Lismore City Hall was nearly filled to capacity on June 7 when GetUp! hosted a forum with Page electorate candidates..

Six candidates took part including Janelle Saffin (Labor), Kevin Hogan (Nationals), Kudra Falla-Ricketts (Greens), Mark Ellis (Liberal Democratic Party), Anna Ludvick (Animal Justice Party) and Bethany McAlpine (Christian Democratic Party).

According to GetUp!, the forum aimed to give voters the chance to hear the candidates’ answers to questions affecting the region.

MC Larissa Zimmerman, former Australian Sex Party candidate for the 2010 Federal Election addressed the crowd, estimated at over 300 people, to outline the rules of the forum.

Each candidate had four minutes to pitch what they would aim to achieve if elected to parliament on July 2.

Following individual addresses, candidates  responded to questions posed by GetUp!, as well as questions selected from public submissions.

“Each of the candidates’ tonight has the role to serve us as a community,” Zimmerman said..

Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidate Mark Ellis was the first candidate to address the forum.

“Our founding principles are that we will never vote for a tax rise, and we will never vote to reduce your liberties. We want smaller government, lower taxes and less government intrusion into your lives,” he told the audience.

Ellis went on to list the social issues he supports, including: freedom of speech, repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, assisted suicide as well as gay marriage and the freedom of “transgender and other lifestyles”.

According to Ellis, one of the LDP’s main concerns is the increase in Australia’s national and international debt, and the growing deficit.

Ellis said that the debt figures are “disturbing”, and that many government organisations must be deregulated and privatised to make them more efficient. 

However, he did not disclose which government organisations his party wanted to see privatised.

During a question regarding whether the candidates would reverse the funding cuts and potential decision to privatise Medicare, he avoided the answer and instead chose to refer to Australia’s deficit.

 On university fee deregulation, Ellis follows the LDP policy of supporting deregulation and privatisation, and Ellis believes that deregulation will be “an advantage” because of the “much lower degree costs for many degrees”.

The next candidate to address the crowd was the Animal Justice Party (AJP)’s Anna Ludvick.

Ludvick said the reason she chose to join the AJP was because she believed that for “too long, animals have been mistreated.”

She said 70% of Australia’s laws affect animals, and that “Australia has been disappointed” by past government response to animal cruelty.

“We speak for those who cannot speak for themselves,” she said. 

Ludvick promised that if elected, she would fight to shut down a range of animal practices including live export, puppy farming, greyhound racing and wanted to see an end to ecological and environmental destruction.

During a question about her stance on refugees, Ludvick said that she stands “firmly against the imprisonment of all animals, including humans”.

On uni fee deregulation and privatisation, Ludvick admitted that the AJP doesn’t have a policy on the issue. 

Bethany McAlpine represents the Christian Democratic Party (CDP).

Her first focus is to introduce a far more comprehensive anti-bullying program, instead of the National Safe Schools Framework program.

McAlpine believes that while Safe Schools is useful, it only covers a single area of bullying, while there are “many more aspects of bullying”. 

Her second focus is on mental health, especially adolescent mental health.

“Someone asked me why I thought that mental health was important, and I kind of thought, ‘well duh, because it is important’,” she said.

“I think young people especially, young people have a very low self-worth, and a very low image of themselves these days, and I think that needs to be fixed, that needs to be dealt with because that feeds into a lot of problems that they come to later in life.”

One of CDP’s policies, which she heavily supports, is the increase in mental health funding, especially the National Youth Mental Health Foundation headspace.

According to the foundation’s website, headspace is dedicated to improving the wellbeing of young Australians.

McAlpine is a Southern Cross University student attending classes at the Lismore campus while living in Grafton, and relies heavily on public transport. This is why her final focus is on lobbying for improved buslines and train services in her electorate.

When asked what she would do to make university or TAFE more affordable, accessible and fully-funded, McAlpine said that being a university student herself, she would “try as much as possible to keep university as cheap as possible.”

The Labor candidate, Janelle Saffin is a former Member for Page.

Saffin said that if she is re-elected, she wants to change the status quo for regional Australians, who she says are “worse off in all aspects”, compared to those living in metropolitan areas.

 Her plans for the region include protecting Medicare, creating better hospitals and health, fully-funding the Gonski education reforms, maintaining penalty rates and working to strengthen renewables.

Saffin also has plans to “make sure that TAFE is our primary provider so it sets kids up for jobs for the future”.

Echoing the Labor leader, Saffin turned her attention to fiscal matters.

 “I support budget repair, but not unfair budget repair,” she said. 

However while Saffin made that claim, she did not how she plans to accomplish these goals.

“I want to continue the job I did when I was member for six years, to continue the job of making a difference across our region and in our local communities, and do more, because there is more to be done,” she said.

Saffin addressed the university fee deregulation issue by simply stating: “I say no to $100,000 degrees, and no to deregulation”. 

The current Member for Page Kevin Hogan represents the Nationals Party (NP).

 Hogan started his address to the crowd by sharing his belief that his role has much more to do with community than it does with politics, saying that it is “primarily a community role”.

“The political side of [being MP] is secondary, but most of my job is spent advocating for infrastructure spends in our community,” he said.

“A lot of my role is to help people with government departments, and you go out and you support community events and community people.”

During his address, Hogan focused on the Close the Gap campaign, which is about increasing benefits and reducing disadvantage among Indigenous Australians.

 “That is a big gap that we need to close,” he said.

Hogan said that he also wants to focus on “looking after small business”, because Page has over 12,000 small businesses within the electorate. He told the audience he wants to ensure that they “thrive and prosper”.

“We can always do more and we can always do better,” he said.

Hogan said that university deregulation has been “taken off the table” and that the Coalition is increasing funding, rather than taking it away.

The final candidate was Kudra Falla-Ricketts, who is representing the Greens.

She said that she joined the Greens because she was always “really passionate” about the environment, human rights and social justice.

“I think that a lot of people have become disenchanted and disengaged with politics,” she said.

She wants to show people, especially younger generations, that there are other political options and that she will be a politician who will listen.

For Falla-Ricketts, there are very specific issues that she will focus on, including: climate change and the environment, humane treatment of asylum seekers, farmers’ rights to say no to CSG, marriage equality, a fairer taxation system, and maintaining affordable health, education and higher education.

Falla-Ricketts believes that “fossil fuel companies and dirty corporations aren’t actually people and they don’t deserve to be getting a say in what policy we create”.

“Politics shouldn’t be a game. It shouldn’t be about soundbites and memes, it should be about working together and actually creating good policy that helps everyday Australians,” she said.

Falla-Ricketts said that she will fight university deregulation and that she “100% supports government-funded degrees”.

While the candidates revealed differences of opinion on many questions, especially around the climate change and the Trans Pacific Partnership, all candidates agreed that they would support a movement to keep the Northern Rivers permanently coal-seam-gas-free.

Attendees like Joelle from Nimbin went away feeling as if the forum had helped to inform her about which candidate she will vote for in the Federal election.

However Alan from Lismore Heights left the GetUp! forum even more confused about who to vote for.

 “I usually always vote for the Nationals’, but now I'm not convinced about voting for Hogan. And she [Falla-Ricketts] was pretty convincing for such a young lady,” he said.

GetUp! was founded in 2005 and is a political activist group.