Rob Oakeshot – Federal Member for Lyne

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With things heating up in Federal Politics and an election date annouced, we catch up with Federal Member Rob Oakeshot in the FOCUS Studio. Below is just an excerpt of the full interview available via the QR code.

Federal politics aside, and we’ll get to that, you’ve had a lot of big wins for the area. Tell us a bit about them …
Two universities coming to town is big. Thee airports; Kempsey, Port Macquarie and Taree all have funding and are all in the process of rolling out. There is about $30 million of road funding into the Manning. The NBN is rolling out in the Manning. The hospitals at Kempsey and Port Macquarie; that’s $190 million of hospital funding. Foreshore works in Port Macquarie, in Taree; they have $2 million each. Cattai Wetlands in the Manning got $2 million, and that’s a really fantastic project that sits nicely alongside the funding for the Lake Innes reversion project that’s currently going on. Pacific Highway funding: we brought forward the Port Macquarie to Kempsey section of the Pacific Highway. The biggest bridge in Australia is just about to be completed. Things like the Mental Health Headspace program has come to town.

Do you want me to keep going? (Laughs.)
Now, if you weren’t the member, would we have got all those things?
That’s a questions for others to answer.

You haven’t announced you’re running yet, but assuming you are, the bookies have you at $10. Should we bet on you?

(Laughs.) That’s up to you! I think it’s fair to say that I’m the underdog, even after 15 years in public life. I have no problems being at $10, at all. Anyone who lives here and knows this area well would say in a two horse race at the moment, that is some pretty rough odds. By all means if you want to, get your money on. I’ll keep focused on doing the job. Personally, I don’t like betting on politics. I think it’s incredibly dangerous and a bit of a reflection of some of the stuff that’s going on in sport at the moment; it’s not helpful.

You’ve been in politics for 16 years. What have been the highs and lows?
The highs are always the results based projects locally. And as well, I would add to that it’s a very rare privilege in this business to go inside a lot of people’s lives and hopes and be in a trusted environment where you work on some very personal things at times. They’re the highs: when you can help one person with one particular thing that is their business and something they’re struggling with.
The lows are the whole walking dartboard thing. I struggle with that. I know a lot of people try and say I love the limelight, but it’s not a comfortable and natural space for me. That takes getting used to. Talkback radio hosts tearing you apart. You never get used to that, nor do you ask for any of that.

Assuming you’re running, what sort of message would you give to the electorate about going forward … what your plans would be?
Results beat insults. There is a track record of results in the local area. I think that the campaign that’s going to be run against me, if I do run, will be one saying, “You don’t know what you get with an Independant; you do know what you get with the Nationals”. And I agree with that. You do know what you get. It’s not much. There is 60 years that they had an opportunity to really build this area, build communities and make us a regional leadership location. I’m happy to match all of that in the 4 years that we have been trying a different approach to government. We’ve been very successful in some of the results we’ve had locally.
As well, in the 44th Parliament I think there is some unfinished business on some national reform issues. It’s not just the local (issues). Comprehensive tax reform has to happen. Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people is going to happen in the next 2 years. I’d love to be part of that discussion and help drive that one home. The education policy nationally, picking up on some of the good stuff we’ve been doing locally as an example, is something where we’ve had some wins and would love to do more work on. There are just three national issues where there is plenty of unfinished work, and we want to keep driving it.

On to climate change policy. I really don’t have my head around it and would guess a lot of people don’t. Try and bring it back locally; what are some of the changes we might see?
The first thing I would encourage everyone to do is jump on the internet and hit the Tax Office tax list and see if you can find the word Carbon. It doesn’t exist. So try and put to bed some of that mythology that this is a Carbon Tax. It is a market and a trading scheme within a market.
What’s a really good practical example of that locally would be the Port Macquarie Tip, where it’s close over the next 5 years of being over the 25,000 tonnes per annum emissions. So local Council has some decisions to make. They either pay as the consequence of doing nothing, go over that limit and they have to buy permits out of the scheme based on the market price. Or, they innovate. And that’s exactly what they’re doing.
The Council is now looking at bringing forward a project for methane capture and storage, which gets them away from that 25,000 tonnes per annum limit and stops them from having to pay that premium – and in fact, allows them to make some money from that capital investment in generating electricity and potentially covering the tip’s electricity costs.
It brings forward innovation and investment to avoid a price point and having to pay a premium as a consequence. The global good gets served by doing that, but also there is some local good as well, because you’ll have some cheaper tip rates.

What’s a big project you’re working on locally that we might not know about?
In Port Macquarie, the testing lab is right next to the sewage pits, so you can’t actually do much testing of things like food. So we’re working on trying to move that and get a big upgrade. There is an application for about $4 million in with the Federal Government on that.
Likewise in Taree, a big project is the equivalent of a university campus right in the middle of the Taree CBD – so a $5 – 7 million project right in the heart of town to upgrade education facilities there.
They’re the two biggest I’m working on and hope to bring home.

Thanks Rob.

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This article can be found in issue 88 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus

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