Candidates forum: where was Darren Chester?

GREENS Candidate for Gippsland Scott Campbell-Smith has criticised incumbent Nationals MHR Darren Chester for his failure to attend a candidates forum in Morwell on Monday night.

“Everyone was disappointed, especially organisers who had invited him but received no word of reply,” Mr Campbell-Smith said.

Candidates from Labor, Secular Party, Palmer Party, the climate change independent and the Greens presented their policies and answered questions from the floor for 90 minutes.

“The sitting member’s contribution would have been a valuable addition to the discussion,” he said.

Mr Chester issued a press statement explaining his decision not to attend the forum.

“I have already accepted an invitation to attend a Landcare and agriculture forum on the same evening and won’t be attending the GetUp event,” Mr Chester said.

“Rather than debate the narrow range of issues proposed by GetUp, I have … decided my time is better utilised meeting with local people with an interest in practical environmental initiatives through Landcare and the future of agriculture in our region.”

Questions about the future of the Latrobe Valley, unconventional gas mining (CSG or fracking), asylum seekers, climate change and the Australian economy were covered at the meeting.

“I’m disappointed. I was looking forward to either learning how The Nationals policies to allow fracking, hasten climate change and pushing mining approvals at the expense of agriculture and manufacturing are good for Gippsland, or ripping into him. Either would have been fine but I got neither,” Mr Campbell-Smith said.

“The Greens are absolutely opposed to CSG, want action on climate change that develops new, sustainable jobs in the Valley (not stranded assets and more corporate-welfare) and serious structural support for agriculture.

“The Nationals have peppered their policies with a few cynical buy-offs but will continue the economic policies that are punishing all sectors other than mining, Mr Campbell-Smith said.

“Darren’s recently become an evasive fence-sitter on these issues. He’s trying to distance himself from Nationals’ policies.

“He’s slippery like an eel in a silk suit. If this election is about trust, a guy who can’t defend his own policies must be a bad bet.

“It’s anti-democratic not to turn up. That’s consistent with his opinions about political donations.”

According to his Parliamentary sub-committee report Darren wants more and bigger donations and less transparency.

“He wants a user-pays democracy, in which votes count less than corporate funding. He can do that because a majority of people in Gippsland vote Nationals no matter what the Nationals actually do.

“If the Gippsland electorate wants to be taken seriously they will either have to start donating enough money to compete with mulit-national mining, finance and agri-businesses or stop voting Nationals,” Mr Campbell-Smith said.