and the respect they showed to each other.

Edwina Doe and Janice Challinor