IT WAS a throwback to the old days of campaigning – a carpark, a stage and six candidates.
Underneath a towering billboard reading “Small Business: Too Big to Ignore”, contenders for the seat of Riverina delivered passionate two-minute stump speeches to a crowd of about 100 in Griffith’s Visitors’ Centre carpark on Wednesday afternoon.
The event was part of a travelling roadshow organised by the NSW Business Chamber and marked the only candidate forum in Griffith for the 2013 federal election campaign.
While the theme was small business, candidates spoke on a range of issues, including the NBN, the supermarket duopoly and Griffith’s pressing infrastructure needs.
Even before a candidate spoke, Griffith Business Chamber president Paul Pierotti set the tone for the forum by launching a blistering attack on successive federal governments.
“There’s so much talk about Australia being a food hub for the world but we’re already a food hub here ... being slowly sent broke by the federal government,” Mr Pierotti said.
“They are unwilling to invest in this community, which has proven to deliver again and again.
“We’ve been kicked for three successive years by the horrific basin plan and we’ve already lost 10 per cent of its water.
“If the government gets its way, we will lose another 30 or 40 per cent.
“Griffith cannot survive this.
“We are not asking for handouts, just a hand-up in our time of need.”
Incumbent Michael McCormack touched on the contentious workplace relations issue, saying while the Coalition’s Workchoices policy “went too far”, the government needed to strike a balance between protecting workers and employers.
“It’s not fair when you see small businesspeople working seven days a week because they can’t afford to pay wages and penalty rates,” Mr McCormack said.
“We need to strike a balance. We need good competition policies and rigid anti-dumping laws to make small business the engine room it can be in the Australian economy.”
Earlier, Ellie Brown from the NSW Business Chamber said small business employed 7 million Australians and implored the crowd: “don’t listen to spin. Make them (the politicians) accountable and ask what are you going to do to improve small business in my town”.
DLP candidate Paul Funnell branded the basin plan “appalling” and urged voters to “go outside your comfort zone” and vote for a minor party.
Tim Kurylowicz from the ALP pointed to the government’s softening of BAS requirements for small business and described its National Broadband Network (NBN) as a “critical piece of infrastructure” for businesses.
“If the government changes in two weeks’ time, the NBN will never get to Griffith,” he said.
Six of the 10 candidates attended the forum – Mr McCormack (Nationals), Mr Kurylowicz (ALP), Mr Funnell (DLP), Norm Dunn (Katter’s Australia Party), Lex Stewart (Palmer United Party) and Ros Prangnell (Greens).