Port Macquarie Chamber of Commerce recently hosted a meet the Candidates Forum at The Westport Club. It was a great opportunity for the business community to meet and hear from both Mayoral and Councillor candidates running in the upcoming Local Government election.
A wide range of candidates from differing backgrounds and life experiences put forward their views and how they intend taking the organisation forward for the next term of council. All were passionate about the region and the common thread was a desire for improving our already great region and preserving its natural attributes whilst planning for growth.
The hot topics of the evening were delivering infrastructure to support our growing region and housing affordability. Candidates put forward a wide range of ideas and strategies on how to deal with these challenges over the next decade and beyond.
In terms of infrastructure delivery there was an acknowledgment of inaction of the past two decades which has lead to the current shortfall particularly in a road network to service the needs of the community. It was generally recognised that during the next term of council a huge backlog of infrastructure work is required along with planning for the next couple of decades.
Housing affordability was discussed in some detail by all candidates with a general consensus that high prices were being driven in large part by constrained supply and high demand. Most candidates recognised that the situation could be alleviated by encouraging a mix of housing types and providing an adequate supply of zoned land across the region.
Another topic raised and discussed was the current council financial reserves of circa $350m and whether this money is completely tied to specific projects or council has discretion on where it is spent. Specific financial advice was provided and confirmed by several candidates that a large percentage of the reserves are allocated to planned infrastructure projects and hence cannot be legally allocated elsewhere.
There was also some spirited debate around the possibility of a rate freeze for a period of time beyond the next term of council. However, this policy was countered by an argument that such a move would result in a reduction in services provided to the community. The discussion on this point also raised a question as to the operational efficiency of council services and whether past rate increases had been justifiable.
All candidates are to be congratulated for making themselves available for election to public office and committing to serve their community. Regardless of the outcome and which candidates are elected there is little doubt that they face a range of challenges over the next term of council in planning for and delivering infrastructure and services to support our growing region.
As 2021 draws to a close the business community can look back on another turbulent, challenging year which has brought to the fore the resilience and ingenuity of local business once again. With the recent easing of COVID restrictions and less government intervention promised all our business operators can now look forward to a period of rapid recovery and optimism.