Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Q&A: Barnaby Joyce and Tony Windsor trade blows on mining and national broadband network

Extract from The Guardian

New England candidates clash in first public debate on day Newspoll shows disillusionment with major parties

Tony Jones and Tony Windsor
Tony Jones and Tony Windsor on Q&A at Tamworth town hall. The loudest cheers came for Windsor’s slogan on the National Broadband Network, ‘do it once, do it right, do it with fibre’. Photograph: ABC
Barnaby Joyce and the former independent Tony Windsor sparred over mining, coal seam gas, the National Broadband Network, health and education funding in their first public debate of the election campaign on the ABC’s Q&A program.
On the same day as a Newspoll showed one in four people would vote for a party or candidate other than the Coalition and Labor, disillusionment with politics featured heavily in the debate in Tamworth town hall.
The deputy prime minister and Windsor joined the panel with the Labor agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon, the Liverpool Plains farmer and vice-president of the National Farmers Federation, Fiona Simson, and businesswoman Robbie Sefton.
Tamworth is close to the Liverpool Plains where the Chinese state-owned Shenhua company has received approval from the NSW government to build a coalmine on a ridge above highly fertile agricultural land.
Windsor is challenging Joyce to win his old seat of New England back. Windsor held the state and federal seats in the area for 22 years but Joyce won the seat in 2013 after Windsor retired.
The first two questions centred on coal seam gas and mining. The first question came from a woman who said she had been driven out of Tara in Queensland due to 25 gas wells within a 7km radius of her family home.
“We have tests that show contamination of our air and our water with lead levels too high for the kids’ safety,” she said.
“Even with proof we are being ignored by government at all levels. We are tired of this nightmare … What will you do to help the little people like us to get the new beginnings we deserve?”
Joyce said the issue was a matter for state governments, which approve the licences and receive the royalties and pointed to the former NSW Labor government that approved the mines.
“If you go beyond what you are able to do at a federal level of course that becomes an issue where the state will just take you to the high court and most likely win,” Joyce said.
Windsor said for licences already issued with mines constructed “the horse had already bolted”.
But he said the commonwealth water trigger – which he helped establish - gave the federal government the powers of approval.
“So there is legislation and Mr Joyce is not quite correct to say that the commonwealth can’t do anything,” Windsor said.
Fitzgibbon said he could not understand how contamination could take place without anyone taking action.
“If that is happening, it should not be happening,” he said. “It’s all right to say it’s a state issue and predominantly it is but I heard Barnaby hopping into the local government amalgamation issue in NSW pretty heavily and that’s definitely a state issue.”
A beef farmer from the Liverpool Plains also asked the deputy prime minister why she should vote for him, given the continued plans by Shenhua, BHP and Santos to mine the area.
Fitzgibbon said Labor’s position was to deal with all mining and coal seam gas projects on its merits.
Simson said she had entered the public debate 10 years previously because of the land usage issue.
“I know it’s difficult when you have a situation where you are dealing with licences from another administration but somebody has to take responsibility at some stage,” Simson said.
“Somebody has to stand up for our land and our water.”
Windsor was received two questions about his attempt to run for office again, including a question on which major party he would support. He again restated he would not agree to sign a deal (as he had in the 43rd parliament with Julia Gillard).
He said a hung parliament could function without one and he would never support a no confidence motion in the prime minister of the day.
On health and education, questions focused on regional voters putting up with lesser standards for treatment and fewer doctors.
“I don’t think we’ll ever have exactly the same services as the CBD in Sydney,” Joyce said, while naming a $25m oncology service in Dubbo.
A woman from a farm 20km from Tamworth asked why she had telecommunications “equivalent of a third world” with no TV reception, mobile and no fixed line.
The loudest cheers came for Windsor’s slogan on the National Broadband Network, “do it once, do it right, do it with fibre”.
Joyce countered: “The Labor party program of fibre to the premises is an extra $30,000m - $30bn – an extra six years to roll it out.”

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