Pollies spar on policy

By Geoff Adams

The head table in the room carried a decorative flounce, sort of like you would have at a wedding.

But the two people seated a metre apart were not getting married and did not make much eye contact.

They made notes and shuffled their papers in front of the guests while answering questions about their parties and their policies in the Woolshed where most of the parties are wedding receptions.

The two — Bridget McKenzie, tall and fair, wearing Liberal blue; Lisa Chesters, short and dark, wearing a red jacket — represented their respective parties at the NFF/VFF political forum, not much like the big television debate.

There was little face-pulling, no physical confrontations, but a certain amount of posturing (if that’s possible while seated) and a little indignation.

Ms Chesters, the ALP member for Bendigo with a union background, and the Nationals’ Senator Bridget McKenzie, who is a former teacher and lecturer, were called on to explain their rural and regional policies.

On a straw poll conducted at the end the feeling was that Senator McKenzie had the edge, although in a very conservative seat it was considered that she also had a home ground advantage.

The seat is of course held by the Nationals’ Damian Drum, who was in the audience and even slipped in a question towards the end, much to the tut-tutting of Ms Chesters for not introducing himself as the sitting member for Murray (to be renamed Nicholls at this election).

Billed as a forum, the format did not allow much of a debate to develop, which was a pity as there were some hints that it could have developed into a more robust discussion.

Senator McKenzie was the first to make specific criticisms of the other MP’s politics.

The Nationals were busy handing out copies of the ALP’s water policy — yes, that’s right, the ALP’s policy. They indicated horror at the statements which they knew would go down badly with the farming people present on the night.

Ms Chesters dismissed any attempt to paint a picture of being outed by pointing out that the policies were already known and the seven-page statement simply brought them all together.

But the murmurs in the crowd were hard to dismiss as the irrigators could see their water being spirited away into the bottomless pit of environmental flows.

One observer noted at the end of the night: ‘‘After all the policies and the parties, you just want to know that they care.’’