schools-hospitals-ports-and-ducksParticipants in last week’s state election candidate forum, hosted by the Phillip Island Conservation Society, included the society’s Margaret Hancock (second from right) and candidates Brian Paynter (Liberal Party), Sanjay Nathan (ALP), Clare Le Serve (Independent), David Amor (Australian Country Alliance) and Ross Fairhurst (Greens). G134614

FIVE of the seven candidates fighting for the seat of Bass were grilled by the community on key election issues at a forum in Cowes last Thursday night.
Hosted by the Phillip Island Conservation Society (PICS), the forum allowed candidates to re-address their stance on many issues, most of which had already been repeated ad-nauseam.
There was, however, still room for surprises.
Towards the end of the night, after Cowes resident Sue Saliba asked each candidate if they supported duck hunting and whether they would like to see it banned, Australian Country Alliance candidate David Amor came out with a few unexpected comments.
“Where I come from, I can’t see a problem with it,” Mr Amor said.
“You’ve got to keep a happy medium otherwise our skies would be full of ducks.”
Mr Amor said he had never tried the sport himself but worries what a ban would mean for those who enjoy the past-time.
“Taking that away from people, what are they going to do?”
In a room half full of environmentalists, it wasn’t a response that might have won Mr Amor too many votes.
Liberal candidate, Brian Paynter, said it was good to see the forum end on a light-hearted not.
“The skies full of ducks? I’m not quite sure about that,” he smiled.
Chaired by Margaret Hancock, the forum was diligently managed with candidates allowed to speak for only two or three minutes at a time.
Ms Hancock was also very matter-of-fact about the rules to community members in attendance.
“This night will not be one of hapless confusion,” she warned as the meeting got started.
“You will be given one minute to ask your question and if you go over that you’ll be cut off at the socks!”
Issues that received an airing included the state of public transport, the desperate need for Wonthaggi Hospital to be fully upgraded to sub-regional status, calls for better health services on Phillip Island and preserving the Island from over-development.
The proposed Port of Hastings container project was, unsurprisingly, raised early on in the night.
While the minor parties and independent candidates all voiced their opposition to the project, and ALP candidate Sanjay Nathan repeated the Labor Party’s preference for a Bay West port, Brian Paynter said he wanted to make it “crystal clear” that there had been “no decision” to develop the Port of Hastings.
“It’s a policy decision of the Coalition Government that if there is to be a second port in Victoria, Port of Hastings is the most likely site,” he said.
The state of education facilities, or lack thereof, raised by Phillip Island resident Natasha Crestani, who has campaigned for another secondary campus closer to the Island, was the only issue that generated anything remotely closed to heated debate during what was otherwise a fairly cordial to-and-fro between candidates.
The ALP’s Sanjay Nathan said he “grieves” for students attending Wonthaggi Secondary College because of “the state it is in”.
“It would shock anyone who steps inside,” Mr Nathan said.
“Wonthaggi Secondary College needs to be addressed before we talk about a secondary college either on Phillip Island or San Remo.”
Liberal candidate Brian Paynter hit back, saying he didn’t like people “talking down” the Wonthaggi campus.
“What’s that say to the kids and teachers going there now?” he asked.
“It certainly needs to be upgraded, no question, but let’s not talk down our public schools.”
Ross Fairhurst also weighed in on the matter, pointing out that the Education Precinct plan is now well over 10 years old.
“Successive governments of both Liberal and Labor flavour have failed to provide advocacy at the departmental level to get the first and most basic step on the board – which is a simple land swap,” he said.
Locals have one more chance to quiz candidates at another forum this Friday, November 21 at Mitchell House, Wonthaggi, starting at 7.30pm.

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Each candidate had plenty to say within their time limit at the forum in Cowes – here are excerpts from each of their opening statements.

Clare Le Serve,  Independent
The seat of Bass has been a safe Liberal seat for too long. All the marginal seats got hospital funding, but not Bass. We need a full upgrade to Wonthaggi Hospital. Get that right and a satellite service at Phillip Island will be successful. And I’m passionate about kindergartens. There are other parts of Bass Coast Shire that need childcare, so I’m fighting for that and the needs of families.

David Amor, Australian Country Alliance
We’ve got to get back to basics. What are we missing out on? Almost everything. Driving to Melbourne is an absolute farce. The roads are getting busier and busier and all the government talks about is more trains (elsewhere), but nothing for Bass. You’re very lucky, Brian, that you’ve been given the seat, but just remember you might not hang onto it for very long.

Sanjay Nathan, ALP
Essential services are at risk. For the past four years the Coalition Government has been taking cuts to all essential services that everyone relies upon. There is uncertainty among people about keeping their jobs, and uncertainty of their children getting a job. You have to choose on November 29 which party will put people first and restore essential services.

Brian Paynter, Liberal Party
The Coalition Government is continuing to deliver for the state of Victoria and Bass. The Napthine Government is doubling funding for domestic violence – $140 million will help eliminate this terrible curse amongst our community. I’m a proud ambassador for White Ribbon. It’s the responsibility of every man in this room tonight and wherever I speak to take a stand and stop violence against women.

Ross Fairhurst, Greens
The Greens are absolutely chuffed that Labor has finally decided to adopt their policy of rebuilding TAFE. Education is one of the cornerstones of the Greens platform. It’s there along with the environment. Public health and hospitals are also high on the list. This is what the community has told me they are concerned about. But there’s one over-arching concern, and that’s being able to access these services. The Greens have a comprehensive package of public transport reforms.