There was no worm, and most of the questions came from Auburn’s Friends of the Library group – the first candidate’s debate of the 2013 Reid Federal Election campaign proved a very civilised affair.
So civilised, in fact, that when Labor incumbent John Murphy had to leave for a prior appointment, his rival, Liberal Craig Laundy, answered a question on gay marriage on his behalf.
For the record, he said that both men think it is a conscience decision but believe marriage is about a relationship between a man and a woman.
Some 50 people turned out on a sunny Sunday to hear the six candidates state their views on the economy, the jobless, education and people smugglers – the major issues raised in an electorate with a knife-edge majority of just 2.7 per cent.
On the stage were: Labor’s Mr Murphy, the Liberals’ Craig Laundy, Pauline Tyrell for the Greens, Emily Dunn for Democratic Labor, Nadeem Ashraf for Palmer United and Bishrul Izadeen for Katter’s Australian Party.
Sadly, local issues were not front and centre.
Mr Laundy raised youth unemployment and the impact of economic performance on Reid's small businesses.
He cited the case of the Concord chicken shop. Once, the business employed students and others to fill 80 hours of casual work. But because of the performance of the economy under Labor, he said they had been forced to cut back to just 20 hours a week.
He estimated that the missing 60 hours was worth $1,200 a week to the local economy, plus what students might spend in the area’s shops and restaurants.
“This is the economic reality,” he maintained, adding that it had a multiplyer affect among many businesses across Reid.
A questioner raised nuclear dumping in Auburn. Not surprisingly, none of the candidates supported the government’s plans to use a facility in the area as a nuclear store.
Another raised people smugglers – a hot-button issue in an area with so many migrants.
The answers showed this was a numbers game – the Liberals sticking to 13,750 a year, Labor raising that figure to 27,000. Palmer United’s Mr Ashraf suggesting everyone could come to Australia without a visa and be processed at the airport, while Katter’s Australian Party candidate Mr Izadeen, himself an immigrant, said his party would hold everyone else accountable for whatever they decided.
Ms Dunn said it was a “massive issue” and the Greens relied on the fact that Australians were basically “decent”. They would end mandatory detention and raise the intake figure to 30,000.
So what were the issues that resonated?
Youth unemployment must rank as a decider in a constituency with so many young people.
Mr Laundy maintained it stood at 19.4% in the Inner West. That’s one in five kids who can’t find a job.
“Business confidence is shot to pieces. Consumer confidence is shot at the same time. The real loser in all of this is employment. And the real loser is our children.”
Mr Murphy maintained Labor had created 950,000 jobs, and overall unemployment at 5.7% was a good result considering the rate in the rest of the world.
Illegal migration remains a dilemma for all the parties.
With less than four weeks of campaigning to go, the debate underscored that the jury is still out on what might happen in Reid on polling day.
As a bellweather seat, the next few weeks will be a white-knuckle for everyone.