Name Stephanie Luke
Political Party The Greens
Family Eldest of 5 children, aging mother, 12 nieces and nephews
Where do you live? Bathurst
What do you do for a living? Textile artist, landscape regeneration, property and livestock caretaker
How long have you lived in the Calare electorate? Since 2009/10. I moved from South Australia.
What is the best part of living in the Calare electorate? Higher rainfall, good soils, like-minded people with a vision for the future.
Why are you running for the seat of Calare?
A very real fear of losing what we have in the Central West: fresh water, clean air, a sustainable future as an agricultural producer, loss of villages, friends and community. We are seeing an invasion from mining companies that are making demands on prime land and water resources - inappropriate and irresponsible under current climate conditions, and decisions that will leave us far worse off in the future.
What is your political experience?
I have been involved in community organisations and front-line activism, campaigning to support communities like Wollar, the Bylong Valley and Kings Plains who are facing destructive, short-term planning decisions with hugely detrimental outcomes for those communities. I'm now standing as a candidate for the first time.
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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?
This drought has been truly crippling. Farmers deserve decisive action to alleviate current suffering, but also to minimise the severity of future droughts and improve our resilience. What we do to reduce the worst impacts of climate change is hugely important to our farmers, and the Greens are currently the only party with strong enough measures for increasing renewable energy and decreasing carbon emissions. New dams won't create more water. We need to start treating water as our most precious, scarce resource, with responsible allocations and management, and innovative improvements to water efficiency and the fertility and resilience of soils.
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?
Creating greater incentives for immigrants to settle in our region would be a huge benefit for our communities. We are very lucky to have a diverse range of cultural backgrounds amongst our residents. We owe many of our fantastic food choices, art opportunities, food- and wine-growing and cultural festivals to immigrants who have moved to our area. Increasing the diversity in country towns and cities enriches the life of the region, often bringing skills that the region wouldn't otherwise have. Many immigrants to our region now support essential services with positions in our hospitals, public services, and other sectors.
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?
In the last term of Parliament the Greens delivered a resolution to months of chaos about the "backpacker tax" by negotiating a reasonable outcome that also delivered an extra $100 million for Landcare. We recognise the importance of certainty and competitiveness for sectors that are reliant on seasonal workers, including horticulture and tourism. I would want to consult and engage with local farmers to understand why they consider that a specific visa for the agriculture sector might also be needed.
How should the federal government increase the export potential of Calare's primary producers and manufacturers?
Governments can facilitate fair trading and promote exports by helping small local producers build connections with potential markets. But the crucial need right now is for the federal government to recognise the future risks of climate change to primary production. They should invest in researching, developing and building on-farm solutions for water efficiency, fertiliser efficiency, soil health, biodiversity retention and food production, and then extend these best practices across the region and country. Calare is a food bowl for local and metropolitan areas in addition to export markets. This is a precious resource which needs protecting, nurturing and long-term vision.
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?
Many government departments have been a huge source of employment in our region, such as the NSW Department of Primary Industries. These jobs have benefited our communities as a whole, but the Greens see the importance of strengthening the public sector nationwide, by reversing the job cuts and privatisation of services of past governments and expanding the capacity of public services. Governments should invest so that agencies can carry out their work in regions affected by their policies, which would include bringing more investment in climate change, agriculture and environmental research to the Central West.
Will you push for federal funding to help fund a pipeline from Ben Chifley Dam to Bathurst to help conserve water?
Pipelines affect the environmental flows in the river system, so there needs to be careful and thorough consideration about the impact any proposed pipeline could have on the health of the river and surrounding environment before going ahead. In this case, the pipeline has the potential to improve the efficiency of water transfer and help conserve our scarce water supply, so I would want to see a thorough feasibility study, including the assessment of any environmental impacts.
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 tunneling through the Blue Mountains? Should the federal government favour (and fund) one approach over the other? If so which approach should be the priority?
We need to improve transport links between Sydney and the Central West to facilitate a thriving tourism industry, safer driving and efficiently getting products to the city. But we also must protect the World Heritage Blue Mountains region, and we need investment in rails, not just roads. Investing in 21st century rail infrastructure can make public transport more accessible as well as making the roads safer for cars by taking trucks off the road. If a tunnel like the proposal from Elon Musk's Boring Company proved environmentally sound, it could deliver huge opportunities for fast rail and electric vehicles.
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?
To be fair, I think Michael McCormack was at an agricultural conference in Forbes last year. It is disappointing for locals to feel forgotten, however Australia is a big country and the PM and Opposition Leader can't get around everywhere. The much more important thing is that their representatives in our region need to actively carry our values and concerns to Canberra. I'm not sure this has been done to great effect in recent years, and that's reflected in the way people still talk about the late Peter Andren. Calare needs a stand out voice in order to be noticed.
What infrastructure do you want to see built or fixed in the electorate over the next three years?
We need new and revitalised infrastructure that is focussed on future jobs and opportunities. Our rail infrastructure desperately needs investment - we're expecting to get some 21st century trains, but they'll be slowed by 19th century tracks. We definitely don't want to get left behind on electric vehicle infrastructure, particularly as there is a whole new category of tourist emerging who looks for charging infrastructure when planning a trip. It would also be great to see some of our disused heritage infrastructure in the region, like the old Electrolux factory, brought to life again and repurposed for new and emerging industries.
What is your stance on the future of coal mining for the region?
We now know that to avoid catastrophic climate change, we need to keep coal in the ground. Besides that, the reality is that coal as a source of energy is declining worldwide, and any government that isn't planning for this transition is failing to plan for people's futures. A mix of renewables plus storage can provide reliable electricity cheaper than coal. Trying to prop up a declining industry is like trying to promote horses and carts after cars were invented. We should focus on deliberately facilitating a just transition from coal-related jobs and providing renewable energy jobs in our region.
Do you support renewable energy? If so how do you believe Calare is positioned to take advantage of the renewables market?
Absolutely, and we can achieve 100% renewables by 2030. Calare can become renewables heartland thanks to our suitability for both solar and wind projects, and existing transmission infrastructure at sites like Wallerawang. We already have a growing number of high-value projects in the region. This is a disruptive industry like the advent of the mobile phone over landline phones or of cars over horses. It's in our best interests to take full advantage of the opportunity and become leaders, from utility scale and community-owned projects through to rooftop production in households, schools, hospitals and public buildings, so that everybody benefits.
What policy do you have to reduce power bills?
The Greens will re-regulate retail energy prices and establish Power Australia, a not-for-profit, public energy retailer for renewables. The ACCC estimates that the average residential customer pays around $273 a year in retail costs and profits, which a non-profit provider can mostly eliminate. Small businesses could save between $1000 and $1500 per year. By bringing in more renewables, we're driving competition and bringing down wholesale prices. Of course, one of the best ways to reduce household power bills at the moment is to install solar on your rooftop, and we'll help households including renters to get solar on their home.
What policies do you have to deal with climate change?
This election is the climate election, because we're seeing the effects of global warming all around us. The Greens have a strong and evidence-based plan for a rapid, managed transition to a renewable energy economy. We're the only one of the major parties with a plan to phase out gas and thermal coal, including stopping Adani's Carmichael mine. Consistent with what scientists tell us is needed for a safe climate, our plan is to achieve net zero emissions by 2040, with 100% renewable energy by 2030, and a $1b fund to support the transition of workers in fossil fuel industries.
What are your plans to improve mental health services for the Calare electorate?
I believe access to health services is a human right and that mental health services must be truly universal, providing timely, evidence-based and accessible interventions and support for people of all ages with mental health issues. We need to ensure adequate funding is given to all aspects of mental health funding in the region, including outreach, prevention and early intervention, support for people with severe mental ill health, building mentally healthy workplaces and reducing stigma. Any plan must incorporate the recommendations of those in our region who are directly affected.
What do you think needs to be done to improve youth employment in the region?
Fair and equal access to education and training is the key to keeping youth employment thriving in our region. This is not just access to quality schools but supporting families for whom school attendance is adversely affected by family circumstances. The Greens have a plan for world-class lifelong learning, from extending free childcare and early childhood education through fully funding public schools to fee-free TAFE and university study. We also need employment services to be tailored to the individual needs and circumstances of young job-seekers, and to help young people prepare for and secure the jobs of the future.
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