The Cootamundra Ex-Services Club held a meet the candidate’s event last Wednesday which invited anyone interested to meet and ask questions to the candidates running for seat of Cootamundra currently held by Steph Cooke.

The four pollies present at the event were Labor (Chris Dahlitz), Nationals (Steph Cooke), Greens (Jeff Passlow) and the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party (Jake Cullen).

Independent candidate Brian Fisher was unable to attend. Around 30 people attended the event which saw each candidate receive eight minutes in the beginning to explain their beliefs and goals to those in attendance, after the candidates were finished with their opening statements, spectators were given 30 minutes to ask questions and voice their concerns.

The first member to speak was Green’s candidate Jeff Passlow, who was quick to raise the issue of global warming.

“You may hear references made by some candidates and potentially all candidates of a Green Labor coalition, there’s no such animal. Sometimes we may vote along the same line and sometimes preference Labor but there is no formal arrangement,” Mr Passlow said.

The Greens are going into the 2023 election aiming to retain the present MPs and elect some more to parliament, if we are to see a change in parliament, we will have a significant role in the new model.

“The three main challenges are climate, perhaps the most important, the major parties continue to keep coal and gas, we don’t, a Green vote is needed to stop new mines.”

“I’m not going to be around to witness the disasters that are foretold, my grandchildren will be, three to four degrees rising in temperature will lead to massive extinction of plants and animals and may even see the extinction of mankind, global warming is still constantly a major concern.

“Can you imagine a New South Wales where there is no koala or platypus, without our care it could happen, there’s nothing more ugly than an open-cut mine.”

National candidate Steph Cooke followed Passlow, staking her claim for re-election.

“Today I am once again asking for your support to be returned as the member of Cootamundra so I can continue the good and hard work that we have undertaken over the past five years,” Ms Cooke said.

“Since the last election, we are even bigger in size, nearly the size of Switzerland now with the cooperation of the new area of the old Boorowa shire which incorporates Boorowa, Frogmore, Reids Flat, Rugby and Rye Park following the redistribution of boundaries.

“While this in small communities is a tagline in some ways, it is so much more than just the geography of the seat, every community is unique with its own interest and its own challenges, we have nine local government areas in the electorate, 150 towns, villages and localities, 81 schools and numerous police stations, fire stations, hospitals and nursing homes.

 

“Growing up in Temora and having small businesses in Temora, Cootamundra and Young, these are areas I’ve come to know very well throughout my entire life. I’ve represented the seat for five and a half years and I’ve developed a really good understanding of the shared history and local issues in that regard.

“Obviously one of the biggest wins we’ve had, I think one of the largest victories ever, was to secure the demerger of this council area, with the backing of both communities we gained this result after a concerted effort over a number of years. As I’ve said previously, I will continue to work with all communities as the demerger is finalised to ensure that it is as seamless a process as possible.”

Following Ms Cooke was her main rival for the seat Labor candidate Chris Dahlitz.

“I have a particular interest in health and more specifically mental health. My family has suffered from mental health issues and we have tried to get a specific member of the family help for the past 12 years and we still have been unable to achieve that, therefore I have put my hand up for the Labor Party because I believe the Labor Party is the party of reform and will take on some of these mental health challenges,” Mr Dahlitz said.

“The pressing issues for the rural and regional communities are health, education in particular secondary education and the declining position we find ourselves in, and our roads.

“Country kids are not performing nearly as well as our city counterparts which includes Western Sydney and South of Sydney, under the life of our previous government we’ve seen our students slip from 6th to 23rd in reading, 9th to 31st in maths and 3rd to 23rd in science.

“The other area that is particularly concerning is that 37 percent of our teachers are covering casual and temporary positions, one of the reasons we’ve got a perilous situation with secondary education issues is our teachers aren’t in a position where they have permanent employment. The Minns government will make 10,000 of those teachers permanent straight away.

“New South Wales Labor did not support the forced mergers of councils that were pushed through by the Liberal National Government in 2016. New South Wales Labor continues to recognise the right of local councils and communities to explore the urge to voluntarily decide their own future.

This must be done with the clear support of local residents and by resolution of Council as confirmed through alignment oversight.”

Shooters Fishers and Farmers member Jake Cullen finished off the opening statements. “Most of you would know me as the local snake catcher, I’m a grassroots person representing a grassroots party with personal and professional experiences that rarely make it to the big side of town.

I grew up in Campbelltown in a broken home where more often than not we would struggle to make ends meet. This was my reality and still is my reality with rising interest and unemployment rates,” Mr Cullen said.

“After working as a concreter for many years in the construction industry, I am now working in disability and aged care.

Both these services are in crisis, private for-profit services that are exploiting clients and government, if someone needs a new wheelchair, for example, the client will not be able to purchase them on their own without their involvement.

They do this so they can charge larger amounts for assessing the item, then travel to the item and afterwards they send someone to the client’s house so they can charge them more.

“Rural Health is struggling to provide adequate services to the communities. We all know how hard it is to get in to see the Doctor here in Cootamundra for some people it’s taken them weeks, a lot of us have been travelling to Junee, Young and even as far as Canberra.

“We have to increase support to our veterans. We have a fantastic programme here in Cootamundra at our RSL Sub-Branch, the Veterans Drop-in Centre, we need to get grant funding together as soon as possible to support the people that support us. We must do better.”

Though the crowd was large, only a few questions were raised, said questions however, seemed to challenge the candidates. In particular, a question was raised to the two major party candidates about cashless poker machines set to be 100 percent of poker machines by 2028.

 

Both Mr Dahlitz and Ms Cooke had plenty to say on the matter, though still didn’t have an answer for the Cootamundra locals question.

“Remember, there are two slightly different issues here that are being addressed. The Chris Minns administration responded to that (Perrottet open gambit), with a slightly modified version, certainly, Labor is in favour of a cashless system and addressing money laundering and problem gambling,” Mr Dahlitz said.

“The main difference between the two proposals was that Chris wanted a trial on 500 machines, and Chris wanted a limit on the cashless cards. So, the Perrottet position was and still remains that the gambler will set their own limit and that cashless cards will be introduced across the industry at 81000 machines or something like that.

“Chris has also proposed that the forfeiture rate will be higher. So when you move poker machines between venues, you actually have to add back a percentage. So the Liberal position is two to three whereas the Labor Party position is two to one.

“In summary, we’ve ended up with a position where the two major parties are quite closely aligned, we were certainly agreeing that we need to address problem gambling, we need to address the money laundering through to the extent that it’s done through partnerships and other ways to win the money and the cashless cards.”

Cooke said, “So there’s no ambiguity in relation to where the Liberals and Nationals stand on this issue, we have accepted all eight recommendations of the New South Wales Crime Commission in relation to money laundering.

Which, all due respect to the Labor candidate, there are very large points of differences between where our policy sits and where their policy sits. They have not accepted all eight. In fact, they’ve accepted only one and I think that’s important to note,” Ms Cooke said.

“We have stated that it is our intention for New South Wales to move to cashless gaming by the 31st of December 2028. There will be a transition period between now and then, that will ensure that small clubs, regional clubs and rural clubs, like the one we’re in right now are able to make a seamless transition that will not impact their financial viability.

“We have put on the table millions of dollars to almost half a billion dollars, in fact, to assist with this transition.

So whether it’s about offering grants to small clubs to allow them to transition to other forms of income streams, such as live music or expanding their food, and beverage and entertainment areas that will be on offer.”

voting for the state government opens on the 18th of March and closes on the 24th of March.

Cooke will likely get a high percentage of the vote, dwarfing the other candidates, however if her party does not win Government, Cootamundra will see the tap turned off when it comes to funding. We could return to the dark ages of lacklustre funding provided in the previous era when the seat was regarded as safe.