The Eden-Monaro Project: Voters condemn campaign and don’t trust the promises that have been made

Some voters thought Liberal candidate Peter Hendy had been unnecessarily critical of sitting member Mike Kelly. AAP/Mark Graham

On the cusp of the election, Eden-Monaro voters overwhelmingly do not believe promises will be honoured, whoever is in government after Saturday.

The national battle has left people across the spectrum cynical about the major parties’ ability to run fair campaigns and sceptical about the mutual scare tactics.

In their sixth and final session early this week, participants in a focus group in this “bellwether” seat have ended where they began in their first discussion in May – disillusioned with the political leadership (even though Labor has changed leaders since then) and with how voters are treated.

They wanted a campaign focused on policy; they have seen one dominated by each major party attacking the other. Their ideal campaign would be waged by honest politicians who put the country first and provided costed policies.

“I think the campaign should have been more about us ‘Australians’ – our pensioners, hospitals, families – not the boat people”, said a middle aged Liberal woman. A soft Labor voter from Merimbula said the concentration should be “on all families and hardworking people. I don’t particularly care who wins but it should be someone who doesn’t lie and change all they promise.”

A Greens voter from Cooma had an impossible dream: “Just imagine a campaign where you get a pleasant, genuinely honest person with a positive plan in plain English. … I think that promises should be illegal. They break all of them anyway”.

In contrast, a few Labor voters thought the campaign had been fair and criticised the Liberals for lacking policies and costings. It was “disgusting” for them to hold back details, said a Labor supporter from Tuross Heads - what was Tony Abbott hiding?

Looking back at the best and worst of the campaign, many didn’t believe there was anything good. Those who did comment found relief in politicians’ humorous mistakes and the performances of Bob Katter and Clive Palmer. One young Greens voter recalled Liberal candidate Jaymes Diaz (in Greenway, NSW) not being able to remember Abbott’s boats policy; she also mentioned “watching Mr Abbott creepily kiss the back of a woman’s head”, and a couple of other moments. “I can’t remember them all - after all, no one can be a suppository of all wisdom.”

Another participant said of Katter and Palmer: “They’re as funny as - but they won’t be running the show, so that’s a saving grace.”

As to the worst features: the campaign’s sheer length and the major parties’ mutual attacks.

People divided on party lines about what they hoped for in the next parliament and the desirable priorities for the coming three years. Liberals wanted a government that listened, and sound financial management; they nominated health, education, employment and reducing debt as key priorities. “I would like to have honesty from the next parliament,” said one.

Labor and Green voters were concerned about the prospect of an Abbott government. They didn’t want the Coalition to control both houses; parliament should build on and improve existing policies; it also ought to be better behaved. But a Greens supporter feared that “no matter who wins, we will again be struck with popular short term policies instead of a long plan for the future.”

There was also a partisan split on the leaders’ performances. A Liberal male had never liked Abbott, preferring Turnbull, “but over the past few weeks [Abbott] has shown a lot of character,” while a Labor voter said “Kevin has improved after the campaign launch. He’s been distracted with leading the country … instead of being on song about Labor values”.

People were highly critical of both leaders making promises that they believed would be dropped once in government, and did not think Australians would benefit from them anyway. “None of the promises from either will be fulfilled, as usual”, said a Liberal supporter; a Greens voter’s view was that “Rudd is out of control and Abbott is as anal as ever”. A Labor voter doubted many promises would be implemented.

The party split again came out in perceptions of Rudd’s commitment to planning for a very fast train. Labor voters and some others were supportive. Although Liberal voters and some others favoured the idea, they were critical of the long time frame and didn’t believe they or Eden-Monaro would benefit from it; they didn’t want to see the government borrow money for its construction.

Many participants, regardless of their politics, were very concerned about Abbott’s plan to cut 12,000 from the public sector. These mostly female voters thought it would be bad for people living and working in Eden-Monaro, as unemployment would rise, housing prices fall, and businesses and tourism suffer as people would have less to spend.

A Queanbeyan Labor voter said it would have a big impact there and in surrounding areas: “Queanbeyan is already struggling. It won’t affect me at all as I am retired but it did have an effect when I was trying to get back into the workforce some years ago.” A Liberal from the coast noted that a lot of public sector jobs were already gone in the ACT “and house prices are falling here”.

But Liberal voters and some others (mostly men) thought the cuts would have minimal impact in the electorate.They were critical of the public sector; believed the public service too large and felt people would be re-employed on contract.

A middle aged man recalled his time in the bureaucracy. “The higher the rank the less you do. So go for it Tony, as long as you get rid of the right (more senior) people and not the ones who do all of the work”.

In the local contest, few participants had seen anything of local member Mike Kelly or Liberal candidate Peter Hendy. Those who did comment thought Hendy hadn’t campaigned well and had been unnecessarily critical of Kelly. “Mike has not criticised Peter but Peter has been very nasty [in] his comments about Mike,” a Labor voter said. A voter in the “other” category said Hendy was a poor candidate and poor campaigner but “Kelly will lose because Labor will lose and Eden-Monaro will retain its bellwether status”.

Participants mostly went along party lines when asked who they expected to win Eden-Monaro. The result - Kelly 54% to Hendy 46% - showed a substantial swing back to Kelly since the last discussion a little under two weeks ago when Hendy had a slight lead.

People were asked which candidate or party they thought they would vote for in the House of Representatives and the Senate. They were also asked how certain they were; if they had not yet made up their mind, they were asked which party they were leaning towards.

Those identifying as Liberal who indicated they would vote Liberal in the House had more diversity in their level of certainty about their Senate vote. Some were concerned about the Coalition controlling both houses.

A Queanbeyan woman said she was positive she would vote for Hendy but was “unsure” about her Senate vote. “I am thinking of not voting for Liberal. I like to keep it a bit more balanced.” But she was obviously torn. “The media tells us that the Liberals are going to win with a majority landslide and maybe not having all Libs in the Senate would keep a balance. Or would it be more of a hindrance?”

Of the 17 participants in this group who identified as Liberal, independent or other, 12 said they intended to vote for the Liberal party or give their effective vote to the Liberal in this election.

Those who identified as Labor and some Greens indicated they would vote for that party in the House, but some said they would vote for a minor party (such as the Greens or Wikileaks) in the Senate, while others were less certain of their Senate vote.

One participant who had already voted said she had voted Labor in the House and for Wikileaks in the Senate “I have never heard Julian [Assange] say anything that was wrong or stupid. I trust him not to lie!”

All eight Labor and Greens voters indicated they would vote Labor or effectively give their vote to Labor in this election.

But even in this last week some participants who identified as Liberal were still undecided about who they would vote for - for some it is more a matter of not voting for a particular leader or party rather than voting for one.

Here are the voices of four of those people that the leaders are still trying to reach at the eleventh hour:

“I haven’t made up my mind completely for either the House of Representatives or the Senate. Possibly Liberals as I’m still pretty cranky that when Labor got in they bowed down to the Greens so that they could be in power and basically did all the things they had [said] that they definitely would not do. So who do you believe?” said a Bega woman.

An older Bateman’s Bay woman said she hasn’t given her vote a thought “as they are both the same, only for themselves”.

A Merimbula woman was “undecided and probably will be on Saturday. I’m still not leaning one way or the other”.

A woman in her 30s from Jingellic wanted to do some reading on the internet before going to the polling booth. “I am looking for someone/ a party that has Australia’s best interests at heart. I am also looking for someone that will support Australian agriculture and industry of all types. As of this moment, I do not know who that party/ persons are” .

THE RESEARCH: The Eden-Monaro online focus group is conducted by Essential Research (with recruitment by Your Source) for the University of Canberra’s ANZSOG Institute for Governance in conjunction with The Conversation.

Twenty eight participants took part in this final discussion, on Monday and Tuesday this week.

Questions to the Candidates

A couple of weeks ago we asked for readers to submit questions to the candidates, thanks to all those who sent them .

Unfortunately, we were not able to put them all to Mike Kelly and Peter Hendy, but we endeavoured to select questions from a range of topics.

Mike Kelly:

AAP/Lukas Coch

1. Will genuine climate change science be fully acknowledged by both major parties and serious action to mitigate the impacts be undertaken sooner rather than later?

Well this has been an issue that I’ve been very passionate about, and my community knows that. It’s one of the reasons I got into politics in the first place, I’m really deeply concerned about the lack of action on climate change and I was concerned about the future that my son would have if we didn’t address it. It’s meant to be bipartisan, the belief in the science of climate change, and if we were to see catastrophic temperature rises in the next century it would particularly affect a region like mine.

I’ve had the Murdoch minions pouring scorn on my concerns in this regard, but that doesn’t fuss me at all, my concern comes from a deep love of my region and a concern to protect it from these deep, catastrophic consequences that would have to emerge or arise or happen as a result of those kind of extreme temperature increases. I’m a firm believer in the emissions trading scheme and I believe that will help deliver the economic changes we require, I also believe that it is complimented by our mandatory renewable energy target regime.

We’re seeing that play out enormously in my region, over a billion dollars worth of investment in renewable energy projects and quite a number of really exciting start up companies getting rolling as a result of the clean energy future package. So we can see a really bright future for us in this region given that we can have all available renewable energy resources to us, and also that we are close to the grid, we’ve got the granddaddy of all renewable energy schemes here in the snowy hydro, so that combined also with the clean energy finance corporation is a very exciting mechanism.

I’m committed to the targets that we set locally, to make Eden-Monaro the flagship of the nation in renewable energy and we have a very exciting future in that respect as far as I’m concerned.

2. There seems to be a focus on national issues this campaign, but what are you planning to do for the local electorate?

I’ve always had a very specific focus on the things that we can do here to drive the local economy. We have a three pronged plan for moving our local economy forward.

So the first of those is to turbo charge our tourism industry, and that involves investing in key pieces of infrastructure to help achieve that. For example, the expansion of the subco wharf at the port of Eden and we’ve committed ten million dollars to that. That we know can help to generate an additional two-hundred thousand tourists a year into our region, by bringing in the huge cruiser liners, and we’ve already had commitments to do that. And it would also help us overcome some of the underemployment issues we face relating to our tourism season.

The second pillar of this plan, is to exploit to the maximum the benefits of the clean energy future package that I’ve mentioned before. I’ve negotiated personally to attract and support those investments, but further than that, to ensure that the benefits of those investments are delivered to this region in their other aspects.

The third pillar is the full exploitation of the rollout of the national broadband network, which I will go into later.

The community told me in no uncertain terms that health was the major issue, and we’ve invested $329 million dollars in addressing the health deficit and infrastructure in the region. And we need to maintain this by supporting the federal government’s health reforms.

3. The NBN is being talked about as a big deal for us, but how will it actually help small businesses and farmers to have fast internet?

It is opening up a region like mine, as it is sitting between Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra and I really believe we can become like the silicon valley of Australia. When you match our lifestyle opportunities with the sorts of potential that that infrastructure brings, we are already seeing some companies and businesses in the region developing really good online strategies, like Bird’s Nest in Cooma.

But the NBN has enabled a $200 million dollar investment in a timber precinct in Bombala, by a company who insisted the NBN be available for the long term future, and we’ve enabled them to be connected to achieve the first level of that through the connection to the exchange in Bombala, which has already been fibred up, so they are now getting the basics of ADSL services they needed, but obviously they are determined to have the full suite of NBN capability in the future to expand their operation there.

So the NBN offers us huge potential, and I’m intending to work with our RDAs and our tertiary institutions and our councils and businesses to develop a strategy to exploit it when it’s fully rolled out and it will largely be completed in our region by 2016.

Apart from the business and economic reasons, it has huge applications for people in the region for education and health, in an area that has issues with snow and ice and remoteness, so for some locations it is really important.

4. Would you commit to funding for Kings Highway?

I already have done that. Obviously it is not a road of national significance, so it is difficult to get the Commonwealth involved there unless the state puts proposals forward, but because of the building of the headquarters of the joint operations command, I was able to leverage $23 million of commonwealth money associated with facilitating access around it, and I was able to win further support from the ACT and NSW to expand that to a $40 million investment, so we’ve significantly improved a number of sections of the Kings Highway.

I think after putting $196 million into roads in my region, I think it’s not unreasonable to expect that the state government should start stumping up.

5. Is there a potential impact on coastal economy if there are big public service cuts in nation’s capital?

Massive. We’ve been through this before in 1996, when eventually the Howard government cut 30,000 positions. We sae the population of Canberra and Queanbeyan decline. At that time property values went through the floor. Joe Hockey joked about this recently when he said that under Labor you sell property and under Liberal you buy.

We know that they’ve said that they’ll cut 12,000 and that Joe Hockey said that would just be the start. They keep talking about the fact that we’ve bloated the service out to 20,000 which means they’ve obviously got plans to go beyond that. In debates I’ve had with David Johnston recently he talked about there being 23,000 public servants in defence and effectively saying they were a waste of space, Tony Abbott mentioned that we’ve grown the public service by 20% and said he struggled to find the value in their work, so we know that they have huge savings they have to make to fund these incredibly expensive programs like their gold plated paid parental leave scheme.

If you travel to the coast, you’ll see that our tourism on the coast and our tourism at the snow in the high season largely depends upon the tourists from the ACT and Queanbeyan, if you cut them out, like what happened in 1996, you’ll send the region into a mini-recession.

6. If you’re returned as the member for Eden-Monaro, but the Coalition forms government, do you guarantee to serve your full three year term?

Absolutely, I’m committed to this region. My family goes back 166 years here, they were the pioneers who helped build the place. My great, great, great grandfather built the Tathra Wharf and started a lot of the early industry. My great, great grandfather founded the Bega Cheese co-op and was the first chairman. My great grandfather ran for the seat in 1940 and founded a lot of community organisations. One of his sons was a parish priest in the area. My grandfather and every generation of my family has served in the military, which matters in this region.

So it is extremely important to me. I’m deeply passionate about it. It’s what makes me put in the levels of commitment and work that I do. I have a very powerful legacy that drives me. I need to continue my work, not only to do justice to the legacy of my forebears, but to be worthy of this community, because it is such a wonderful community.

Peter Hendy:

AAP/Lukas Coch

1. Will genuine climate change science be fully acknowledged by both major parties and serious action to mitigate the impacts be undertaken sooner rather than later?

The Coalition believes in the science of climate change, we support targets to reduce emissions and support using markets as the best mechanism. However the Coalition in no way supports the Carbon Tax as a means of achieving those targets. That’s because the Carbon Tax has proved to be little more than a tax on electricity prices – hiking up the cost of living for all Eden Monaro households – while having very little impact on our emissions.

Despite Labor promises to ‘abolish’ the Carbon Tax, it continues to cost families $545 this year and if Kevin Rudd and Labor are re-elected, it will cost families $3,000 over the next six years.

The Coalition’s Direct Action Plan will ensure we reach our target of a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 without a tax on electricity, families and jobs. We will reward people for reducing emissions, not make it harder for them to do business. And we will focus on emissions activity here at home and not on overseas markets. The budget for the Coalition’s policy will be capped at $300 million, $500 million and $750 million over the first three years. This compares with the Carbon Tax of $27 billion over the same period. Unlike Labor the Coalition knows how to stick to a budget, and will stick to that budget while delivering real emissions reductions.

We believe in practical solutions. For example, earlier this week I announced with Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Environment, Senator Simon Birmingham, that the Coalition’s Green Army will be deployed to help regenerate the banks of the Queanbeyan River.

The project will help build on the work done by Murrumbidgee Catchment Management Authority and Queanbeyan City Council by removing flood debris from the floods of 2010 and 2012 and restoring and re-vegetating the riverbank.

2. There seems to be a focus on national issues this campaign, but what are you planning to do for the local electorate?

The most important and immediate action we can take to assist the people of Eden Monaro is to scrap the Carbon Tax and reduce cost of living pressures. Scrapping the Carbon Tax will see Eden Monaro households $545 better off per year, whilst restoring the competitiveness of our local businesses. The Coalition has a track-record of presiding over a strong economy and delivering economic growth – and though very much a national issue it will have positive flow-on benefits for the local economy.

In addition we have made a number of measured, sensible spending promises. For example, if elected the Coalition has announced it will deliver $10 million in the redevelopment of the Eden Port, this is a significant investment, which will boost the local economy in Eden and the wider region. In Queanbeyan, we will contribute $500,000 towards the upgrade of Seiffert Oval, improve spectator amenities, the safety of the grandstand and condition of the playing field.

3. The NBN is being talked about as a big deal for us, but how will it actually help small businesses and farmers to have fast internet?

The Coalition is committed to delivering very fast broadband and a completed NBN sooner than Labor and at less cost to taxpayers – and regional areas, including Eden Monaro, will be among the first to benefit from the Coalition’s rollout of broadband services. Everyone should have the benefit of access to fast broadband, including small businesses and farmers, but we should not have to foot the bill for Labor’s unsustainable, costly and failed NBN rollout.

4. Would you commit to funding for Kings Highway?

I have been a very vocal supporter of the need for upgrades to the Kings Highway and have made a number of representations to the Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Warren Truss. Given the Kings Highway is a state highway and not part of the National Highway Network, the Federal Government is to a large extent is reliant on the NSW Government’s advice on their competing funding priorities. I remain committed to lobbying both the State and Federal Governments to ensure that the Kings Highway upgrades remain a key priority of all levels of Government.

5. Is there a potential impact on coastal economy if there are big public service cuts in nation’s capital?

The Opposition has been very open about its commitment to trim the Commonwealth public sector payroll by 12,000 through natural attrition, meaning anyone who leaves the public service will be doing so out of choice. In comparison the Labor Party cut 3,000 public sector positions last year, while their mini-Budget announced a number of expenditure cuts which the Community and Public Sector Union has calculated will translate to 4,000 – 5,000 job cuts.

6. How are you going to turn around the boats without an international incident or piracy?

The Coalition has made it clear that we will only be turning back the boats where it is safe to do so. I’d also remind people that Kevin Rudd is on the record as supporting that approach a few short years ago. But this is just one of a suite of policy measures that work to deter people from making the journey to Australia by boat, knowing that they are not guaranteed entry. The Coalition has been absolutely clear and consistent on border protection for several years now. Our policy also includes temporary protection visas that deny the people smugglers a product to sell, while having rigorous offshore processing at Nauru and Manus Island. We will also work much more closely with source and transit countries so that at every step in their journey, the life of people smugglers becomes more difficult.