Election wrap – Lib and Lab promise Veterans centre – PM visits - Lib's Richards' 'honest mistake'
This week’s round-up and analysis of Federal Election action in the Hawkesbury…
It's our first official week of the election campaign, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison visiting the Hawkesbury on Tuesday, though unless you worked at one particular Richmond café where he stopped with his team for a photo opportunity, or a Mulgrave engineering company where he did another photo op, you could be forgiven for not knowing our leader had been in the neighbourhood.
No meetings with flood-affected residents, or even with local businesses, some of which are struggling and hurting – we’ve been talking to many of them this last week – after multiple Covid and flood events have swept through our region.
And no announcements for the broader Hawkesbury community either, which is somewhat surprising given our very marginal seat status, but surely there will be more to come…
This Prime Ministerial approach of not facing the public so far in this first week – just selected small groups – has been replicated across the country, so we shouldn’t feel especially left out. As one of our colleagues, journalist Michael Read at the Financial Review – who is with the media scrum travelling with the PM – said on Thursday, “the common thread at these venues is that access to the public has been limited, or non-existent. Mr Morrison has so far met very few voters. The highly stage-managed appearances, which have almost exclusively been in marginal seats, sometimes include funding announcements”.
This week's big funding call...
Talking of funding announcements, both Labor and the Coalition have said they will fork out $5m of taxpayers’ money – yes, the exact same amount – to set up a Veterans Centre in our region.
Labor were first out of the blocks with news of this exactly a week ago on April 8. Their commitment – if they are elected of course – is for a Veterans Wellbeing Centre in the Macquarie electorate, so Blue Mountains or Hawkesbury, and Labor MP Susan Templeman said, “local veterans would have substantial input into the development of the Veteran Wellbeing Centre, including on where it will be located”.
The centre would be a one-stop shop providing support for veterans’ wellbeing “with their transition from military to civilian life”, as Shadow Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Defence Personnel, Shayne Neumann, put it at the April 8 announcement.
Labor's Veterans Centre announcement - Shadow Veterans’ Affairs Minister Shayne Neumann, RSL NSW President Ray James OAM, Windsor RSL Sub-branch wellbeing advocate Bonnie Rieusset, and Macquarie MP Susan Templeman at Richmond Club
Not to be outdone – and of course this is a feature of this election, we’ve also seen it with the promise to set up a Hawkesbury Headspace – the Coalition sent out a media release on Wednesday from Liberal Senator for Western Sydney, Marise Payne, just short of a week after Labor’s announcement, to also promise $5m for a Vets’ Centre but they have a specific site – they aim to repurpose an Officer Training Unit building used during the Vietnam War – it was opened in 1965 and closed in 1974 - at Scheyville.
Sen Payne said, “since the establishment of this program in 2019, six centres have been funded under the Morrison Government."
But only one of those funded centres is in NSW, at Nowra, and in February the RSL said, “A single veteran wellbeing centre at Nowra does not reflect demand either by client need or geographic spread, and additional facilities are needed in other communities with high demand, particularly those that surround ADF Garrisons”.
Such is the demand, the RSL got on with it themselves with a second centre established in Wagga Wagga but funded by RSL NSW and RSL Lifecare, not the Federal government, and the RSL have several more planned.
Liberal's Veterans Centre announcement - RSL folks with Liberal candidate Sarah Richards
But it seems there will now be 2 government-funded centres in NSW, no matter which party wins the Federal election. The government’s Hawkesbury centre is listed in the Budget.
MP Templeman said of the Morrison government’s Hawkesbury announcement, “I’m pleased to see the Liberals following my lead on a well-being centre, after Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs Shayne Neumann and I announced Labor would commit $5 million to a local hub last week.
“But we won’t be prescriptive about these wrap-around services; local veterans have been providing important support to other veterans and their families for many years and they know what and where the need is, and, if elected, we will work closely with them about where this hub will be located and how it will work.
“It’s a shame that, after having nearly a decade to deliver on desperately-needed issues like veterans’ well-being and Headspace youth mental health services in the Hawkesbury, the Liberals have chosen to hold out until just weeks before a federal election.”
“Desperate copy-and-pasting of Labor policy at five minutes to midnight is not the actions of a party that cares about delivering on genuine need,” Ms Templeman said.
Liberal candidate for Macquarie, Sarah Richards, who is the daughter of a veteran, said of the government’s Vets’ Centre announcement, “Growing up in a military family, I am the daughter of a veteran who served in Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor. I have lived my life on multiple RAAF Bases, including right here in Richmond. I have seen what war can do to someone. I have watched my dad suffer PTSD and I have vowed to fight to do all we can to help our veterans”.
And in other news...
Ms Richards – who is also a Hawkesbury Liberal councillor – was in the news elsewhere this week after News Corps’ Daily Telegraph (DT) put up a story on Wednesday pointing out she had claimed to be a qualified solicitor on her Linked In page.
It seems the Liberal candidate has not practised as a lawyer since 2007.
The DT’s story added, “She has also repeatedly referred to herself as a lawyer – including on her Liberal party profile”.
That’s not allowed. If you’re not a practising legal person, potentially there is a $27,500 fine - under the so-called Uniform Law - for claiming you are a solicitor when you’re not practising in that profession.
Obviously one area solicitors and lawyers are expected to be across in their profession is what we might call, the details.
Ms Richards told the DT, “This was an honest mistake, the LinkedIn CV should have referred to a ‘former solicitor’,’ rather than ‘qualified solicitor.’
“I have updated the descriptor and will self report to the Law Society of NSW,” she said, according to the DT.
The Law Society told the Post on Thursday, “only a person who holds an Australian practising certificate is entitled to use the title “solicitor”.
“An entity that falsely represents they are entitled to engage in legal practice when not entitled to do so could be committing an offence under section 11 of the Uniform Law.
“Each case needs to be considered on its own facts and circumstances, and the specific representations made. The maximum penalty for an offence under that section is 250 penalty units ($27,500)," said the spokesperson.
We asked the Law Society if Ms Richards ‘self-reporting’ would be the end of the matter, but we haven’t received a reply to that question.
So, an interesting initial week in this 6-week campaign, and no doubt much more to come as the pace presumably quickens towards the election on May 21…
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