The Saint's column this week (Who's who of the ballot box) is as revealing for what it says about the major parties as it is for what the Saint says about independent candidates.
What started as a general reprimand of Lithgow voters for their apathy, turned into a general broadside at "single issue wannabes" which was how the Saint described the independent candidates standing in more than 20 seats nationally, including Calare. The Saint harked all the way back to the late Peter Andren to question the effectiveness of independents at this federal election.
Here in Calare independent Kate Hook is campaigning hard on 10 key issues, starting with securing our region's economy by creating high-skilled well-paying jobs, urgent action on climate change and legislating a federal anti-corruption body with real teeth.
Just to be clear, after being elected in March 1996, Mr Andren was re-elected to represent Calare three times. Clearly the voters of Calare thought independent representation was far more appealing than anything the major parties had to offer.
Indeed, if not for a radical redrawing of the electorate's boundaries in early 2007 and Mr Andren's tragic diagnosis with pancreatic cancer and death later in the year, he might have represented people in this region for many more years.
The biggest criticism the Saint levels at independents should really be a criticism levelled at the cynicism and blatant pork- barrelling of the major parties. In the Saints words: "Andren was hugely popular but there was a memorable event around 2001 when the Mercury asked the then Coalition Defence Minister Reith what could be done to assist in emerging problems at Lithgow SAF.
"If you want government help you should have elected a Government Member" was the somewhat curt reply."
No sign there of the sort of evidence-based policy or "transparent, consultative and ethical representation" that Kate Hook is advocating. No, what the Coalition was saying then, what NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said last year and what Nationals MP and candidate for Calare Andrew Gee said in Bathurst last week in relation to a pledge of $15 million towards a $30 million hospital carpark, is vote for us or you won't get the money.
So, did the residents of Calare miss out for almost a decade under Peter Andren? Were they that stupid or stubborn that they returned Mr Andren time and time again despite having the funding tap turned off? As a reporter for the Western Advocate in Bathurst in the late 90s, and as editor of the Central Western Daily in Orange from 2003, I had this conversation with Mr Andren more than once. It was a familiar attack line on independents then and it is being mounted again now. Mr Andren's response was to produce a tally of all the funding he worked hard to secure on many projects' merits, and to point to the ringing endorsement at the polls for his way of doing politics.
The Saint is right in noting that Kate Hook has drawn the number 1 box at the top of the ballot for Calare. But he is horribly wrong if he thinks the "donkey vote" will help her defeat Mr Gee and the Nationals. If she wins, and I sincerely hope she does, it will because Kate Hook offers a willingness to work incredibly hard, consult widely and act only in the interests of the people of Calare and the nation.
- Tony Rhead
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