THERE was definitely a buzz in the air at the Meet the Candidates dinner on Wednesday, but it may have just been the bugs.
As the sun dipped behind the Lawrence Golf Course and the lights came on, candidates were forced to battle on through a barrage of beetles, mosquitos and other bugs which hurtled themselves at anyone in their path.
While community members were picking the small black beetles from their hair, they listened to the Clarence Electorate's six candidates respond to a set of pre-determined questions.
Greens candidate Janet Cavanaugh stood strong by her party's aim to abolish logging and mining by 2016 in response to a question regarding the timber industry, and a question about bridge funding elicited an emotional response from Nationals member Chris Gulaptis and Country Labor candidate Trent Gilbert.
In her closing speech, Christian Democratic Party candidate Carol Ordish spoke of her party's commitment to defend Australian law, while independents Bryan Robins and Debrah Novak both spoke of their passion for the Clarence and commitment to listening to the community.
One surprise was the absence of any question referring to issue of coal seam gas mining in the Clarence electorate. But with two more Meet the Candidates forums to go - one in South Grafton on March 17 and one in Yamba on March 23 - there is still plenty of time to ask the question.
Here is what the candidates said:
WHAT will you do to assist communities like Yamba with signage when the highway upgrade is complete?
Chris Gulaptis: The reason we've fully funded the highway upgrade is so we can make it safer. The RMS is working TAFE and chambers of commerce to get people job-ready so they can work on the highway.
Trent Gilbert: We don't want to see a road that doesn't point to where good places like Yamba are. We want to see local employment where there's local infrastructure being built. I'll make sure indigenous employment is upheld and promoted.
Bryan Robins: I'm surprised this question has been raised because I would have thought after 25 years or so the powers that be would have sorted this out by now. I'm not aware of any study being considered on the impacts on communities on the old highway when the highway is finished.
Debrah Novak: I've been told lot of people applying for jobs for the Pacific Hwy simply won't get it because they don't have experience. That really concerns me.
Carol Ordish: We lose something if we don't have something that's going to benefit Yamba. We've got to promote better. I think we need to make people aware of what we have here and it's needing to be done right now. .
Janet Cavanaugh: I have to admit I'm cynical about the whole process and whether RMS is guided by public feedback at all. The impacts on Yamba only having entrances and exits north of the Harwood Bridge weren't considered in the EIS because that level of design hadn't even been done yet. All we really needed was a safe dual carriageway.
WHAT is your position on the reopening of the Grafton jail?
Chris Gulaptis: It was downsized in a time when inmate numbers were in decline. Inmate numbers now are skyrocketing. As soon as inmate numbers reach a threshold, the Grafton Jail will be re-opened.
Trent Gilbert: I'll be fighting to make sure the facility is returned to a position of benefit to the people of the Clarence.
Bryan Robins: Of course we want the jail re-opened. With the opening of Kirkconnell, we've lost the Grafton Jail twice.
Debrah Novak: Brad Hazzard visited the jail recently, and it was after this visit that they opened Kirkconnell and left Grafton out on a limb again. I'm sure the Nationals member there is jumping for joy.
Carol Ordish: I want Grafton Jail open and I want to see a drug-free jail.
Janet Cavanaugh: The Greens are in favour of re-opening Grafton Jail because small local jails where prisoners can be close to their families and communities are actually the best way of rehabilitating offenders.
WHAT is your or your party's position on improving the numbers of police and the relationship of the police to the community?
Chris Gulaptis: We've had to make difficult decisions including amending the death and disability legislation for police. The unfortunate reality is awards were far more generous than any other state and put pressure on our police.
Trent Gilbert: Policing's an issue, because it takes so long to go to jobs in the lower Clarence it puts stress on emergency services, and also affects Grafton.
Bryan Robins: We need more police. If you live in Upper Clarence you can wait hours especially on weekends for response.
Debrah Novak: The Clarence Valley is a much safer place than it was 10 or 20 years ago.
Carol Ordish: We need to have more police. The Christian Democratic Party also wants mandatory minimum sentencing for violent crime, aggravated child abuse and drug trafficking.
Janet Cavanaugh: The Greens were the party standing alongside the police in their disputes over government cuts to compensation and obtaining concessions in those cuts.
WHAT initiatives are in place to improve health facilities?
Chris Gulaptis: This budget spent $19 billion on health. We're not ignoring health at all, we're trying to manage what we can with budget that we have. We have done very well in the Clarence.
Trent Gilbert: Labor is committed to abolishing the chemotherapy cancer co-payment. In aged care homes, we want to have a registered nurse rostered on 24/7.
Bryan Robins: The Government tells us health services are fine, yet that's not what I'm hearing. There have been cuts to services with hospitals and buildings where services are provided. I'm very concerned about mental health and the funds that we aren't receiving. I will support the party that wants to improve services for this electorate.
Debrah Novak: What the Clarence desperately needs is a cash injection of $62 million instead of $7 million on offer from Nationals. There is also only one palliative care bed in Grafton and Maclean. Dying with dignity is not too much.
Carol Ordish: Seeing how staff have suffered, the ratio of staff to patients is just appalling. Mental health, we need it here. CDP will increase funding to services and an upgrade to palliative care services.
Janet Cavanaugh: Access to health services is a basic human right, and should be based on need not someone's ability to pay or travel. Mental health has been identified as a high priority. There are people suffering from cancer who don't have access to a legal supply of cannabis oil - we need to move trials forward to legalise medicinal cannabis.
WHAT is your commitment to education?
Chris Gulaptis:We were the first state to sign up to Gonski. Nearly every school has received an increase in funding and that's based on needs. You can only do that if you've got a strong budget.
Trent Gilbert: We will fund the replacement of demountables. South Grafton High School would be high on list of upgrades as is Westlawn school. We've also announced further education of maths and science teachers in schools, and have a policy to fix up the mess that has become TAFE. We will abolish Smart and Skilled and bring fees back to 2014 levels indexed at inflation.
Bryan Robins: Too many of our children were being denied the education they needed because of lack of resources. We need to work together that all schools are appropriately resourced to deliver high quality education.
Debrah Novak: I will support any party to reinstate funding for the fifth and sixth years of the Gonski agreement. I will also support the dismantling of VET by giving back public funding to TAFE
Carol Ordish: For students facing distance difficulties to gain the education they need, we need measures which require more assessment and correction. CDP commits to a school voucher given to each child every year so parents can provide for their education.
Janet Cavanaugh: We need improved funding for public schools and TAFE. The Greens would seek to reinstate funding to 2010 levels at a minimum. In terms of schools, Greens would guarantee smaller classes sizes.