As serious preparation was underway inside Rooty Hill RSL in anticipation of the last debate before the election between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, Labor and Liberal supporters of candidates for western Sydney who lined the pavement outside were more light hearted, showing their support through signs sporting the faces of their candidates, wearing Party T-shirts, and coreflute bombing each other.
Last night’s People’s Forum, an invitation-only Sky News-hosted event, attracted about 150 undecided voters from across Sydney.
Some were given the chance to take to the podium and ask questions of their leader and possible future leader.
During the hour-long debate, which started at 6.30pm, the hot topics were funding for education, aged care, disability care, job assistance for the unemployed, support for small business and roads.
Mr Abbott said if Coalition were elected the WestConnex road project will be a priority for western Sydney.
“You deserve a better government in Canberra and this is what this election is all about,” he said. “I would like to be known as the infrastructure prime minister - it starts with building WestConnex, scrapping the carbon tax, trying to tackle crime in the community and bringing in the NBN in three years.’’
Mr Abbott, who said he previously lived in Emu Plains for 12 months, respects and appreciates this part of Sydney.Mr Rudd said re-electing Labor would mean “building a Better Schools Plan for independent, Catholic and government schools, a health and hospital plan which returns the federal government’s role as 50 per cent funders of the public hospitals, and delivering a broadband network that’s reliable and affordable.”
“Through the National Broadband Network, students at Doonside Technology High School are already connecting to NASA in the US for lessons on nautical science,” he said.
While Mr Abbott was voted by home viewers of 7TWO as winner of the debate, Liverpool resident Magda Ackad said she was still undecided.
“It was good, but it’s always the same questions,” she told FCN.
Croydon resident Jon Andersen came away with the decision to vote Greens.
“I think I came expecting that we would get a chance to put up our hands and have them answer us, but it made sense questions would have been lined up beforehand,” he told Fairfax Media.
“I do like the more free-form feel — it works better than the media up front firing questions.”
When asked what stood out the most, Mr Andersen said it was “Mr Abbott’s inability to give a simple yes or no answer”.
“He just kept avoiding an answer and I felt that was when Mr Rudd started taking ownership of the debate,” he said.
“Mr Abbott had given a far stronger opening; it felt more genuine and personal.
‘‘The story of Mr Rudd visiting the school next door beforehand felt like manufactured spin.”
Lindsay MP David Bradbury, present on the night, told FCN the more debates the better in an election campaign.
“It’s good to be here, it showcases our region but also reflects the importance of our region to the national economy and the national political debate,” he said.
“It’s an opportunity for residents to engage with their leaders.”
Fairfax Media also caught up with Therese Rein, wife of Mr Rudd, on education in western Sydney.
She said she’s visited many western Sydney suburbs - Campbeltown, Rooty Hill, Blacktown, Mt Druitt, St Marys - and although she hasn’t lived here has listened to a lot of people’s stories.
“I was talking with the vice-chancellor and she was saying the university has a massive active schools engagement program to show potential students and high school students what university is like — especially for students who haven’t got family who have been to university — and how that proactive engagement breaks down a lot of barriers and pre-conceptions,” she said.
“Then there’s really active support inside the uni for people who haven’t had parents or older siblings attend.
“It’s a great university.”