23 March 2023

Seven line up for Bega, but only two candidates in the spotlight at Batemans Bay election forum

| Katrina Condie
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Two candidates

NSW election candidates for the seat of Bega, Liberals’ Russell Fitzpatrick and Labor’s Dr Michael Holland will go head-to-head in Batemans Bay. Photos: Supplied.

As the race for the marginal seat of Bega heats up, the Labor and Liberal candidates will go head-to-head at a ‘Meet Your Major Party’ forum in Batemans Bay ahead of the state election.

Sitting member Labor’s Dr Michael Holland and Liberal candidate Russell Fitzpatrick will have the opportunity to address local issues at the forum hosted by the Batemans Bay Business and Tourism Chamber from 6 pm on Wednesday 15 March at the Batemans Bay Soldiers Club.

Dr Holland is Bega’s first Labor MP and has held the seat for 12 months after winning the 2022 by-election following the retirement of the longtime Liberal member Andrew Constance.

Mr Fitzpatrick is the Bega Valley Shire Mayor and has thrown his hat in the ring with the hope of winning back the seat for the Liberals at the election on Saturday 25 March.

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While only the two major party representatives have been invited to the forum, seven candidates have put their hands up, with Cathy Griff running for the Greens, Karin Geiselhart standing for the Sustainable Australia Party, Debra Abbot standing for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers and Greg White running for the Legalise Cannabis Party. Jeffrey Hawkins the only Independent candidate.

Four candidates attended a public meeting hosted by the Tuross Head Progress Association at the Kyla Hall on 6 March, where hot topics for discussion were health and the Eurobodalla Regional Hospital, the housing crisis, zombie developments and natural disaster resilience, including the logging of state forests.

The Bega candidates have also been invited to speak at a ‘Meet the Candidates’ forum at Bermagui on Sunday 12 March from 10:30 am to noon at the Bermagui Community Centre Hall. Hosted by Clean Energy for Eternity, and the Bermagui Community Forum, all candidates will be asked where they stand on economic, energy, environmental, health, social and security issues.

The candidates

Four of the seven Bega election candidates, Greens’ Cathy Griff, Labor’s Dr Michael Holland, Sustainable Australia’s Karin Geiselhart and independent Jeffrey Hawkins, attended a forum at Tuross Head. Photo: Karyn Starmer.

A retired obstetrician and gynaecologist with the Southern NSW Local Health District, Dr Holland’s big three topics are health, housing and education. He says people are worried, not just about hospitals, but primary health care and access to allied health services such as physiotherapy and mental health services.

He said the Government needed to address the “bed block” in hospitals by discharging patients to other levels of care, such as residential aged care facilities, which would then free up beds for incoming patients.

Dr Holland said, while the housing crisis was a national problem, there needed to be local solutions which could include the development of more rent-to-buy properties and more emergency accommodation and support services.

While he’s only held the position for 12 months, the first-time politician said he had been “out of the office” and had made more than 80 speeches in parliament about local issues, including advocating for the Level 4 Eurobodalla Regional Hospital.

“I’ve most certainly kept the Government accountable. I’ve done my job in opposition, now I want to do it in government,” Dr Holland said.

He has been invited to take part in a NSW Australian Medical Association panel to discuss state health issues on 23 March ahead of the election.

Mr Fitzpatrick has served as a councillor and mayor on Bega council and has sat on the Southern NSW Local Health Service board.

He has been on the Pambula Bendigo Community Bank board since 2010 and said during his time on council he had worked to deliver local projects such as the Merimbula Basketball Club facility, Merimbula Airport and Port of Eden developments and the Bega Regional Sports Facility.

Putting his hand up for the first time at a state election, Mr Fitzpatrick said he wanted to “continue the legacy that Andrew Constance started and hoped to “win back the seat for the Liberal Party”.

His top priorities for the region include addressing the “enormous” increases in the cost of living and increasing access to essential services such as health and transport, and increasing police and ambulance resources.

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He agreed there was more to health than delivering a hospital and said everyday services, such as access to ear, nose and throat specialists, should be available locally.

“It’s ridiculous that we have to take our kids to Wollongong to have grommet surgery done. This is the kind of service that should be expected in our regional hospitals,” he added.

Mr Fitzpatrick said his goal was to “step into Andrew’s position” and to continue delivering infrastructure to keep the region moving forward.

Tathra resident Jeffrey Hawkins said the issues most raised by the community included jobs, training and employment security, restoring local health services with frontline support, and affordable housing with reduced cost of living.

Cathy Griff lives at Tanja and has been a Greens councillor on Bega Valley Shire Council since 2016. Her career has largely been managing research and policy in the film and television industries, and she is passionate about the environment and regional arts. Ms Griff’s top issues include addressing climate change, affordable housing and ending native forest logging.

Karin Geiselhart from Moruya Heads is campaigning to protect the environment, stop overdevelopment and stop corruption. She says the key issues within these areas including strong action on climate change, and protecting endangered species habitats including native forests and local tree canopies. Ms Geiselhart also wants an increase in investment in public housing and to start a bigger conversation about housing affordability.

Debra Abbott, who scored the top spot on the ballot paper, hails from Nelligen, while Greg White is a resident of Queanbeyan West.

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Paul Sullivan2:17 pm 09 Mar 23

Russell Fitzpatrick, Liberal,did not even bother to turn up to the Tuross Head Meet the Candidates function.
Not a good example of how he intends to work for the Electorate.

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