Canberra Report - Upper Hunter by-election to shine spotlight on our region - Friday, 9 April 2021

Canberra Report - Upper Hunter by-election to shine spotlight on our region - Friday, 9 April 2021 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

09 April 2021

The extraordinary and unexpected Upper Hunter by-election has caught everyone by surprise but it’s a great opportunity to shine the national spotlight on our region.  The next six weeks offer a chance to highlight both our aspirations and challenges and we should make every post a winner.

As we make our way to the other side of a global pandemic, two issues will dominate the campaign, the health and safety of our residents, and the financial security of their families. The second demands all the political parties stick to a “jobs, job security and skills training” message.  Of course, the adequacy of local health services will also be in the election campaign mix, as always.

In our backyard, you can’t claim to be serious about jobs without backing the coal mining industry.  It’s not our only important job creator, but it’s a big one.  The industry not only employs around 12,000 people directly, it accounts for another 60,000 indirectly.  Its wages bill also fuels consumption.  Miners build homes, buy cars other consumables and of course, invest their hard-earned dollars in the education and welfare of their children.

No one will therefore be surprised when they see the National Party, Labor, the Shooters and Fishers, and One Nation all scrambling to proclaim their support for the industry. Unsurprisingly, the Greens will make no such commitment. Both the National Party have hit a road-bump on the coal question with the NSW Government’s decision to appoint anti-coal campaigner Malcolm Turnbull to a key energy advisory position.  Similarly, One Nation’s support or Scott Morrison’s industrial relations bill can only hurt the interests of local miners and will in turn, hurt the minor party.  Labor will select a candidate well placed to leave voters in no doubt about its support for the industry.    

But if each of the four parties can successfully provide voters with the re-assurance they are looking for on the coal mining industry, where does the campaign go?  My money is on the future of TAFE and other training resources, and local infrastructure.

Over the decade-long life of the NSW Coalition Government, we’ve heard lots of promises on both the Muswellbrook and Singleton by-passes but many years on, bulldozers are yet to be seen.  While both projects can finally be seen on the horizon, there is widespread disappointment about some of the design aspects.  The Singleton and Muswellbrook Councils share these concerns.  The campaign offers a great opportunity to have these issues fixed.

On the skills front, residents are keen to ensure our young people have the opportunity to secure the skills they’ll need for the jobs of the future.  The sale of a TAFE campus in Scone will not help the National Party’s efforts to persuade people it supports our most important training institution.    

Readers should buckle-up for an interesting six weeks in which they’ll be invaded by visiting politicians and bombarded to with political marketing.  Let’s make the most of it by making sure our aspirations and needs are well heard.