IT seemed like everyone turned up for a fight but the opposition failed to show.
Nine candidates took to the stage of Charlestown Bowling Club, all ready to face the voters at the October 25 byelection. They spoke of the need for better health services, better transport systems and the need for more honest politicians.
But the real enemy wasn’t there. The Liberals who put them all into this mess, the ICAC bad guys everyone wanted to fight, weren’t there.
The closest things came to a stoush at Wednesday night’s candidates forum was when one punter yelled for independent Arjay Martin to stop telling everyone what Labor hadn’t done during previous terms and start telling the mildly engaged crowd about what he would do to fix things.
The theme was always going to be honesty, trust, accountability, or all the things apparently lacking in Hunter politics over the past six months.
Duplicating the horrendous City and Hillsborough roads got a brief mention, but less than they deserved. The ridiculous lack of public transport in eastern Lake Macquarie also rated, but only briefly.
Greens candidate Jane Oakley appeared via a pre-recorded video because she had to fly to New Zealand for a family funeral. She spoke of the need to reform political donations laws and planning processes, of youth unemployment and public transport.
Labor candidate and Lake Macquarie mayor Jodie Harrison also spoke about voters being disillusioned and angry. She spoke about the Liberals’ TAFE cuts, the offshoring of jobs, and asked to be judged on her track record.
Independent Luke Arms joked that he was ‘‘here because he’d run out of room to vent his frustrations on Facebook’’. He spoke about those rotten political donations in brown paper bags, the need to attract technology and major industry to Charlestown, and railed against the privatisation of public services.
Suellen Wrightson, the Clive Palmer-backed independent said the word ‘‘politician’’ left a bad taste in her mouth. Yes indeed, nodded the crowd. She spoke strongly about the need for a better health system and against TAFE cuts.
Reverend Brian Tucker, the Christian Democrat, delivered a forceful sermon on the need for more nurses, more accountability in the judicial system and a fairer education system.
Recovering from his interruption by the rude punter, Arjay Martin spoke about the need for an integrated transport system, against the offshoring of jobs, Labor’s lies and laws which would allow cyclists to ride on the footpath instead of the road.
Independent Marc Sky also spoke about an ailing health system, a broken education system and crumbling infrastructure – and the feeling of being held to ransom by politicians who didn’t keep promises.
Independent Veronica Hope shed tears when saying she was standing for her 12-year-old niece who she feared would ‘‘fall through the cracks’’ of this broken-down world. She also lamented having to work in Sydney because there was no work in Charlestown for well-educated people.
Luke Cubis, another independent, wanted the inquiry into political corruption to go deeper. Health, education, transport and emergency services needed more money and more attention.
Collectively the Charlestown candidates left the crowd a little underwhelmed. If only the Liberals were there we might have seen a real fight, maybe even real passion.
Still, in a closing address Newcastle academic Bernie Curran reminded us all that these forums and these elections ‘‘are the building blocks for our communities’’.
We’ve all been left disillusioned and disappointed by the events of the past few months, he said.
‘‘We’re desperate to see the political system working properly again, and get rid of this sense of hopelessness that has taken over,’’ he said. ‘‘We want the rhetoric to become a reality. We need to lift our game. We as people need to lift our game if the political process and the forum for ideas is going to change.’’
Unfortunately, Bernie’s not running in the byelection.