Socialist draws biggest applause at mayoral candidate meeting

From left to right: Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes (Labor), John Church (Newcastle Independents), Jenny Barrie (Liberal), Steve O'Brien (Socialist Alliance), John Mackenzie (Greens). Photo: Niko Leka

The Supercar race, council transparency and Stockton Beach’s sand erosion problems were key discussion topics at a lord mayoral candidates’ forum on November 18 organised by Hunter Community Forum.

Five candidates took part in the only face-to-face candidates forum to be organised. It was attended by about 50 people.

John Church (Newcastle Independents), John Mackenzie (Greens), Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes (Labor), Jenny Barrie (Liberal) and Steve O’Brien (Socialist Alliance) were each given five minutes to make their pitch before being asked a series of pre-notified questions about the removal of the city’s lockout-laws; Supercars; development and infrastructure; and the corporatisation of council. Independent Rod Holding did not attend.

O’Brien, who is standing for Ward 1 where the Supercars race is held, received the biggest applause after pointing out council had wasted $30 million on the event so far and stating the contract should not be renewed.

“No ifs, no buts, no Supercars,” he said, answering the question about whether the city should host the next race in March and whether council should extend the race contract for another five years.

Asked about lock-out laws in Newcastle being wound back, O'Brien said late night public transport had been overlooked, particularly the trams not running. He said council should push to reverse the privatisation of buses and trams and for safe, permanent cycle paths to be built.

O’Brien also won audience support for his proposals for: a levy on vacant apartments to fund affordable public housing; the introduction of rent control; emergency programs to house homeless people; and for a minimum of 30% low-income rentals in new housing developments.

Question time showed residents’ concerns about a variety of issues, including redeveloping the former National Broadband Network site, rezoning bushland and the storage of ammonium nitrate at Kooragang Island.

A question about Stockton Beach’s sand erosion woes drew claps for O’Brien who said that climate change was the key issue that needed addressing and that he would make that a priority if elected.