Seven takeaways from this week’s Hammond state election forum
A Murray Bridge News event on Wednesday night has given Liberal MP Adrian Pederick and his rivals an opportunity to win hearts and minds.
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Liberal MP Adrian Pederick is favoured to win a fifth term in office at Saturday's state election, but if there's a surprise result in Hammond, his challengers will be ready.
That was one of takeaways from a candidates’ forum at the Bridgeport Hotel in Murray Bridge on Wednesday night.
The event, presented by Murray Bridge News, featured five of the seven candidates: Mr Pederick, National candidate John Illingworth, independent Airlie Keen, Family First’s Cameron Lock and the Greens’ Tim White.
Here are seven of the top takeaways from the evening, which you can also watch in full in the replay below.
Consider the Liberal government’s record
Mr Pederick made his case for re-election based on the Liberal state government’s record of investment in Hammond during the past four years.
He listed some of the big projects: the Murray Bridge hospital’s emergency department, Murray Bridge High School’s new middle school building, works at North School and a promise of more at Fraser Park.
The government had committed to $17.9 billion worth of spending on infrastructure across the state, he said: “major road spending, a major infrastructure spend, supporting businesses, regenerating the economy, alongside the social welfare things we need to do to make sure that the community stays strong”.
But Mr Illingworth argued that Mr Pederick could not take credit for decisions that, he suggested, were made by the public service.
“Government departments have budgets, they spend them however they wish,” he said.
“They built a new police station (in Murray Bridge in 2012) because the old one was dilapidated, not because it was some fabulous job someone had done for us.
“If you believe those sorts of arguments, I’ll tell you that ‘the sun will still come up in the east tomorrow, and when it does I’d like you to give me credit for it’.
“It’s absolute nonsense – things will happen anyway.”
If the Liberals lost Hammond, our new MP would be ready to do a deal
One of the evening’s most striking questions came from local Kevin Prosser.
If one of the other candidates defeated Mr Pederick, would they back the Liberals or Labor to form the next state government, and what would they ask in return?
Each of the candidates said they would be willing to deal with either side of politics, depending who presented the best offer for Hammond.
But each had a different wish list:
Airlie Keen: Investments in health, housing, public transport and Sturt Reserve
Cameron Lock: Help for small businesses and paramedics
Tim White: Public housing, a focus on the River Murray and community-based mental health services
John Illingworth: The best deal for the electorate
More public housing is a must
Ms Keen, Mr White and Mr Illingworth all argued that the government needed to build more public housing in the Murraylands.
Audience member Val Braendler said there were as many as 70 applicants for every local rental property, while Rosemary Fidge said she had been turfed out of two rental properties so landlords could put the rent up.
Ms Braendler got a round of applause for suggesting that South Australia introduce a rent-to-buy scheme.
Mr Lock suggested subsidies might help people buy or rent.
Mr Pederick and Mr Illingworth both blamed the previous Labor government for selling off too much public housing.
We might not get an Adelaide Metro bus for a while
Asked why he had not been able to deliver a feasibility study into an Adelaide Metro bus service to Murray Bridge, as he promised at the last election, Mr Pederick said the decision had been taken out of his hands.
Several companies had bid on the contract for Adelaide Metro bus services in the Adelaide Hills in 2020, Mr Pederick said, including one which would have halved the cost of a trip to the city.
But an independent panel at the Department of Transport had decided to go in another direction.
All Murray Bridge could do was build a stronger case before the contract came up for renewal in 2027, he said.
Ms Keen and Mr Illingworth disagreed.
The government could invest in a better service if it wanted, Ms Keen suggested; and it might do so if Hammond were a marginal electorate, Mr Illingworth said.
Adrian Pederick would try to make sure Murray Bridge gets a walk-in mental health centre
Asked why Murray Bridge had been left out of a statewide trial of walk-in mental health centres, Mr Pederick promised he would try to have the region included next time around.
The Liberal government had, at least, invested in dedicated mental health beds for country patients in Adelaide, he said.
But Mr White said mental health was still the “poor cousin” to the rest of the health system.
Mr Illingworth wondered why more was not being done about a condition which affected one in five people during their lifetimes, and could kill them.
We need to break the cycle of disadvantage
All candidates committed to trying to end the cycle of disadvantage that kept generations of locals unemployed, living in low-quality housing and unable to improve their lot in life, in response to a call from local advocate Annette Korzeba.
Mr Pederick said his party would be open to investing in more programs like one it had done with EDP Hotels, which trained dozens of long-term unemployed locals to fill roles at the new Bridgeport Hotel.
Mr Lock said intervention in early childhood was important, Mr White said better government services and public housing was the key, while Ms Keen said she would take guidance from locals such as Ms Korzeba and mental health advocate Cathy Smith.
Mr Illingworth said wide-ranging support and counselling should be provided for people who couldn’t get jobs because they lacked an academic record, previous work experience or life goals.
South Australia’s ICAC needed fixing
Mr Pederick defended changes made to South Australia's anti-corruption authorities last year, which were unanimously supported by state MPs from all parties at the time.
He did refer to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, under the previous rules, as "worse than the SS", Adolf Hitler's henchmen in Nazi Germany.
However, he was not the only candidate who believed the agency had needed reform.
Mr Illingworth and Mr White both agreed with the changes, while Ms Keen said she would review the new arrangement if she were elected.
It was important to remember that ICAC was an investigator, not a court, Mr White pointed out.
Watch a video of the forum: www.facebook.com/newsmurraybridge.
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