As the Bega by-election approaches, candidates have been busy sharing their vision and priorities with the electorate.
On February 2, the Nature Conservation Council of NSW hosted an online forum for candidates to discuss issues around climate change, native forest logging and marine parks.
The NCC held the forum in collaboration with the Coastwatchers Association and South East Region Conservation alliance.
While clearly interest groups with a clear agenda, the event gave several Bega candidates the opportunity to outline their position on several key topics.
In attendance were Labor's Michael Holland, Greens candidate Peter Haggar, independent Jeffrey Hawkins and Karin Geiselhart from the Sustainable Australia Party. Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs sent her apologies and a statement that was read out by forum moderator Jacqui Mumford, NCC acting chief executive.
Each of the attendees were canvassed for their position on three key questions - emission reduction targets; support for a transition to plantation timber; and development and expansion of marine sanctuaries.
All four candidates were largely in agreement across each of the topic areas, to varying degrees.
While Dr Holland and Dr Geiselhart both supported the push for net zero emissions by 2050, Mr Haggar said reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2040 was achievable and "actually quite conservative".
"The first thing is to fix the grid. There are a lot of panels on roofs, but the grid is not set up to make effective use of them," Mr Haggar said.
"We need to start acting - that's the problem."
Dr Holland agreed that action on climate change was "urgent".
"There's a critical need to take action as soon as possible," he said.
"At the same time we can maximise job creation and job transitioning through innovation.
"There's already a lot of community work going on. We need to encourage further use of renewables, electric vehicles and the infrastructure that goes along with it."
Mr Hawkins said an emissions target "must be realistic and must be sustainable".
He was also supportive of a transition away from native forest logging to plantation timber, but questioned what timbers would be most effective.
Mr Hawkins said it was his understanding pine plantations had only a five-year viability so "we need to look at something more sustainable and long term".
Dr Geiselhart said she supported the need to transition into "regenerative timber", to protect old growth forest, and that plantations needed to be done in a way that kept environmental protections front of mind.
Dr Holland acknowledged the importance of Forestry and that it supported many jobs in the region, "at least 200 directly and many more indirectly".
"But our forests have suffered [from the bushfires] 80 per cent damage, 60 per cent of that severely damaged," he said.
"It needs to be recovered in the first place and then protected.
"There is a Natural Resources Commission which examined forests and impacts on wood supply and the environment - it's currently a secret and I would call on its release and action on its recommendations."
Action is just what Mr Haggar and the Greens were advocating too.
"We've been talking about transitions for 40 years. The longer we go the faster the transitions need to be," he said.
Mr Haggar claimed in his response that "all Black Summer fires on the South Coast started in native forest", including the Badja fire being sparked by a lighting strike in a recently logged coupe.
"Transitioning slowly is no longer an option - this is a crisis and we need to react."
As for support for marine sanctuaries, Dr Holland led off by saying he "absolutely" supported the marine parks and their role in conservation and job creation.
He said they were a positive legacy of a Labor government, but that subsequent decisions had seen marine parks "starved of funds and stripped of staff" and that they had been used "as a political football".
Mr Hawkins said that he would be directed by experts and evidence, and said collaboration was key.
Mr Haggar agreed, saying marine sanctuary zones need to follow not just the science, but local knowledge - in particular that of the region's Traditional owners.
When we talk about being on Yuin country that when the rubber hits the road. They want to be involved in the solution. It needs consultation with people on the ground.
"It's time to rethink our relationship with our oceans and forests."
There was also time for a question from the online forum's audience that touched on single use plastics.
Dr Geiselhart said she hated sorting her rubbish realising the majority of it was single use plastic packaging.
"All packaging needs to be compostable, recyclable or bloody edible," she said.
"The packaging industry is out of control and needs to be stopped in its tracks."
Dr Holland said Labor supported the elimination if single use plastics, adding that it needed to be driven by the community in order to get industry to change its ways.
Mr Haggar said he already was committed to eliminating single use plastics, with none used at his busy cafe in Bega. He said initiatives like FOGO in the Bega Valley Shire made compostable packaging a lot more viable.
Similar to emissions reductions and forestry, he said most transition plans from major parties were "too long and too slow".
"We need to act now. We have the capability, but like everything else it needs political will."
That was reiterated by Mr Hawkins..
"I've long asked the question why are we still using single use plastics. We have the technology to use and reuse. Like Peter said we need the political will. It's long overdue."
The full forum has been shared on YouTube and is available to watch here.
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