Member for Macquarie, Susan Templeman MP, is fighting to give her Western Sydney community “a fair go”. In achieving that aim, the highly marginal nature of her seat is actually a help, not a hindrance, she tells Makayla Muscat.
Since entering politics eleven years ago, Susan Templeman has been committed to driving change for people living in the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury areas, on the western periphery of Greater Sydney.
The former journalist and small business owner was elected to federal parliament in 2016 and was re-elected in 2019, but she currently represents the most marginal seat in the country, held by just 0.19 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.
Instead of seeing this as problematic, the Labor MP chooses to see it as a positive.
“As the most marginal Member of Parliament I think that I have a particularly attuned ear to what people are feeling,” says Templeman, who will stand again at this year’s federal election, which must be held no later than Monday, 21 May.
“What I want to achieve for this particular seat of Macquarie, representing the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury, is that we have a voice no matter who is in government – and that’s what I’ve worked very hard to do from opposition for the last two terms,” she tells The Sentinel.
Templeman believes the next election will be a pivotal moment in history for Australians to decide if they want a government that will take serious action on climate change, prepare for natural disasters, improve mental health services and ensure all Australians have access to a good telecommunications system.
“Locally, we have so many challenges as a peri-urban community. I’d like to see us strengthen the support for agriculture, so we can maintain a viable and vibrant agricultural sector in the Hawkesbury, as well as ensuring there’s access to training for people close to their homes, so they can learn the skills they want and need to be able to work,” she says.
“My vision for the area is that we cannot just live in a beautiful place … We need to establish businesses and sustain businesses locally with protections for our beautiful World Heritage Area,” she adds, underscoring her desire to build a strong local economy while avoiding overdevelopment.
Western Sydney International Airport
One of the key development flashpoints affecting Macquarie is the new Western Sydney International Airport, also known as the Nancy-Bird Walton International Airport.
While the airport, currently under construction at Badgerys Creek, is not located within the Division of Macquarie, its impact on Macquarie will be profound, and Templeman is focused on getting protections for the community to reduce its impacts on their quality of life.
The airport is expected to open in 2026 and will be one of the few in the world located next to a World Heritage Area. Templeman is particularly concerned about how flights travelling over the Blue Mountains could impact plant growth and animal activity long-term.
Prior to the federal election in 2016, Labor committed to protecting existing homes from night-time noise between 11pm and 5am and ensuring that there is no single merge point for aircrafts.
“It’s a really bad site for Western Sydney from an environmental perspective and a noise perspective,” she says. “I think we will pay a very high price for people having a shorter drive to the airport.”
“For me, one of the best protections would be not having the airport operating twenty-four hours a day. If it’s good enough for the east, why isn’t it good enough for the west?”
One of the key arguments for the airport is ‘the economy’. Templeman believes education is key to a healthy, robust economy and she is keen to highlight that, if elected, Labor plans to tackle skill shortages and drive future economic growth by providing 465,000 free TAFE places.
She says the vocational education system needs strengthening so people can easily enrol in courses and become trained in industries where there are the greatest skill shortages.
“What I’m hearing from people about TAFE right now is they want to go, they want to do it, and they’ve even got employers that want to employ them, but they cannot get into a course,” she says.
Under a Labor government, Australians will be able to access training in areas such as tourism and hospitality, aged care, disability care, trades and construction, resources, digital and cyber security, new energy and advanced manufacturing.
According to Templeman, upskilling Australians should be a priority, and these new places will help rebuild industries hit hardest by the pandemic.
“TAFE in NSW is in a really bad state; we don’t think it’s too late to save it, but we know governments are going to have to be really serious about that,” she says.
Improved mental health services
Another key policy platform for Templeman is the issue of mental health. Since her inaugural speech in 2016, Templeman has emphasised that the fight for better mental health services is personal.
She says her daughter Phoebe’s first experience of mental illness took a toll on her family, and that she knows first-hand the difference good local services can make to young people.
As such, the Labor MP has made a plea to the Morrison Government to allocate funding for a local Headspace centre in the Hawkesbury in this year’s budget.
Headspace, which provides information, support and services to young people, aged 12-25 years – particularly in the field of mental health – currently has just one centre in Macquarie, located in Katoomba.
“We need mental health services to deal with the trauma of the disasters we’ve had, and to be better prepared mentally for the things that might come, and that’s why I have for so many years talked about the need for Headspace for young people,” Templeman says.
“We now have one in the Blue Mountains, and it is doing its best on the budget that it has to provide services, but it could do so much more with additional support.
“In the Hawkesbury, there is still a great big gap. I am still calling on behalf of a community that knows it needs a Headspace. It is something we should have seen a long time ago.”
The Religious Discrimination Bill
Not unrelated to the issue of mental health is the federal government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.
Opponents of the bill say it privileges and prioritises religious rights to the detriment of LGBTQI+ people (particularly young trans people), women, minority faith communities and people with disabilities.
Drawing the ire of many in the abovementioned groups, Labor supported the bill – although their support was conditional on certain amendments, including stronger protections for students on the grounds of gender identity.
Templeman acknowledges and apologises for the distress this caused, particularly for the LGBTQI+ community.
As a passionate advocate for mental health, she believes it is unforgivable that Prime Minister Scott Morrison was willing to single out a vulnerable minority group who are reportedly fifteen times more likely to commit suicide.
“It was a very difficult piece of legislation to tackle, and I know how hurt people were by the debate,” Templeman says.
“What we did as a Labor caucus was agree on an approach that allowed us to say what we thought, which was it is terrible legislation, but also to try and amend it,” she says.
“It is not sitting, waiting to be debated anymore, because the actions we took in the Lower House that resulted in amendments to the legislation led the government to make a decision. We’re very pleased that the Prime Minister determined he was not going to proceed.”
According to Templeman, transgender children are not protected enough in legislation and a Labor government would introduce legislation to extend their protection, if elected.
They also plan to extend the Anti-Discrimination Act to provide additional protection for people who are concerned about religious freedom.
As the Deputy Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network (NBN), Templeman is disappointed about the inequity of the NBN rollout and plans to improve access to the technology if Labor is elected.
She believes Labor’s fundamental value is fairness, and says she is committed to ensuring people are given a fair opportunity to reach their potential, regardless of their postcode, socioeconomic status, or physical and mental health.
“I worry when people think that politics is made up of ‘politicians’, because I just see myself as a mum, a daughter of someone in aged care and former small business owner who recognises that all our lives are different and we all have different needs,” Templeman says.
“What I think we can achieve with a Labor government is a government that actually cares about people and makes decisions that are not only economically sensible, but also improve the standard of living.”
Makayla Muscat is the features editor of the Sydney Sentinel.
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