O’Rourke defends against criticism after bailing on debate
FOR 14 years, candidates of all political persuasions and levels of government have participated in The Morning Bulletin’s candidate debates – until now.
In a historical precedent, Rockhampton’s incumbent Labor candidate Barry O’Rourke has declined to participate in tonight’s online debate between Rockhampton’s State Election candidates, citing his “appalling experience” with the way the 2017 debate was conducted.
Despite the debate being run in a different online format by different people this time around, Mr O’Rourke was unwilling to reconsider his stance.
One Nation candidate for Rockhampton, Torin O’Brien has criticised Mr O’Rourke refusal to participate, saying it denied both the voters and candidates the scrutiny they deserved as part of the democratic process.
DEMAND A LEADER! In the weakest leadership move yet, your local MP is refusing to debate the issues we all deserve answers to!Posted by Torin O'Brien for Rockhampton - Pauline Hanson's One Nation on Tuesday, 29 September 2020
“The voters of Rockhampton deserve an opportunity to hear from all candidates throughout this election, but clearly Mr. O’Rourke thinks answering questions from the public is beneath him,” Mr O’Brien said.
“If the Labor Party think Mr O’Rourke can waltz his way into another four year term in
Rockhampton, they need to think again.”
Mr O’Rourke dismissed Mr O’Brien’s criticism saying it was “load of rubbish”, and something “that’s to be expected”.
“I won’t be taking part in a debate that will be watched by few people outside a small group of political tragics who’ve already made up their mind,” Mr O’Rourke said.
“This campaign, I’ll continue doing exactly what I’ve always done and talking directly to constituents.
“Over the course of the past three years I’ve doorknocked thousands of homes in my electorate, had thousands of phone conversations or meetings with residents and visited hundreds of small businesses.
“I’ve always been available to talk to constituents, and that won’t change.”
Additionally, Mr O’Rourke said he spoke with local media outlets several times a week and had already spoken many times on the issues that had been raised.
He said everyone knew what the LNP and One Nation stood for.
“They know that Pauline Hanson tried to force open our borders in June and July and that Deb Frecklington and the LNP called for the border to be reopened more than 60 times,” he said.
“The candidates might like to explain why they think it would have been good for us to have an open border to Victoria all this time?
“I speak to local businesses all the time and so many have told me how grateful they are that the Premier stood her ground on this issue and kept our borders secure, which has allowed us to focus on getting our economy moving ahead.
“Imagine what things would be like if the LNP and One Nation had gotten their way. A second wave would have been devastating for our region on both a social and economic level.”
Unable to debate with the Labor candidate face-to-face, Mr O’Brien has challenged him one some of Rockhampton’s key issues, to which Mr O’Rourke has responded.
Delivering for Rockhampton
Mr O’Brien suggested Mr O’Rourke wasn’t participating in the debate to avoid being held accountable for his record as the member for Rockhampton.
“We all know that Barry (O’Rourke) is hiding from the reality that he has failed to deliver for
Rockhampton since being elected in 2017,” he said.
“Everyday I’m speaking to locals in our community and the message is clear: Labor have
done very little for the Rockhampton electorate and the party and its member will do
everything possible to avoid questions from the public.”
Mr O’Rourke responded saying everyone knew who he was and what had been delivered for Rockhampton during the past three years.
“We’ve seen work start on Rookwood Weir, the construction of the Capricornia Correctional Centre – which will create more than 230 additional ongoing full time jobs – the Northern Access Upgrade and Capricorn Highway Duplication to Gracemere, work start on the new art gallery and new parks and facilities thanks to the Works 4 Queensland program,” he said.
“We’ve also reopened the local QBuild depot that was closed by the LNP, opened the Office for Rural and Regional Queensland here in Rocky and invested significantly in local schools and our hospital.
“I’ve also secured $25m to upgrade Browne Park and $35m to upgrade Lawrie Street at Gracemere to ease congestion.”
Gracemere High School
Mr O’Brien said another reason why Mr O’Rourke wasn’t attending the debate was to “avoid all questions about why Gracemere is yet to receive a high school despite having three primary schools”.
Mr O’Rourke said he would love to see a high school at Gracemere but unfortunately the current numbers didn’t add up and would likely lead to worse outcomes for students in both Rocky and Gracemere.
“Unlike One Nation and the LNP, I deal with facts and, unlike One Nation, I won’t be making false promises to the people of Gracemere to try to win votes,” he said.
Mr O’Brien said Labor was hoping voters turned a blind eye to the skyrocketing crime rates and lack of law-and-order that we see in Rockhampton, “savaging businesses and the livelihood of families”.
Mr O’Rourke said his government had just announced 150 new police for CQ.
“(This) comes in addition to recent changes to the bail act that mean a young offender who is a risk to the community must be denied bail,” he said.
“We’re also introduced joint strikes teams of police and youth justice officers and are investing in prevention programs to address the root causes of crime.”
Following the Federal Government’s $23 million commitment to build Rocky Stadium, Labor last week committed $25 million towards building stage one of a stadium upgrade for Browne Park.
Mr O’Brien accused Labor of avoiding the question “why a wasteful $25 million was being spent on stage one of Browne Park”.
Mr O’Rourke said everyone knew he’d been a strong supporter of the Browne Park Stadium project.
“I’m thrilled to have secured the money. I certainly don’t believe upgrading the home of Rugby League in CQ is wasteful but if One Nation wants to run that line so be it,” he said.
“This project is ready to go and will soon be creating local jobs.
“Unlike the Victoria Park proposal, Browne Park doesn’t have issues around flood repair and ongoing maintenance costs hanging over it.”
He said we needed to wait and see if there would be a legal agreement indemnifying ratepayers from being stuck with those costs before anything could happen at the site.
“I’m also told the federal Auditor General is currently looking at the assessment process that led to the federal government’s commitment, which is another thing we’ll need to keep an eye on,” he said.
“I know there’s a lot of confusion in the community about what has gone on here.”