By Kayla Canne
Candidates for the new seat of Newtown spent last Friday night answering questions from the public at a forum hosted by the Friends of Erskineville residents organisation.
A crowd of nearly 50 people gathered at Erskineville Town Hall to hear five of the seven candidates respond to major election issues, such as housing affordability, privatisation, tax breaks and government subsidies for gambling companies.
WestConnex was a big topic on the night after several residents questioned candidates over their stance on the controversial proposal. They also asked Labor candidate Penny Sharpe for specific details on where the route would end.
Ms Sharpe responded by saying that her party was committed to transparency, but only after more research.
“I’m not allowed to tell you exactly where the M4 entrance will be,” she said.
“But what I am allowed to tell you is that Labor is committed to publishing the business case and to publishing the cost-benefit analysis of that, and to also doing the community consultation before we would proceed. It is wrong to suggest that Labor supports all of WestConnex … but we’re not shying away from saying that we will build some roads.”
The other four candidates were completely opposed to WestConnex, expressing concern about the money funnelled into the operation.
“It’s wrong-headed to be talking about spending over $500 million on roads that, as far as the [City of Sydney] reports, won’t be properly utilised or financially viable,” Australian Cyclist Party candidate Noel McFarlane said.
Greens candidate Jenny Leong said WestConnex funding would be better utilised for updating public transportation.
“$4.5 billion based on the Green’s transport plan would deliver the Inner City Regional Sydney Cycle Network that is long overdue,” she said.
“It would make all of our train stations accessible so that [people with] mobility issues wouldn’t have to struggle up and down our train station stairs. It would also introduce the light rail on Parramatta Road. Those are just some of the things $4.5 billion could buy, and instead we have bipartisan support for billions of dollars into dirty tollways.”
Michael Walsh of the Animal Justice Party said building new roads was not the answer to high traffic conditions, and that in a few years the WestConnex additions would be just as congested as the rest of the city.
Karl Schubert of the Christian Democratic Party said his main concern was the lack of funding available for other programs, which would be ignored due to the WestConnex project.
Absent from the forum was Dale Dinham of the No Land Tax Campaign and Liberal candidate Rachael Wheldall.
Mr Dinham could not be reached by organisers, and Ms Wheldall reportedly wanted to attend, but said the head office of the Liberal party would not allow her to come, according to the Friends of Erskineville
Housing affordability was also discussed on the evening.
Ms Sharpe left for another function before the topic was raised, but the other four candidates agreed that quotas needed to be set.
Ms Leong said that new housing developments in NSW should allocate a minimum of 10 percent of new dwellings to affordable housing.
One resident brought up concerns about privatisation, and all candidates agreed that outsourcing was against the public’s interest.
Mr Schubert noted that if deals were to be made, contracts must be long enough to ensure stability of care so that patients weren’t shuffled from company to company in the process.