Federal election 2016: Barker candidates clash at forum in Murray Bridge

FUTURE: Mark Keough, Mat O'Brien, Tony Pasin, journalist Peri Strathearn, James Stacey and Yvonne Zeppel at the Barker election forum on Tuesday night. Photo: Casey Gregory.
FUTURE: Mark Keough, Mat O'Brien, Tony Pasin, journalist Peri Strathearn, James Stacey and Yvonne Zeppel at the Barker election forum on Tuesday night. Photo: Casey Gregory.

The five potential Members for Barker gathered at a forum on Tuesday night to fight for their chance to be the voice of the electorate.

Liberal MP Tony Pasin, Labor candidate Mat O’Brien, Nick Xenophon Team candidate James Stacey, Greens candidate Mark Keough and Family First candidate Yvonne Zeppel shared their plans for Barker.

They faced questions on foreign ownership, the dairy industry, marriage equality, live export, and youth unemployment, among others, before the floor was opened to the public.

First, each candidate identified Barker’s most dire problem.

Mr O’Brien spoke of health care, education funding, and the unemployment rate sitting four per cent higher than the rest of the state.

Mr Pasin said it was the strength of the economy and how it links to jobs, particularly the 300,000 jobs he said the Liberals had created over the past 12 months.

For Ms Zeppel, it was debt.

She highlighted $450 billion of debt that she believed must be repaid.

Mr Stacey said employment, with a particular focus on agricultural jobs and career pathways for youth.

Finally, Mr Keough identified access to health services, education and growing small business to create jobs.

Marriage equality sparked varied opinions and a debate over the proposed plebiscite.

Mr O’Brien and Mr Keough stood in favour of same sex marriage and argued against the plebiscite.

“A federal Labor government would legislate same sex marriage within the first 100 days,” Mr O’Brien said.

“A plebiscite is $160 million wasted and will give a platform for people who may have hateful views to come forward.”

Mr Pasin and Ms Zeppel defended the traditional definition of marriage and a plebiscite to let the Australian public decide.

“Free speech and belief are vital; implications of this on children, families and society needs to be discussed,” Ms Zeppel said.

“It will change everything for what I believe is the minority voice.”

While Mr Stacey supported marriage equality, he said his party did not expect religious organisations to perform ceremonies.

On foreign ownership of farmland and water resources laws, Mr Pasin opened discussion with the Coalition’s establishment of a register foreign ownership and reducing the threshold from close to $252 million to $15 million.

“We need to get the balance right and ensure foreigners who buy land are taxed appropriately,” he said.

Mr Stacey said the changes to the laws were positive but the register was not transparent for the community, and Ms Zeppel reiterated the need for a process open for public understanding.

For the Greens, Mr Keough raised the need for sustainable investment for the environment and to stop people from destroying the land that was required for food production.

Mr O’Brien said all sales of farm land must be under the highest scrutiny.

Next, each stated their plans to assist the dairy industry.

Mr Stacey began with Murray Goulburn’s recent announcement of a milk price of 34.2 cents a litre.

“Dairy concessional loans are good in theory but for local dairy farmers, accessing that money is a real problem,” he said.

Ms Zeppel said Family First would allow farmers to work without excessive regulation or steep power prices caused by too many wind farms.

Mr Keough said Barker needed a government that would protect food security in the future and for the long run.

On access to assistance, Mr O’Brien said farmers needed to be able to access loans more easily and receive mental health support.

Mr Pasin said the state government had failed farmers in drought and promised to administer the Coalition’s $550 million in concessional loans to those in need.

Audience member questioned the candidates on their stance on live exports and the call for a federal office for animal welfare.

Strongly against, Mr Keough said live export was not a part of the Greens’ sustainable view of the future for food production and security, and said the industry must not subject animals to awful treatment any longer.

Mr Pasin said health experts were sent overseas to ensure animals were dealt with humanly and that if Australia was to leave the market, global animal welfare standards would plummet.

Mr Stacey and Ms Zeppel were both in support of live export to improve animal welfare standards and for the local agricultural industry.

A question from the public asked about employment at Thomas Foods and the near 700 457 temporary visa workers who had received jobs over local youth.

Mr Pasin said Thomas Foods wanted to employ locals over expensive temporary visa workers but had had difficulty sourcing them.

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