Some have labelled the Meet The Candidates Forum hosted by the Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday night a 'farce'.
They have called it a "highly controlled affair" with no questions allowed from the floor and the event limited to Chamber members and their invited guests only. A strong police and security presence was also visible inside and outside the venue in case of unrest, after tip-offs to the organisers that The Project was going to send a film crew to the event.
In addition, only four of the seven Hume candidates turned up to the evening and one of them, United Australia Party candidate Lynda Abdo, left the meeting without speaking.
Chamber president Mark Bradbury advised at the outset that Fraser Anning Conservative National Party candidate Tanya Hargraves was an apology, as was Greens candidate David Powell. He said Ms Adbo advised the Chamber at 4.28pm that "due to the number of questions submitted to the panel that she could not participate but would be in the room."
"She has now left," he said.
Some candidates also claimed it was "not a level playing field" with pre-submitted questions to the panel getting to Member for Hume Angus Taylor at 4.30pm that day, but not to the other candidates until just before the forum.
As such, Labor's Aoife Champion and Independent Huw Kingston told the audience they felt at a distinct disadvantage in terms of the debate.
Chamber president Mark Bradbury strongly rebuffed this assertion.
Mr Kingston said to the small gathering that he was disappointed it was not an open forum.
"I very much love a forum with open questions from the floor and these were pre-arranged questions that came through that people were asked to submit," he said.
"At 4.30pm, we received an email to say that some candidates had asked what the questions were and could they be released prior to the forum.
"I was looking forward to coming here and getting caught out on the hop. I think it was Angus's team that asked for those questions to be released and that he might not turn up if they were not."
At this point, Chamber president Mark Bradbury interjected to strongly say: "It was not a case of Angus's office threatening to pull out of the event if the questions were not circulated in advance.
"I want to put on the record that throughout the course of the day the candidates had been advised as to the format of the evening," Mr Bradbury said.
"There have been some changes throughout the day and the Chamber attempted with its limited resources and volunteer staff to keep the members up to date.
"It was not a case of Angus's office threatening to pull out of the event if the questions were not circulated in advance.
"Given the time frame, it was not put to the candidates whether the questions would be released beforehand - we just had to make the decision and we did."
Labor candidate Aoife Champion replied that she felt at a disadvantage in not receiving the questions beforehand because she had been travelling and at a funding announcement.
"I don't have staff who check my emails all day long, and if indeed this email did come to me at 4.30pm, I was at a funding announcement with Senator Deborah O'Neill in Goulburn and I have been there since and came directly here, so I was also not aware of what the questions would have been," Ms Champion said.
"So I would suggest that I would have benefited from if someone had phoned me and ensured that I had received the email with the intention that I read it if the intention indeed was that I read it."
Mr Bradbury apologised at this point.
"I apologise to Huw and Aoife if for whatever reason it was beyond the Chamber's control that they did not receive the email in a timely fashion," he said.
Mr Kingston also claimed Mr Taylor had not turned up to several candidates' forums in the electorate because he was not prepared to answer questions from the floor about which he hasn't been forewarned.
But Mr Taylor's office said this was "rubbish."
"Angus wishes he could have attended the other debates and is participating in as many local events as he can but has had a very busy campaign schedule," a spokesperson said.
"Angus has been answering questions from the media, other candidates and most importantly the constituents of Hume throughout the campaign, and throughout this term of Parliament."
Meantime, Mr Bradbury told The Goulburn Post that two security guards were on the door to keep uninvited media outside. There had been reports The Project from ABC would turn up.
"The Chamber was concerned, and given the egging of the Prime Minister the previous day, that there might be protesters," he said.
"For the sake of all the candidates and the people of Goulburn we thought it appropriate to take those measures. We informed police the event was being held and that there might be protesters outside."
Mr Bradbury said both Mr Taylor and Ms Hargraves requested the questions before the forum but all candidates received them at the same time.
"What was very unfortunate was that Tanya Hargraves was unable to attend due to illness. She contacted me that morning indicating that she was feeling unwell and at 4pm advised she was too unwell to attend," he said.
The Christian Democrats' candidate, Ian Nebauer, from Tasmania did not respond to the invitation.
Mr Bradbury also described as "very disappointing" Ms Abdo's decision not to participate after receiving the questions. Ms Abdo initially said she would sit in the audience instead but then decided to leave.
She later told The Post she wasn't prepared for the nature of the questions.
"The sample questions were based on statistics and values and I haven't been that long in the political sphere," she said.
"I knew I couldn't answer them. I went just to hear people's concerns."
Ms Abdo also said she had been upset by an exchange with Mr Kingston, who "told her to leave."
Mr Kingston denied this, saying he simply replied it was odd that she was staying if she wasn't participating.
Some audience members were upset that questions weren't taken from the floor. Goulburn Liberal Party president Grant Pearce walked out upon hearing this.
"What's the point if you can't ask questions of the candidates?" he asked.
The forum eventually got underway.
Huw Kingston said climate change was "the pre-eminent issue" of the day.
"Hume is the renewable energy powerhouse of regional Australia," he said.
It was a theme he repeatedly came back to throughout the night.
In his initial address, he also wanted impediments to small business to be removed, saying he preferred a lower-tax regime than penalty rates.
"Australia should look after those less fortunate, with adequate funding for mental health, health, housing and the unemployed," he said.
He also wanted to see more investment in TAFE and transport, saying a Very Fast Train should be built with Goulburn as the first stop.
He looked forward to 'Independent's Day' saying independent candidates had a common agenda to move on climate change and restore integrity in politics.
Labor's Aoife Champion said she was buoyed by talking to people during her campaign and the choice was clear on election day.
"People are very aware of what they are voting for in this election, they are voting for their children's futures," she said.
She said Labor would extend free early childhood education to 3 and 4-year-olds.
"Studies show this affects their whole lives. Labor has a vision for the future to intervene in our children's futures as early as possible," she said.
"This carries on to school funding and under Labor schools in Hume will receive $21 million more than under the Liberal party. If you have better access to education, your whole future is better.
"We also have a $200 million fund for TAFE. This institution has been decimated. From a federal perspective we can put funding back in and why wouldn't we? It makes no sense to have stripped TAFE the way we have.
"We have a Medicare Cancer Plan where we are putting $2.3 billion into Medicare to cover this plan."
She said her mother had cancer and she recently had to pay $3000 for a blood test to determine whether chemotherapy would benefit her.
"She paid from this from her Super. These stories are being told to me again and again. The Labor party is saying 'not on our watch.' This is not the country we want to live in, so we are going to fund cancer diagnostics."
She said climate change was the "topic de jour."
"Labor has significant policies to combat climate change and to get us back on track with comparable nations," she said.
Member for Hume Angus Taylor spoke of the economic boom in Hume.
"In manufacturing we have seen a modern boutique brewery commission its first beers," he said.
"This is a $40 million commitment to Goulburn. We have also seen AFS up there as well, selling building products to the east coast of Australia and Dragon Glass opening up at Bradfordville - an international boutique glass provider.
He also spoke about quarries opening up around Marulan and intensive agriculture, with companies such as Aviagen and Woodlands Ridge Poultry also expanding. In traditional agriculture he said we are also seeing the highest sheep meat and beef prices in a generation.
"There is strong employment growth and record low levels of unemployment," he said.
"We are at 2.9 per cent unemployment in Hume. Small business is the engine room of this success.
"We have also seen record levels infrastructure spending in Hume in roads, bridges and telecommunications and community facilities, Headspace and the Country Universities Centre."
"We are seeing a boom in the construction industry in Hume. Central to our commitment to small business is that the values of small business are the values of middle Australia. These values are self-reliance, aspiration, personal responsibility. Small business has a right to ask the government to give those who are having a go a fair go."
"This means less tax, less red-tape and less government."
He also spoke about the cuts to company and personal income tax rates and the expansion of the instant asset write-off to $30,000.
"Given the importance of the construction industry to Goulburn constituents should be worried about imposing taxes on capital gains and negative gearing: if you want to see the property sector go south then that is the way to do it."
The first question was about jobs and asked what the candidates would do to increase job prospects for people under 25 and over 55.
Mr Taylor said the government would provide a $10,000 wage subsidy for employers to take on people over 50.
Ms Champion said as an incentive the ALP would provide a 30 per cent tax incentive on a person's wage for those under 35 and over 55, up to $50,000 for five people in a business.
On a question about negative gearing, Ms Champion said there was "cloak and dagger" information around the issue.
"Labor's proposal is that with any property you currently negatively gear you can continue doing that, and you keep the current capital gains tax discount no matter when you sell it. The policy is from a set date forwards, and it will be that you can negatively gear if it is a new build. If it is not then you can not negatively gear it.
"The reason is this will encourage investors to invest in new builds, which in turn creates more housing, which puts downward pressure on housing prices, which creates construction jobs," she said.
"We need to get more housing in and we need to encourage young people to buy in, because currently they can't."
The arts and heritage
On what each candidate would provide for the arts, culture and heritage and how it would benefit regional communities, each of the candidates had their own views.
Mr Taylor said there was a significant commitment to the Regional Arts Fund (RAF), and in Goulburn there was $1m for the Performing Arts Centre and $1.25m for the Rocky Hill War Memorial Museum.
Mr Kingston said in regards to heritage "when it's gone it is gone, we need to preserve it."
Ms Champion said Labor would increase the RAF to $8 million and boost music programs in schools.
Increasing power prices and how to reduce them was brought up.
Mr Taylor said part of the problem was price-gouging by power companies and the ACCC put out a report about this activity.
"We have two initiatives in place: the first is a price cut coming in on July 1, which will save households about $600 and businesses $800," Mr Taylor said.
"We will also set a wholesale price target of 6 cents per kilowatt hours, and we will underwrite supply into the market until we get the price to this level. This should bring prices down by 25pc."
Ms Champion said the answer is to provide power with a cheaper product.
"The price of coal and gas will continue to increase in comparison to renewables. Given the government will not invest in renewables and bring prices down that way, people are doing it themselves," she said.
"Why would we continue to gain electricity through a product we have to get out of the ground and pay for when the sun and wind are free and we just have to harness it. That is how you get cheaper electricity.
"The ALP is encouraging solar panels and trying to get them on schools and on homes."
Huw Kingston said uncertainty in energy policy over the last decade has led to price gouging.
"The price of renewables is coming down, while coal is not. There is no future in coal," he said.
"How do we save power is a bigger question? It comes back to us as well. We need to take action."
A question asked Mr Taylor about wind farms.
"Given your strong criticism in the past on subsidies for wind farms, what is your current attitude for wind farm projects in the Hume electorate and do you stand by the opinion expressed in a report you circulated in a report in 2013 supporting the abolition of the renewable energy target (RET)?" the questioner asked.
"We are now seeing a record level of investment in renewables in Australia. In the next 3 years $25 billion of investment has already been committed," Mr Taylor responded.
"We will reach the Paris commitments in the electricity market across Australia in 2021, which is nine years ahead. The vast majority of it is solar, so technology has reached the cross-over where in terms of producing energy it is getting efficient - it does not need subsidies.
"The challenge is that sun is not always shining across the east coast of Australia, so it is about storage and backup and we need power we can dispatch for that, which is why we are doing Snowy 2.0."
Climate change questions
A question was asked about increasing extreme weather events and how to respond to them.
Mr Kingston said these weather events were being caused by climate change.
"We need rapid action on climate change," he said.
"Emissions are not going down, they are rising. We need to get them down."
Ms Champion said scientists know the problem is happening.
"The climate scientists have a version of why this is happening and it is happening as predicted that we would have an increased number of extreme climatic events, so that is floods and droughts and bushfires," she said.
"The Labor Party has an approach to it in terms of our renewables target and carbon emissions reduction target.
"We propose to increase funding to the CSIRO. We also want a national approach to these disaster events."
Mr Taylor acknowledged climate change is happening.
"My family has been farming in the region for 200 years. I acknowledge climate change is happening and that humans have contributed to it," he said.
"A crucial point here is that it takes a global action.
"It is all about being part of a treaty where we do our bit and others do their bit."
A final question on the evening asked: "For the sake of Hume and humanity, why are you and the Liberal Party not taking the action needed now?"
"We are well across the science. This needs international action. We need to do our bit, but we are not going to cruel the economy by shooting for a target that is way above what is doing our bit. This would mean loss of job, wages and economic activity," Mr Taylor said.
"It can be done sensibly and in a well-paced way to meet our international obligations."
What people said after it
Mr Kingston said after the event that the forum was "weird, anodyne and a travesty of what a forum should be."
"No questions were allowed from the floor and very little debate among the candidates was permitted."
Urs Walterlin said he felt the main point of difference between the candidates was on climate change.
"I did not hear anything new, particularly from the current member. He disappointed me because he did not say anything new. It was all platitudes," Mr Walterlin said.
"The others convinced me much more. I believe climate change is the big issue here and I don't believe the current member realises it, or if he does then he is not acting upon it."
Charlie Prell thought it was well-moderated.
"I thought all of the candidates put their positions really clearly. The main point of difference appeared to be on climate change," he said.
STRUG president Greg Price was disappointed not all the candidates turned up.
"I am glad three candidates turned up and it was disappointing that the other three could not come. I can't understand why UAP would nominate someone from Queensland to run in this seat and that they did not stay," he said.
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