Name: Andrew Gee
Political Party: National Party of Australia
Family: Married with four children (19, 17, 14 and 11 years old).
Where do you live? Orange
What do you do for a living? Federal Member for Calare
How long have you lived in the Calare electorate? I have lived in the Calare electorate for almost 14 years
What is the best part of living in the Calare electorate? The best part of living in the Calare electorate is the unbeatable quality of life and the sense of community. We live in the best part of Australia!
Why are you running for the seat of Calare? I am running for the seat of Calare for the same reasons that I got into politics in the first place - when you break it all down and strip it all back, politics is about delivering lasting benefits that make life better for the people that we represent.
I entered politics because I could see that there were things that country people were missing out on, that were the same things that city people were taking for granted, like a 24-hour rescue helicopter and full radiotherapy services.
We have shown that by working with the community you can make a difference as both a state MP and federal MP.
Not only did we get the new 24 hour rescue helicopter and radiotherapy machine for Orange together we were also able to achieve: the new highway at Guanna Hill between Orange and Molong; a new ambulance station and hospital upgrade at Molong; almost $4 million to raise Suma Park Dam wall at Orange; securing $56 million for water security pipelines across the Central West; bat/hail netting subsidies for orchardists; Wellington to Dubbo Bus Service; emergency department upgrade at Wellington Hospital; $16 million for the upgrade of the Ulan and Cope Roads; helping to save the Drip; a new hospital at Gulgong; funding for Lifeskills Mudgee; paving Wellington to Dunedoo main road 353; re-training program for Electrolux workers including payroll tax rebates for firms to hire them; lobbied for the new Mudgee Hospital; helped save the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health with a $16 million funding injection.
More recently at a federal level, together we were able to secure key regional achievements including: $12.5 million for Bathurst's second racetrack; almost $7 million for the Glen Willow sporting complex at Mudgee; $1.9 for the CentrePoint Sports & Leisure Centre at Blayney; $1.5 million for Browns Creek Road; new export access for our orchardists; $380,000 for the new Glenray laundry in Bathurst; $181,818 for Bathurst's War Memorial Carillon; millions for new bridges around the electorate; new $22 million Charles Sturt University Medical School; new headspace service for Lithgow; $18 million medical research centre at Orange; $2.5 million for Bathurst Airport; new MRI licence for Lithgow; $1.89 million for school upgrades at Orange Christian School and St Mary's Catholic Primary School; $9.5 million for Lithgow's aged care facilities; $1.5 million for Maranatha House's Intergenerational Learning Centre in Wellington; $1.135 million for Lithgow's Blast Furnace project; two government departments decentralised to Orange; $480,00 for Wallerawang Bowling Club expansion; $308,175 for new education centre at Australian National Field Days site Borenore; CCTV upgrades at Oberon, Orange, Bathurst and Wellington; 37 new mobile phone sites; $225,000 for Molong Multipurpose Sports Facility; Molong Tennis Courts upgrade; $1.1 million for Orange's Domestic Violence Crisis Centre; $1 million to 7 local councils for community drought infrastructure; $16 million for a new road and crossing at Dixons Long Point.
What is your political experience? Since 2011 I have represented the communities of the Central West as a state MP and then as their federal MP.
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The crippling effects of the drought continue to be felt by the electorate's farmers. What kinds of measures would you fight to install to drought-proof the region? Is the creation of more dams part of the solution, and if so, where should they be located? Continuing drought support is at the top of my list for the Calare electorate. The Coalition Government's commitment, which is already the biggest drought response in Australia's history, now exceeds $7.2 billion. It includes the multi-billion dollar Future Drought Fund to help farmers build resilience and better prepare for drought. As conditions worsen, we need to be ramping up the response which is what I've fought for. On the ground locally, I would like to see the government buying grain and fodder which could be sold to farmers at cost. I'd also like to see even more support for drought-affected businesses.
Yes, the creation of more dams is definitely part of the solution. I'm not too fussy about where they go. I was disappointed that the Cranky Rock proposal is not proceeding. In the short term I would push for an expansion of Lake Rowlands near Blayney by building a new dam wall, and continue to push for the Carcoar to Lake Rowlands pipeline.
Do you support the proposal to relocate immigrants to regional centres as a means of relieving pressure on metropolitan infrastructure and increasing the population of and diversity in country towns and cities? I agree with the proposal as long as the communities have the jobs and services to support the new arrivals. There are a number of regional areas around Australia with severe skill shortages.
Our policy is to reduce the migration ceiling from 190,000 to 160,000 places across Australia, with 23,000 places to be set aside for skilled workers on new regional visas.
My grandmother was sent to Australia as a Barnardos child and I am in awe of what she overcame and achieved. Country Australia needs people who will work hard and have a go.
Many fruit growers in the region lament the lack of seasonal workers to pick their crops because of restrictions with the current visas system. If elected, what changes would you push to make to alleviate this concern? The Federal Government has already announced changes to the working holiday visa programs that have been warmly received by local orchardists. The changes include lifting age restrictions on workers and allowing the backpackers and other visitors to stay in Australia, and work on farms, for longer. This benefits local orchardists and the entire Australian agricultural sector.
In the longer term, I think a dedicated ag visa would be a positive move.
Labor's refusal to rule out dismantling the working holiday visa program has sent shockwaves through the farming sector. Agriculture is too important to play politics with. If you abolish the second year of working holiday visas, there is no doubt that there will be fruit and veggies rotting on trees and vines and in paddocks because there won't be enough workers to do the picking.
How should the federal government increase the export potential of Calare's primary producers and manufacturers? Working together with our local orchardists we recently scored a huge win for the entire Australian stone fruit industry by getting new export protocols signed with key Asian countries including China, Indonesia and Vietnam. As a result, a number of our local orchardists are planting significant numbers of new cherry trees.
We are currently working on greater access for apples and are making progress. I think it will happen.
The trade agreements that we've entered into with countries like China, Japan and Korea will also be of great benefit to our primary producers and manufacturers.
New specialist agriculture counsellors posted in key markets are unlocking market access opportunities, including in relation to cherries and vacuum-packed beef and sheep meat.
We can also help our exporters by improving our transport links. In the longer term, I'd like to see an international air freight hub in the region to fly our goods directly into Asia. I'd also like to see a targeted national manufacturing strategy where we, as a country, identify what we are good at and then target our efforts and taxation regime accordingly. We need to make it more cost effective to update plant and equipment and changing depreciation rates can help here. Food processing should be a priority.
Do you agree with the idea of decentralising government departments to regional areas, and, if so, which departments would you like to see be relocated to the Calare electorate? Yes, I certainly agree with decentralisation.
Decentralisation is already delivering for the communities of the Central West with the announcement in this year's Budget that the Regional Programs Branch of the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities will be relocated from Canberra to Orange bringing with it 25 new positions. This builds on the 25-30 jobs already delivered through the establishment of the Regional Investment Corporation which has officially opened in Orange.
By locating government services and jobs in the regions, public servants are closer to the people and industries they serve. It also provides the perfect opportunity for more people to live in our regions, buy a home and raise a family.
I'd like to see the whole federal Department of Agriculture and Water Resources decentralised.
I would also like Bill Shorten to pledge his support for the new Regional Investment Corporation. He hasn't to date.
Will you push for federal funding to help fund a pipeline from Ben Chifley Dam to Bathurst to help conserve water? Yes, as I stated at the candidates' forum in Bathurst, a priority for my next term is a water security pipeline between Ben Chifley Dam and the Bathurst Water Treatment Plant. This is part of a broader water security plan which includes the expansion of Lake Rowlands Dam near Blayney, and a water pipeline between Carcoar and Lake Rowlands.
What is the best way to improve links between Sydney and the Central West? Do you support a Bells Line Express Way? Do you support upgrading the Great Western Highway including tunnelling through the Blue Mountains? Should the federal government favour (and fund) one approach over the other? If so which approach should be the priority? I've always strongly favoured a Bells Line Expressway and that still remains my strong preference. However, the NSW government which controls both the Bells Line and the Great Western Highway, recently announced that its priority is the Great Western Highway. While it's not the way I would have gone, that's their call. And while I am sorry that NSW has pivoted away from the Bells Line and that they aren't interested in any joint state/federal upgrades to it, I am nevertheless willing to work with them on the Great Western Highway. If the engineering and costing on a tunnel stacked up, I'd support that too.
It can't all be roads, we need to look at rail too. The Federal Government recently announced $8 million to fund a business case for faster rail between Sydney and Parkes via Lithgow, Bathurst and Orange. As a region we now have to work together to put the best case forward to make faster rail happen.
Neither Bill Shorten, Scott Morrison nor Michael McCormack have visited Calare in recent memory. Do the major parties and their leaders not care about Calare? The Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack, visited Calare as soon as he got the job and was here again on the 9th of May to announce an election commitment of a quarter of a million dollars to upgrade Canowindra Showground, and $1.5 million for the Oberon-Tarana Heritage Railway.
The Deputy Leader of The Nationals, Bridget McKenzie, visited Bathurst, Oberon, Millthorpe and Orange two weeks ago. She's made several other trips to Calare in recent times including to announce the $22 million contract for the CSU medical school.
The Minister for Veterans Affairs, Darren Chester was here two weeks ago to announce $181,818 to complete Bathurst's War Memorial Carillon and a few days ago to announce the $10 million commitment for the Orange Conservatorium and Planetarium. He was also in Bathurst to announce federal funding for assistance dogs.
The Prime Minister visited Calare in October, being the only Prime Minister to have attended a Bathurst 1000. During that visit to Calare he also visited Hill & Crofts CRT in Blayney and announced the opening of applications for the Drought Communities Programme during his visit. The Deputy Leader of the Nationals, Bridget McKenzie, attended too.
What infrastructure do you want to see built or fixed in the electorate over the next three years? I am proud of my runs on the board in the last term, which includes $16 million for Dixon's Long Point Crossing, $22 million for the CSU Medical School and $12.5 million for the Second race track at Mount Panorama.
On the top of my agenda is continuing drought relief, and some of the projects I will be fighting for next include:
- A new Orange Conservatorium and Orange CBD Revitalisation
- Upgrade of the old Bathurst TAFE building
- Bathurst-Ben Chifley Dam Water pipeline
- Expansion of Lake Rowlands
- Carcoar-Lake Rowlands pipeline
- Manildra School Hall project
- Mt Canobolas Mountain Bike Track
- Building the Oberon-Tarana Heritage Railway
- Expansion of the Red Hill Gold Mining experience in Gulgong
- Construction of new hockey fields in Mudgee
- Support the further expansion of Maranatha House in Wellington
- Upgrade of the amenities at Canowindra Showground
- Continued upgrades to the Molong Rec Ground
- Increased local roads funding for projects such as the Southern Feeder Road and even more overtaking lanes on the Cargo Road
- More mobile phone towers for local communities
- Funding for Mudgee's new art gallery and cultural precinct at the old Cudgegong Shire building
- Funding for the Zig Zag Railway near Lithgow
- Continued support for Velocity Park - Bathurst's second racetrack
- Increased capital funding for aged care facilities across the electorate
- Community owned accommodation centre and doctor's surgery upgrade for Eugowra
- Upgrade for Kremer Park at Portland
In contrast to the personal insults, nastiness and spite we have seen from other candidates, we have run a positive campaign, clearly outlining what has been achieved over the past three years, and what I am fighting for in the future.
What is your stance on the future of coal mining for the region? Coal mining in our region occurs at both Lithgow and Mudgee. It employs thousands of people both directly and indirectly, and makes a very important contribution to the prosperity of the region. It has a future and I support our local miners around the electorate and their families' futures. I also support the power jobs of Lithgow.
While I support mining, not everywhere is suitable for it. For example I am opposed to gold/copper mining in the orcharding/wine country of Nashdale near Orange (and have told that to the mining company) and as a state MP I led the local campaign to protect The Drip near Mudgee.
Labor, on the other hand, is talking about a "Just Transition Authority" to deal with "pooled redundancies" in the power and coal industries. Labor needs to come clean about what this really means for our local workers.
Do you support renewable energy? If so how do you believe Calare is positioned to take advantage of the renewables market? One in five Australians now has rooftop solar - the highest take-up in the world. Renewable energy is an important part of our energy mix and has an important role to play.
The key is to have a measured and practical energy policy that balances renewables with the need for reliable generation. It needs to be responsible and not reckless and must also be affordable. I have been a very vocal advocate in the Parliament of the need to bring down energy prices.
What policy do you have to bring down power bills? Our plan for affordable and reliable power includes:
- Big stick legislation to stop energy companies ripping off customers and, if necessary, breaking up big power companies
- A technology neutral program to underwrite new reliable energy generation
- Supporting small business and community organisations to improve their energy efficiency
- Getting rid of the "loyalty tax" whereby big power companies give long standing customers the worst deals
- Setting a price safety net or price cap on the amounts power companies can charge for electricity
The Energy Assistance Payment for pensioners, veterans, carers and other Australians announced in the budget provides $75 for singles and $125 for couples will also assist with power bills.
We have already delivered wins for customers by requiring the power companies to provide better deals, securing priority gas supply for Australia and putting downward pressure on network costs.
What policies do you have to deal with climate change? I believe most people want to look after the environment and that includes dealing with climate change. I certainly do. Tackling this issue needs also to be handled responsibly and not recklessly.
Our climate policy is to reduce emissions by 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 which we are on track to meet, through policies such as the $3.5 billion Climate Solutions Plan.
Bill Shorten's targets are so extreme that power prices will sky rocket and many businesses will struggle to stay afloat under the strain. He can't even tell you how much it'll cost. It's an economy wrecker.
A great local example of the right approach was the Australian Government's $2 million contribution towards a $5.38 million biomass boiler at MSM Milling, a farming business at Manildra. This project helped MSM reduce energy costs and environmental impacts while supporting local jobs.
What are your plans to improve mental health services for the Calare electorate? The Australian Government committed an unprecedented $736 million boost to mental health in the 2019-20 Budget in recognition of the huge impact and cost of mental illness on almost half of all Australians $461 million went to youth mental health.
Back in February 2018 I announced over $1 million to help deliver a headspace service in Lithgow and the new building on Main Street is almost complete. The Lithgow community has suffered immense pain and anguish with tragic cases of local people taking their own lives and this crucial service will make a real difference to the lives of young people in the district.
The idea of expanding the headspace model to include adult mental health is also a positive development and I will be pushing to have that trialled in the Calare electorate.
What do you think needs to be done to improve youth employment in the region? I think it's about training and a strong economy.
The recent budget committed $525 million to support skills training including creating 80,000 additional apprentices over five years, through a new incentive payment of $8,000 to employers and $2,000 for apprentices.
Our Youth Jobs PaTH program, which is going very well locally has already helped over 43,000 young Australians into jobs. The Transition to Work program has also helped 32,000 get into jobs or training.
The key to generating more jobs is having a strong economy and the budget back in black. We've just delivered the first Budget surplus in 12 years, and since we came to government over 1.2 million jobs have been created. We are supporting small businesses to grow through tax relief and job creating policies like the instant asset write-off.
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