Three empty chairs spoke louder than perhaps every other candidate in the room.
Liberal candidates Nathanial Smith (Wollondilly), Peter Sidgreaves (Camden) and Riley Munro (Campbelltown) were all absent from last night’s pre-election Q&A forum to discuss local environmental and development concerns.
Most other candidates were present at Wests Leagues Club for the event organised by Macarthur branch of the National Parks Association (NPA).
Questions from the NPA and 80-strong crowd covered everything from koalas and wildlife corridors to treeless ‘heat island’ housing estates and low water levels in our local dams.
With so many questions revolving around Berejiklian government policies the empty Liberal chairs were telling.
One Nation’s candidate for Wollondilly, Charlie Fenton, summed up the frustration felt: “We could ask the Liberal candidate for Wollondilly, because he used to work for the NSW Planning Minister…but that’s probably why he’s not here tonight.”
The other candidates were almost unanimous over their concerns about the treeless ‘heat island’ style of housing estates being forced on our semi-rural landscape – Wollondilly independent Judy Hannan getting the first big round of applause on the night when she called them the “grey-roof disease coming over the top of all of us”.
Labor candidates said local planning powers should be handed back to local councils, and the NSW Environment Department should be its own robust entity, not merely a section of the NSW Planning Department.
“At present it is just a speed hump on the way of getting things signed off, said Labor’s candidate for Camden, Sally Quinnell.
The Sydney Planning Commission will be sent back to the dawning board by a Labor government to come up with better estate plans and lower housing rations for Macarthur, they said.
Campbelltown MP Greg Warren spoke at length about the huge Koala National Park planned for along the Georges River, and said Labor would turn around the Liberal government’s slashing of $100 million from the National Parks budget, causing a quarter of all rangers to be sacked.
Mr Warren said it was important to balance estates with green spaces.
“There is a big difference between building houses and building communities…when new residents do come here we want them to have a great lifestyle too.”
Many candidates spoke about the fact developers seem to hold sway over the Liberal government and the whole planning process.
If I go into one more [government] meeting and get told how it has to be affordable for developers I think I’ll scream,” said Ms Hannan.
Camden independent candidate Andrew Simpson spoke strongly about how the growth of Camden in particular is now developer-led, rather than best-practice town planning concepts.
“The tail is wagging the dog,” Ms Quinnell added.
Greens candidate for Camden Karen Stewart expressed her disgust at new housing estates where the landscape is not only denuded of vegetations, but the countours of the land itself is bulldozed away.
Water security was also a major concern, many candidates pointed out, as mining was allowed under catchment zones, Thirlmere Lakes vanished, and the government refused to heed local warnings and bring in water restrictions to preserve the near-empty local dams.
Macquarie Fields electorate was excluded from the forum because of a lack of space on the stage, and the understanding that most of its environmental issues could also be covered by Campbelltown candidates.
Greg Warren (Labor)
James Gent (Christian Democrats)
Andrew Simpson (independent)
Sally Quinnell (Labor)
Karen Stewart (Greens)
Ben Casey (One Nation).
Judith Hannan (independent)
Jo-Ann Davidson (Labor)
Charlie Fenton (One Nation)
David Powell (Greens)
Heather Edwards (Animal Justice Party)