Maitland’s four candidates in the state election introduced themselves at the Maitland Business Chamber breakfast on February 19. Candidates took five minutes each to address the crowd, before taking questions from the audience.
Chamber members were keen to hear how the candidates would help businesses if elected on March 28.
Media identity Meryl Swanson moderated the debate between Jenny Aitchison (Labor), John Brown (The Greens), Philip Penfold (independent) and Steve Thomson (Liberal).
Ms Aitchison, a small business owner, outlined Labor’s job creation credentials saying it moved the mineral resources and state debt recovery offices to Maitland when last in government.
She hastened to add it would be pointless if the Coalition government shut down Maitland Hospital and cut jobs when the new hospital opened.
Mr Brown, a freelance journalist, said he would fight for more hospital funds to bridge the gap until the new hospital opened in seven or eight years.
He also listed more frequent trains and buses as crucial to increase patronage.
Cr Penfold agreed with Ms Aitchison and Mr Brown to some extent that TAFE training was important to business.
He said the government was right to reign in some costs but stressed the Coalition should not have increased fees.
Mr Thomson, past chamber president and self-described daggy dad, said small business was the backbone of the economy and pledged to help the Coalition cut more red tape if he was elected.
He stressed that the Coalition had a strong record in Maitland with $45 million for the roundabout projects, $20 million for hospital planning and $2 million for the town hall auditorium upgrade.
Maitland Business Chamber president Craig McGregor said the standard of all four candidates was high.
“Maitland business was the winner of the debate,” he said.
Mr McGregor had the following comments about each of the candidates:
Steve Thomson - Liberal:
“Steve’s got a hard job [when] it’s very easy for the other candidates to just sling mud at the current government,” Mr McGregor said.
“He did a great job communicating the strengths of the government.”
John Brown - The Greens:
Solar panels were part of Mr Brown’s pitch to chamber members. He said these would create jobs and reduce reliance on coal power.
“With John it was an interesting approach, the solar panels for Green Hills, it was a really novel idea,” Mr McGregor said.
Jenny Aitchison - Labor:
“I think Jenny did a really good job of selling her passion for Maitland,” Mr McGregor said.
“At one point she said that if a Labor government had a policy she didn’t agree with that she would fight for Maitland.”
Philip Penfold - independent:
“He jumped in and said ‘I disagree’. Philip really started the debate,” Mr McGregor said.
“Philip made a really good point that three of the four candidates had experience in small business and that’s a really good thing for the Maitland Business Chamber.”