What’s on the minds of voters in Dunstan?

While Labor and the Liberals compete to undermine each other’s candidates for the seat of Dunstan at Saturday’s by-election, Portrush Rd noise, infill development and a St Peters billabong were top of mind for local residents who questioned the five women vying to represent them at a community forum last night.

Mar 21, 2024, updated Mar 21, 2024
Liberal candidate for Dunstan Anna Finizio and Labor's Cressida O'Hanlon plus the Greens and two other female candidates at Wednesday's St Peters Community Forum. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily. Graphic: Mikaela Balacco/InDaily.

Liberal candidate for Dunstan Anna Finizio and Labor's Cressida O'Hanlon plus the Greens and two other female candidates at Wednesday's St Peters Community Forum. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily. Graphic: Mikaela Balacco/InDaily.

All five candidates running in the by-election for the marginal Liberal seat Dunstan took questions on concerns which varied from the hyper-local to broader state issues such as ramping and crime.

Though the election forced by the resignation of MP and former Premier Steven Marshall is somewhat of a three-horse race between the two major parties and the Greens, the Animal Justice Party and Australian Family Party candidates also had their say on issues top of mind for locals living in the inner north-eastern suburbs.

All five candidates for the seat, held by the Liberal Party with a margin of just 0.5 per cent, are women. Each gave a short speech introducing themselves and their main policies, and spoke in the order they will appear on Saturday’s ballot papers, starting with Animal Justice Party candidate Frankie Bray.

Bray, a mother of two with a PhD in animal law, teaches at Adelaide University. She said she was drawn to a life of advocacy after hearing a podcast – though didn’t name which one – and repeatedly clarified that she “would not pretend to be across” all her party’s policies.

Labor’s Cressida O’Hanlon was clear on her campaign’s priorities – largely the government’s talking points – and said the four main issues for Dunstan were urban infill, protection of heritage, traffic and the suburban tree canopy. She committed to pushing for a full traffic study if she were elected.

Labor candidate Cressida O’Hanlon at the St Peters Community Forum. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily.

Greens candidate Katie McCusker stepped up in bright green trousers and said she was passionate about the electorate’s tree canopy and pointed to her party’s commitment to planting 2.5 million trees in Adelaide over the next decade. Getting the park lands onto the state heritage list and “urgently” building more social housing stock were her other priorities.

Liberal Party candidate Anna Finizio had the shortest opening presentation of the lot and joked that she didn’t need to divulge her entire CV: “You might’ve read it in The Advertiser”. This being a reference to the Malinauskas Labor Government giving the publication Finizio’s job application for a position in then-Opposition legal affairs spokesman Kyam Maher’s office.

The local environment, heritage protection for the park lands and “long-term, evidence-based, real, systemic, generational change” were her priorities, she told the crowd.

Finally, independent candidate Nicole Hussey from the Australian Family Party – a party established by former Family First Senator Bob Day – had her say. Hussey said she had a PhD in molecular genetics, was now a teacher, and that families were the bedrock of our society. “Families need fathers” and “Social media kills people” were two highlight quotes from her six-minute speech.

But real insight into what is on the mind of local voters came during the Q&A session, which made up the bulk of the one-hour-45-minute forum.

Crystal from Kensington said the tree canopy was not equitable across Dunstan. She asked what candidates would do to advocate for better tree coverage in certain suburbs. Finizio said she’d fight for a $200 million Greener Neighbourhoods grant to be reinstated, while O’Hanlon said her party was bringing in new policy to map the tree canopy and fill gaps. The Greens and AJP candidates said they’d advocate for better tree coverage in Dunstan, while Hussey blamed the problem on development being forced onto inner suburbs.

Social housing was Tim from Kensington’s main issue, who said it was in a “deplorable state, compared with the 1970s and 1980s”. O’Hanlon toed the party line and said the Malinauskas government was the first to increase social housing stock in 30 years, while Finizio pointed to Dr Kent’s Paddock as an example of social housing “in desperate need of maintenance”.

“If I’m elected on Saturday, I will be pushing for that because the tenants and the whole community want to see… tenants living in safe situations,” she said.

Liberal candidate Anna Finizio at the St Peters Community Forum. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily.

Problems with the St Peters billabong were raised by two different residents. The nature preserve at Linear Park is facing encroachment from nearby landowners, they said, and it was “not possible to walk around the billabong”. O’Hanlon said she was aware of the issue and said it was the state government’s responsibility to step in if the local council was not addressing the issue. McCusker from the Greens wanted to make changes to planning laws to prevent further encroachment and would look at an urban forests review to address the problem.

Larger state issues were also raised, including the hot topic of the by-election: ramping. Warren Jones – not from Dunstan – asked Finizio what her party would do about ramping that the Malinauskas government was not already doing. She said health was a “passion of mine”, but Warren was not impressed: “Thank you Anna, but I didn’t hear anything new.”

A student in the crowd was concerned with crime “getting worse”, even in St Peters: “There’s even been a break-in at our beloved St Peter’s Bakehouse. It’s an absolute travesty”. This led to a discussion about the criminal age of responsibility, and both the Greens and AJP candidates said they would push to raise it to 14. For Hussey, the solution was “the family”.

Finally, Terry from Kensington raised the consistent issue of trucks on Portrush Road. Finizio said she would chase funding for a solution, while O’Hanlon stressed the government was doing a feasibility study for the Greater Adelaide Bypass.

The question drew the most controversial statement of the night out of O’Hanlon, who accused the other candidates of over-promising to residents: “Any politician or candidate who says to you ‘we can get all the trucks off Portrush Road’ is prepared to look you in the face and lie”.

After weeks of claimed scandal, hype and bluster from the Labor and Liberal parties, the fate of the five Dunstan candidates will come down to the votes of local residents, and quite possibly local issues.

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