Pambula hospital and the Merimbula Airport runway were the key issues at the Meet the Candidates night held in Merimbula last Thursday.
Around 80 people attended the evening held at Club Sapphire, with 15 of the 16 candidates attending – Roy Day was absent.
Other questions related to roads, tourism, attracting businesses to the shire, homelessness, affordable housing, rates, the Wolumla tip, sewering the villages and renaming the shire.
Candidates were asked how they’d vote on the Pambula hospital poll. Michael Britten, Russell Fitzpatrick, Sharon Tapscott and David Jesson had already indicated ‘Yes’ votes, while Judy Geary, Kristy McBain, Ivan McKay and Tony Allen added to that vote on the night.
Pat Campbell and Liz Seckold said they would vote ‘no’ and remaining candidates did not indicate one way or the other.
Ms Seckold though was blunt in her view: “I will be voting ‘no’ because this is not a local issue it is a state issue. It is completely an exercise in futility. Do you realise, you people out there, you are paying for this poll to keep the Pambula hospital open for five years at a cost of $38m. No government will fork out a total of $38m.”
She said that the hospital should be a complementary facility, a view echoed by Bill Taylor.
Mr Fitzpatrick spoke strongly not only for maintaining the hospital’s presence but for seeing a return of services.
“To say it’s a funding issue and is taking away from the regional hospital is the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard. The $7.5 million is currently at Pambula hospital, why should it go anywhere else? Pambula hospital must stay and in its entirety,” he said to applause from the audience.
Les Carnegie, of Tura Beach then asked candidates whether they supported repairs to the airport and also their views on the quality of road repairs.
Most candidates seemed to agree there was a need to repair the runway, the differences of opinion appeared to lie in whether strengthening or extension of the runway was needed.
Mr Campbell said that he supported the repairs to the airport as it was a significant public asset and should be maintained. “But we may get a better runway than warranted,” he said, alluding to the strengthening work.
Mr Britten said there was no master plan or business plan for the airport and the matter should be revisited. “I agree the runway needs repairs but certainly not spending $6.7 million to create competition because that’s not going to happen because there will only be one carrier as we have under 50,000 passengers or less a year,” he said. This was also echoed by Mr Jesson.
Mr Allen said that advice from council’s engineer (Wayne Sartori) was that the runway needed “major, major, major work”. He said that the runway needed to be strengthened, and that the work could provide a facility that would be suitable for competition.
In a strident summation, Mr Allen said: “If you want to deal with the cost of airfares you need to make some progress with that airport. If you don’t want to deal with the cost of airfares then leave the thing the way it is; make that decision.”
Ms McBain said the airport needed repairing but was under-utilised by residents and tourists.
She suggested that the shire should be encouraging business to re-locate and use technology such as the NBN once it was installed.
Judy Geary said that she wasn’t satisfied with road maintenance and that it was a major issue for her. Mary Dawson agreed and said that people were more concerned with rates, roads and rubbish.
But Mr Campbell said that with over 700kms of unsealed roads in the shire, all council could do was to pick away at it.
There were questions too about the local economy but an acceptance that council couldn’t create business but could encourage it.
There was talk too of university campus developments with Mr Fitzpatrick mentioning that council had been talking to the ANU.
But Mr Britten said that the cost of developing should not be a deterrent to business. Ms McBain agreed that there was a need to do better in attracting business to the area.
Both Mr Taylor and Mrs Tapscott mentioned de-centralisation of businesses or departments as a possible option for lobbying government.
Jon Gaul, Tura Beach, called David Jesson to account over the issue of sewering the villages.
Mr Gaul said: “When you were general manager the council decided to sewer the villages and the cost of this blew out 100 per cent from $35m to $70m.”
It had left ratepayers with a sewer charge of $1000 each, the highest in the state, he said.
Mr Jesson did not explain why the costs blew out so much but said that it achieved “great” environmental outcomes.
“To have not done this work would have left Wallaga Lake to continue to fester with untreated sewage going into Wallaga Lake. Every time there was shower of rain back yards were unusable,” Mr Jesson said.