A public debate brought together seven candidates — four from Vaucluse and three from Coogee — in the evening of March 14th. Held at the East Leagues Club in Bondi Junction, the two-hour event soon turned tense, with heated exchanges between participants, notably among nominees of the two main parties.
Less than two weeks before the NSW state election, the most discussed topics were transport, housing and schools in the two affluent electorates. Climate change and the economy were also featured.
Infrastructure and Transportation
Labor followed by three minor contenders, focused on attacking the 12-year-old Coalition government, particularly on budget overruns in infrastructure projects, lack of affordable housing, and investment in East Sydney’s schools.
Marjorie O’Neill, incumbent Labor MP for Coogee, also emphasised the impact of removed bus routes, claiming that privatisation of coaches “destroyed public transport” in the area.
Liberal candidates defended the Coalition’s record. They praised the state government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and its flagship policies, namely the mega infrastructure projects, tax cuts, the creation of Services NSW and Perrottet’s recently announced ‘Kids Future Fund’.
Commenting on disruptions to Sydney’s public transport, Kylie Von Muenster, the Liberal Coogee nominee, acknowledged a recent shortage of bus drivers. She drew attention to the government’s efforts to recruit replacements overseas.
Education in the Eastern suburbs
One of the most intense arguments of the night was about education in the Eastern suburbs, where some of the country’s best-ranking schools are located.
O’Neil accused the Liberals of breaking a 2018 promise after the state government did not upgrade the Randwick Boys and Girls High School. Labor Vaucluse’s candidate, Margaret Marten, also criticised the Coalition for not building a new co-ed public high school in East Sydney. However, her Liberal opponent, Kelly Sloane, recalled that it was the Labor government that closed the other co-ed secondary institution in the area, Vaucluse High School, in 2006.
Property development was one more contentious issue. Von Muenster and Sloane said that Labor would bring new high-rise buildings to the Eastern suburbs, citing Chris Minns’ plans to increase housing density in neighbourhoods closer to the city. In response, O’Neill and Marten claimed that they have always fought overdevelopment.
Minor and Independent parties
Even though Labor-Liberal infighting eclipsed most of the debate, minor and independent candidates made their presence in the discussion.
Dominic Wy Kanak, Green councillor for Bondi Ward and candidate for Vaucluse, stressed the importance of tackling climate change, defending his party’s plan to completely phase out gas and coal in NSW by 2030. He also voiced support for free public transport and a stronger social safety net.
Independent Karen Freyer, who is running in the ribbon-blue Vaucluse, attacked the “corruption of big parties that are held hostage by marginal seats”. She defended rebuilding the state’s industrial base and limiting gas exports to reduce energy costs in the short term.
An unexpected participant was Alicia Mosquera from the anti-vaccination Informed Medical Options Party (IMOP). A late entry in the debate, the small business owner was only notified of her participation two hours earlier.
Contesting the Coogee seat, Mosquera did not mention her party’s controversial anti-vax stance. She focused on criticising the “corruption of traditional parties”, labelling some of her opponents as “puppets”.
In one of the most bizarre moments of the debate, the IMOP candidate reflected on the importance of “dog parking”, mentioning it as an example of the “real concerns of small businesses”.
Editor: Anh Noel