Coal dust and the need for aged care facilities at the new Lower Hunter hospital were among the issues raised at an election candidates’ forum hosted by the Association of Independent Retirees Maitland branch.
Liberal candidate for Maitland Steve Thomson and Labor candidate Jenny Aitchison spoke to about 50 retirees at the forum on Monday.
Greens candidate John Brown, independent Philip Penfold, Christian Democratic Party candidate Anna Balfour and the No Land Tax Party’s Tania Esposito were not invited to attend.
Branch president Maurie Thies said the group only invited representatives from the two major political parties because there was not enough time to hear from all six candidates.
Mr Thomson and Ms Aitchison talked about their backgrounds and their stands on major issues, including health, education and transport, before Mr Thies called for questions.
One member said she lived in Morpeth and had experienced dust pollution from passing coal trains.
She asked the candidates how they would address the issue.
“I just run my finger along [the window sill] and it’s black dust, and I’m quite a long way from the trains,” she said.
Mr Thomson said the Liberals did not have a strategy to deal with dust pollution from the coal trains but the party was looking at the issue.
Ms Aitchison said Labor would follow the advice of the state’s chief scientist Professor Mary O’Kane, who was investigating the issue.
Another retiree asked whether the Lower Hunter hospital would include facilities for aged care.
Mr Thomson said exact details had not been finalised on how beds would be allocated at the new hospital.
“All I know is the size of the place. It’s going to be five to six times the size [of Maitland Hospital],” he said.
“My understanding, with the existing site, is that decisions haven’t been made on what happens with it and if it ends up we use some of that existing space for aged care, mental health or less critical, non-emergency beds, that’s all still on the table.”
Ms Aitchison answered the question by raising questions of her own about the possible funding model of the hospital, which has not been announced.