The Newcastle Institute was established 15 years ago as an independent think tank, with a broad and ambitious aim to raise the standard and quality of discussion of public interest issues in our region.
Perhaps the highest-profile events the Institute has run have been pre-election 'Town Hall' meetings.
These have included four federal and four state elections, plus local government and by-elections.
Sometimes we have been criticised as being too right wing ... or too left wing ... or 'unAustralian' … or a religious front. … or that we were unchristian, and so on.
Nevertheless, the candidates themselves have always complimented us afterwards on being fair to all, and on the high quality of the events.
Our events have raised the standard of local political discussion.
We had anticipated doing so again this year.
For this state election, as in 2015, we feel that for most voters in the Hunter, the upper house election is of greatest potential interest.
In the lower house, most seats are 'safe' or 'unwinnable'.
But in the upper house, every vote counts.
Our region contains about 10 per cent of the state's population. In the upper house, 5 per cent of the vote is enough to win a seat. The Animal Justice Party, and others, have shown this already.
A local Hunter Party could conceivably win a seat or two, just with local votes. The major parties should be campaigning hard to get our votes in the upper house.
But here is the paradox: In January, we contacted the parties to invite their participation in a public forum on March 19 on the upper house election.
The smaller parties were happy to send a representative from Sydney to attend. But the major parties were just confused: "Which seat?"; "What electorate?"; "I'll get the candidate to get back to you".
The major parties seemed to be unaware that there are two elections next weekend. The irony, of course, is that with a 'hung parliament' predicted, the upper house election is more important than ever.
So, alas, we are not having our pre-election forum this year. But just remember: in the upper house election, the entire state is a marginal electorate.
Every vote counts, no matter where you are.
So vote thoughtfully in both elections.