Unemployment, small businesses, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and decentralisation were some of the issues put to three candidates for the Lyne election at Taree Business Chamber's Meet the Candidates luncheon.
The Greens' Stuart Watson, independent Jeremy Miller and The Nationals' Dr David Gillespie took part in the forum with the local business community.
Australian Labor Party's Phil Costa did provide answers to questions supplied by the chamber but was absent from the event alongside the remaining five candidates.
The present candidates were given time to introduce themselves.
Mr Watson spoke about climate change, Australia's refugees intake and some of the Greens' policies.
"I'm so pleased to be a member of a party that doesn't take donations from fossil fuel companies or other large corporations," Mr Watson said.
Mr Miller looked at his work in the local community and his aspirations for the electorate.
"It's time for new energy and a new way of doing politics," Mr Miller said.
Dr Gillespie discussed his achievements as the sitting member and ongoing developments in the area, such as Figtrees on the Manning.
The discussion then began, with Adam Johnson inquiring about each candidate's stance on decentralisation and sustainable relocation of government services to the electorate.
Dr Gillespie said the area is capable of housing services due to key infrastructure such as the National Broadband Network and improved major roads.
"I've been trying to find a niche for here (Lyne)," Dr Gillespie said.
The federal government's Regions at the Ready report is an adequate guide to the future of decentralisation, according to Mr Miller.
"It's 13 really strong recommendations on how to help local areas, including how to make sustainable relocation of government services and departments," he said.
"You can't just pick up a department and put them somewhere because that doesn't work."
Mr Watson said any new service should be met with climate change and renewable resources in mind.
He highlighted The Greens' Renew Australia 2030 policies, which look at regional development with a focus on renewables and maintaining jobs through generating power locally.
"We've got the sun, we've got the real estate, we've got the sub-stations," Mr Watson said.
Valley Industries chief executive officer Trent Jennison asked the candidates about plans to combat unemployment and re-skilling people.
Dr Gillespie outlined a drop in unemployment in the area in 2018. He said local employers like Valley Industries and several aged care facilities have opened up employment opportunities.
Youth unemployment has also declined through traineeships and internships.
"We've also been working on getting young parents through the Parents Next program being skilled up and back into the work force," Dr Gillespie said.
Mr Miller said all levels of government, business and economic communities must work together to continue employment growth.
"We only get ahead if we all pull together," he said.
He identified MidCoast Council's Regional Economic Development Strategy as an indication of progression as well as the need to train people in jobs that are common to the electorate, such as hospitality, aged care, agriculture, aquaculture and environmental management.
Mr Miller is also a supporter of the government's funding of training hubs for areas with high youth unemployment.
"We need to make sure we get in there and make sure one of those training hubs comes here," Mr Miller said.
Mr Watson stressed the importance of protecting jobs under threat by automatic technologies and moving away from fossil fuels industries.
"We've really got to look to the future," Mr Watson said.
If elected, Mr Watson wants the gender pay gap addressed.
Business chamber president John Stevens put forward the notion of the NDIS, its future, sustainability and impact on businesses.
All present candidates agreed the scheme is successful and it must be rolled out to those who need it.
"It's just got to be fully funded, it's a great scheme so let's work from taking tax from the top corporations and get some money into the budget to fund the NDIS," Mr Watson suggested.
Mr Miller said the federal government projected budget surplus could be utilised to roll out the scheme.
Dr Gillespie was adamant the scheme needs to be prioritised to those who need it.
With their experience in small business, the candidates were positive about their plans for the future.
Putting money back into the "engine house of Australia" and reducing income inequality is high on Mr Watson's agenda.
"To support small businesses, people need money to spend," he said.
Mr Miller said reductions in red tape and regulations would create efficiency for businesses. He backed council's economic strategies as a guide for the needs of the area.
Dr Gillespie outlined how the North Coast Jobs and Investment package has helped small businesses expand through the workforce.
One of the most important aspects of small business is a positive retail experience.
"We've got to have consumer confidence in a retail space," Dr Gillespie said.
With a large retiree population in the electorate, Dr Gillespie said their assets and cash need to be protected. This would be another avenue for money to be spent locally.
The same goes for gradually increasing pensions, with Dr Gillespie stating the government has been able to do so with the budget "in the black".
He said the government has helped small businesses with tax cut and instant asset write-off policies.
The federal election will be held on Saturday, May 18.
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