By Xanthe Gregory
The apparently safe Nationals seat of Calare could be threatened in the federal election by Labor candidate Jess Jennings, who says he has a 50-50 chance of winning the seat in NSW’s Central West.
This year is the Bathurst-born councillor’s third federal election campaign. Education, health and climate change are his key priorities. Dr Jennings hopes the Coalition’s leadership instability will help him become Calare’s first Labor MP since 1996.
“The national mood is a lot different. You can’t change the prime minister three times and expect no one to notice,” Dr Jennings said.
A safe seat?
Calare MP Andrew Gee’s margin of 11.8% seems comfortable (62%-38%). But with Australian voters strong focus on climate change concerns, Mr Jennings believes his party’s more progressive policies could swing voters. The unknown factor this election is the entry of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party for the first time federally, following their huge success in this area and further west in the recent NSW state election.
The Labor candidate has a 25-year background in agriculture and is passionate about securing the future of farming in the region and Australia-wide. Dr Jennings says the National Party’s response to climate change is weak, despite it being the single biggest threat to the farming sector.
A recent report by the Australian Conservation Foundation supports his claim with its finding that Calare was the fifth-most effected electorate in Australia. “Our summer conditions would spread for a full six months and our existing summer would be much hotter,” he said. “The implications for farmers would be diabolical.”
ALP policy is to work towards a 45% emissions reductions by 2030, along with a $10 billion contribution to funding the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which will contribute to mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.
The ALP is also promising to establish the Just Transition Authority to help coal-dependent regional towns transition to a lower emissions economy. The town of Lithgow has been identified as a vulnerable community because of its coal industry, but Dr Jennings says the party’s policy aims on making the transition smooth.
“Areas like Lithgow will always be looked after by Labor, but for the foreseeable future coal is still part of the mix for Calare,” Dr Jennings said.
Education is one of Dr Jennings and Labor’s key policies, and he says they will provide an influx of funding if elected. The education policies can make a tangible difference to people’s lives, including Calare’s public primary and high schools which will receive additional funding.
“Labor is offering $24.5 million additional full Gonski funding for the Calare electorate alone which would be a record spend amount.”
The party has also promised to lift university caps, which were re-implemented by the Liberal government, in an effort to increase student numbers at regional universities. Dr Jennings believes Labor can re-introduce its university cap policy more successfully by increasing confidence among universities to recruit students.
And in another bid to improve Australia’s universities, the Labor Party has pledged $300 million towards a University Infrastructure Fund to help grow and improve existing campuses. “Uncapping the university places, and having an infrastructure fund as well, will give universities and students the confidence to go out, stake their claims and get more students.”
Health is also in Dr Jennings’ top three priorities and the ALP has allocated a large share of extra funding to Australia’s health care system. Medicare has always been a staple to Labor’s campaigning, and this election is no different.
“Not only will Labor always protect Medicare but it’s putting forward a Medicare cancer plan which is $2.3 billion to support people through their treatments of cancer.”
When it comes to supporting a cure for cancer, the issue is close to home for Dr Jennings who recently lost a close friend to the disease. “They were under all sorts of financial pressures with two children in primary school and that’s not the way it should be,” Dr Jennings said.
He believes the financial burden cancer has on low- to middle-income families can be disastrous, and should be solved under Labor’s new cancer plan.
Other ALP policies include the reversal of penalty rate cuts, establishing a living wage and bigger tax cuts for low- and middle-income workers.
Dr Jennings hopes that the ALP’s big spending will lead to big poll numbers. Even before the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party nominated a candidate, he said the National Party would struggle to get half of a primary vote, meaning preferences would come into play.