Name: Kirsty O'Connell
Political party: INDEPENDENT
What background experience do you bring to the political table?
I'm a fifth generation Upper Hunter farmer and the majority of my 25 year professional career has been spent listening to, and advocating for, communities. I started as a community journalist and regional publisher, have spent 15 years leading community engagement for more than $17 Billion in infrastructure projects and most recently have been leading a research program that aims to put communities at the centre of decision making in the infrastructure sector.
In your opinion, what are the most pressing issues facing this electorate?
The single biggest issue for our community is the urgent need for a plan for our future as the world moves away from coal. This is closely followed by the need to see a fairer share of coal royalties returned to our community to deliver the kind of health care, education and roads that we deserve in 2021.
What is your plan for TAFE and future education opportunities?
II am opposed to any further TAFE sales and will work hard to ensure that we experience no loss of course offerings as a result of the recent Scone TAFE sale. I will support the development of the Newcastle University outreach at Muswellbrook and look for opportunities to facilitate other similar opportunities for our electorate.
What are your plans to bring more jobs to the Upper Hunter?
Before Christmas 2021 I will bring together business leaders, community members and Councils from across the electorate to develop a sensible plan for our future. Through that plan, we will look for immediate opportunities to help our farming, horse breeding, wine making and tourism sectors to grow jobs. We will also identify how we can lay the groundwork for complementary new industries and will establish incentives for coal focussed small businesses to grow and diversify.
How would you address the rural and regional health crisis and staffing issues facing our health services?
In a word - funding. We generate $1 Billion in coal royalties annually. It is pointless investing in new buildings if we don't also invest in the people that make our health system function - our doctors, nurses and ambulance staff.
How do you plan to address the Upper Hunter's poor track record on air quality?
With the worst air quality in the State, the Upper Hunter can't safely or profitably sustain any additional mining in our community. We don't need new mines creating further air pollution and undermining the profits of existing mines. We need those existing mines to stay profitable so they can fulfill their commitments to their workers and to our community - including through job-creating rehabilitation and best practice environmental management.
I would improve the performance of existing mines with expanded monitoring throughout the Upper Hunter. I would re-establish a local EPA presence and establish drone surveillance around all mine sites to ensure companies are complying with their requirements and so that we can tell how much individual companies are contributing to poor air quality outcomes.
I would fund this initiative through load based licensing so that the companies that pollute in the Upper Hunter are contributing to the clean up.
Why should Upper Hunter vote for you?
In voting for me, Upper Hunter voters will be choosing to give themselves a share in the balance of power until the next election. They will be confident that they have a representative focussed on working for them who will display the standards that we should expect from our political representatives.