On Friday 22nd of April, Senate candidates for the upcoming Federal Election debated their policy positions at ANU, with over 300 attendees in the audience. David Pocock (Independent), Maddy Northam (Labor Party), and Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng (Greens) attended the debate in-person while Kim Rubenstein (Independent) submitted pre-recorded responses.

Candidate Policy Focus

David Pocock is an ex-rugby player running as an independent candidate. His campaign focuses on strengthening the ACT community through making housing more affordable, ensuring a fair share of infrastructure investment, improving safety for women in all sectors of life and delivering climate and energy action. 

Maddy Northam is running for the second senate seat in the ACT with the Australian Labor Party (ALP). Northam has a history of involvement in unions and community groups to better the community. Her policies aim for better rights and support for workers in Canberra, advancing the economic opportunities with climate change, and bettering the community by making the Canberran population heard within the Federal Parliament. 

Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng is a senior First Nations woman running as the Greens candidate for the Senate position. She introduced herself  by honouring the land on which we met through a traditional song and Welcome to Country through her language of the Wakka Wakka peoples. 

Dr Goreng Goreng desires changes in all aspects of politics, such as workers’ rights, Indigenous rights, climate action, student debt and cost of living in the ACT region, as well as overcoming institutional betrayal and overt racism.

Kim Rubenstein is an independent candidate for the Senate with prospects to combat major issues within both the ACT community and Federal Parliament. Rubenstein promotes her priorities being urgent climate action, restoring integrity to politics, women’s safety, and listening to the desires of all who are in the ACT community.

Climate Change 

David Pocock acknowledged that Australia does not have its climate policy in alignment with other international actors. He believes that electrification would increase economic opportunities to better our futures while providing jobs for Australians.

Rubenstein believes in breaking partisan stalemate on climate action by establishing a climate change compact and negotiating a settlement amongst the key settlers in the incoming government through an independent body. Rubenstein would like to establish a 2030 interim emission reduction target of at least 50 percent of Australia 2005 level. A reduction target would represent Australia’s contribution to global warming reduction to 1.5 degrees. 

Dr Goreng emphasised the importance of acknowledging and implementing Indigenous traditional knowledge and technology in Australia’s climate change policy. Dr Goreng states that the Greens will work with the Australian Labor Party to become 100% renewable. The Greens want to push for climate economic action policy and eliminate fossil fuels and coal mines at a federal level. 

Northam is committed to a net zero by 2050. Through their Powering Australia Plan, the ALP will create 10,000 new energy apprenticeships, introduce fee-free TAFE places for students, and invest 20 billion dollars into upgrading the electricity grid to bring power prices down. Northam also affirmed, however, that the ALP will invest in further coal projects in the prospect to gain economic and job opportunities for the Australian community.

Cost of Living, Education, and Housing Affordability

Rubenstein outlined her approach to cost of living as being constituent-informed rather than developing a fully-fledged policy. Rubenstein will advocate for an increased Youth Allowance rate and for young people’s voices to be heard. On the issue of housing affordability, she will draw from community recommendations.

Dr Goreng Goreng explained the Greens main policy being the lifting of student debt, and the inclusion of dental and mental health under medicare to ease the costs of living, especially for young people, while maintaining their long-term work to address the rental crisis. 

Dr Goreng Goreng identified Canberra’s affordable housing crisis as stemming from it having the highest median rents nationwide and the lack of regulation or restriction on platform-based short-term accommodation in the ACT. Therefore, the  Greens propose building one million new homes across the country and 125,000 new public, universally-accessible rental homes. 

Pocock acknowledged the fact that high house prices and cost of living is a current crisis facing younger generations. He calls for greater collaboration between state, territory and federal governments to increase the supply of social and affordable housing to take pressure off young people renting and first-home buying.

Northam guaranteed that the Labor Party would put forward a $10 billion future fund for housing and build affordable houses for essential workers. 

All candidates agreed that tertiary education should be accessible and affordable for everyone, and that change is needed to improve students’ conditions. 

Workers’ Rights 

Maddy Northam was most outspoken on the topic of workers’ rights, asserting Labor’s guarantee of workers rights and their “same job, same pay” statement. 

This election campaign, the Labor Party has expressed their support of the rights of workers, workers’ strikes, unions and job security. Maddy affirmed this stance with her policies of criminalising wage theft. Northam emphasised how her campaign focuses on fighting for quality public services and secure jobs in the ACT. 

The other candidates also backed the rights of workers and each spoke about their support to look after workers and job security for all Canberrans.  

Constitutional Reforms for First Nations’ Peoples and the Uluru Statement

Each candidate acknowledged the importance of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, established in 2017, and the need for such a statement to be embedded into future policies to better our connection to the land and its first nations’ peoples. 

Dr Goreng Goreng emphasised the importance of First Nations’ people as consultants for First Nations’ issues and the management of Aboriginal communities. For the Greens, recognising sovereignty and sharing the history of First Nations’ people both before and after the First Fleet arrived to our nation will step towards the reconciliation that is desired. 

No candidate disputed nor challenged Dr Goreng Goreng’s comments, and concluded this question with all candidates desiring the acceptance and further action of the Uluru Statement of the Heart as part of their campaign for the upcoming election. 

Refugees 

On the issue of refugees, there were two disparate opinions from the Labor and Greens representatives. Maddy Northam shared that Labor will continue to provide permanent visa protections whilst also increasing places available in Australia to 20,000. 

However, the Australian Labor Party continues to advocate for strong borders and the turning back of refugees arriving via boats, a policy which the party has maintained since the Gillard administration.

Meanwhile, Dr Goreng Goreng stated that the Greens reject the notion of turning back the boats; instead they welcome refugees into Australia and will ensure that policies abide by International Human Rights Law. 

Overall, the debate ran smoothly, with a lot of participation from the candidates and the audience on the night. 

The various Senate candidates and their policy platforms will come head-to-head on Election Night. Have your voice heard by voting on the 21st of May, or through pre-polling which is available from today, 9th of May for people unable to vote on the day. 

Editor’s Note (11/5): An earlier version of this article did not clarify that the Labor Party would continue to invest in fossil fuel projects and turn back refugees arriving via boat. The article has been updated to make this clearer. We apologise for this error.