CAMPAIGNING for the Saturday 18 May federal election has begun in Flinders with a backward look at still unresolved issues.
Despite the drip-feed of “good news” from the incumbent, Liberal Greg Hunt, whose health portfolio provides a seemingly endless supply, it’s his time as environment minister that is being targeted by his opponents.
The federal government’s approval last week of the massive Adani coal mine in Queensland revived memories, and criticism, of Mr Hunt’s role the first time the Indian company received the all-clear from the government.
Mr Hunt approved Adani’s plans for its Carmichael mine one month after he chartered a plane to fly over the proposed open-cut site in June 2014 (“MPs make ‘modest’ claims for travel”, The News 10/8/15).
When announcing approval of the mine, Mr Hunt stressed the remoteness of the area – “it is the deep outback; it is a sparsely vegetated area” – and that the mine would be subject to “some very, very strict conditions”.
However, federal government approval for the mine was overturned a year later by the High Court after it was presented with evidence of a bungle by Mr Hunt’s department that meant there were no provisions to protect two threatened species, the yakka skink and ornamental snake.
Mr Hunt flew to Dubai earlier that month to accept the award from the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum during the World Government Summit.
Last week, left-leaning lobby group GetUp said the seats of Flinders (Mr Hunt), Menzies (Kevin Andrews) and Kooyong (Treasurer Josh Frydenberg) “are all in line for unprecedented Coalition losses”.
GetUp’s anti-Hunt campaigning may be counterbalanced somewhat by right wing lobby group Advance Australia, which says its members have signalled Flinders as one of the seats needing the organisation’s “attention”.
GetUp volunteers will contact more than 200,000 voters in Menzies and Flinders to discuss how “hard-right wreckers” Kevin Andrews and Greg Hunt have used their platforms to block progress on “urgent action on climate change and just treatment of refugees”.
GetUp campaigner Jake Wishart said Mr Hunt’s “repeated attempts to block urgent action on climate change put him at odds with voters in Flinders”.
GetUp’s stance will come as no surprise to Mr Hunt whose Hastings office (he’s now based in Somerville) was regularly the scene of the group’s sometimes-colourful protests, including people dressed as marine creatures and angels climbing on the roof.
One protest saw two men carry a crate of coal into Mr Hunt’s office and Mr Hunt accusing GetUp members of upsetting and intimidating a staff member (“Sparks fly over coal delivery”, The News, 14/9/15).
One of the two men who carried the coal into the office said “three police happily chatting to the crowd” would have been involved if Mr Hunt’s version of events was correct.
The tactic was more or less legitimised less than two years later when then-Treasurer Scott Morrison took a lump of coal into the House of Representatives, telling those present: “Don’t be afraid, don’t be scared.”
The use of Point Nepean National Park has also come back into focus, with Mr Hunt last week announcing he was “delighted to announce that as part of the 2019-20 Budget, the Liberal-National government will invest $25 million for a National Centre for Coasts, Environment and Climate at Point Nepean”.
He said the centre, a partnership between Monash University and the University of Melbourne, “will be a world leading interdisciplinary research facility on marine and coastal ecosystems, climate science and environmental management”.
“For more than a decade now, I have fought passionately, alongside many members of the local community, to see marine research as a cornerstone use of the old quarantine buildings in Point Nepean National Park,” Mr Hunt said.
His work “to make this idea a reality” was consistent with the final master plan for Point Nepean National Park.
Mr Hunt’s office did not respond by deadline when asked if the universities would contribute money to the proposed centre or if a business case had been completed.
Candidates for the seat of Flinders at the Saturday 18 May federal election will be on hand to answer questions from the public at a forum in Dromana on 17 April.
The event has been organised by Robyn Coughlin so voters can “get to know their potential representatives”.
Ms Coughlin said the forum would be held 6pm-9pm at Dromana Community Hall and would also involve an “informal meet and greet” as well as a question and answer time.
“The event is not affiliated with any political party, independent candidate or other registered organisation and is a free community event that is being organised and run entirety by volunteers,” she said.
To register a question for the candidates go to meet-your-candidates-flinders-electorate.eventbrite.com.au