Nelmes, Elliott, clash at candidate’s forum

TENSION: A candidate's forum in Hamilton on Wednesday turned nasty at times.
TENSION: A candidate's forum in Hamilton on Wednesday turned nasty at times.

NEWCASTLE Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes and her main rival for the job, independent candidate Kath Elliott, have traded barbs at a candidates’ forum in Hamilton on Wednesday night, with Cr Nelmes describing Ms Elliott as an “L-plate candidate” and Ms Elliott accusing Labor of running a “con” over the city’s finances.

At times tense, at times comical, six of the seven candidates for the top job on Newcastle City Council made their pitch to a small crowd at the Gallipoli Club on Beaumont Street.

Organised by the city’s local business chambers, the forum was an opportunity for lesser known candidates to make their pitch, and for the main contenders to flex their campaign muscles with just over a fortnight until polling day on September 9.

Cr Nelmes and Ms Elliott clashed over the Newcastle Independents’ commitment to cutting the Special Rate Variation and support for the East End Supercars race in November.

Ms Elliott used the forum to champion her group’s plans to cut the 2015 Special Rate Variation, which would see rates increase by CPI instead of the 8 per cent scheduled.

The independents have argued they could do that without cutting services because the council is collecting more than it could spend, and Ms Elliott said on Wednesday that as mayor she would be able to “install pools and waterparks”, “build district parks like Blackbutt”, and “fastrack cycleways” while capping rates.

"BUYER BEWARE": Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes told a candidates' forum in Hamilton on Wednesday that the Newcastle Independents' proposal to cap rates was "dangerous". Picture: Marina Neil

"BUYER BEWARE": Newcastle Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes told a candidates' forum in Hamilton on Wednesday that the Newcastle Independents' proposal to cap rates was "dangerous". Picture: Marina Neil

She said Cr Nelmes and Labor had tried to “con” the community over the state of the city’s finances. But Cr Nelmes hit back, saying she was “proud” the council was in surplus.

Referring to the Newcastle Herald’s report this week that council staff say the city’s financial position would “deteriorate significantly” and leave it with “insufficient revenue” to cover the city’s expenses if the rate variation was cut, she said the Newcastle Independent’s claims over finances were “dangerous”.

“We were very, very close to insolvency a couple of years ago [so] this type of policy is a huge risk for this city, I would say buyer beware,” she said.

Cr Nelmes also championed her support for the Supercars event, and sought to challenge Ms Elliott on where she stood on the race. Ms Elliott responded by saying she was “very supportive of events in city, and I think the route is wrong”.

Asked to elaborate on her comments after the forum, she said Supercars was a  “fantastic event” but that she thought the consultation had been poorly handled. She declined to nominate another location for the race, but said she thought it should be reviewed after the event.

The only candidate not at the event was David Compton from the Liberal Party.