Lone candidate comes knocking on chamber's door
WITH the federal election only weeks away, president of the Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce Martin Wells is surprised only one candidate has reached out to them.
Independent candidate for the seat of Cowper Rob Oakeshott met with Mr Wells over four weeks ago to talk about how he could best assist the business community.
Mr Wells is surprised the other candidates haven't done the same.
"We are very buoyed by his level of interest in what we are doing.
"You would have thought with only weeks to go before the election the other candidates would have wanted to engage with us before now," Mr Wells said.
The chamber will be lobbying for several key economic opportunities for the Coffs Coast to increase visitation, jobs, and business sustainability and Mr Oakeshott has responded to each of their points.
Mr Oakehott supports funding the Southern Cross University allied health expansion.
"I do think the education strategy is central to jobs and young people within most regional communities and I see enormous opportunity in the Coffs region to build on the good work done to date," Mr Oakeshott said.
The chamber is also calling for further decentralisation of Federal departments to the Coffs Coast and Mr Oakeshott has identified one sector for particular attention.
"I am particularly interested in helping make Coffs the marine/maritime sciences capital of Australia and already think the foundations are in place for this to happen. The opportunities to expand on this are jumping out," Mr Oakeshott said.
Extension of the 'fast rail' network northern corridor so it terminates at Coffs and not Port Macquarie is another key focus for the chamber.
Mr Oakeshott says this is a good idea but is long way off.
"It seems to have become the pre-election go-to item for political parties trying to excite the entire north coast with one announcement.
"Even though I support the concept, I am a cynic about the real commitment to the project from Government. I want the Coffs Bypass finished before we get another 30 years of expectation management and promises on another project."
In relation to the chamber's call for decommissioned naval vessels to be scuttled off the coast to provide diving sanctuaries Mr Oakeshott says bring it on.
"These have been done before in other locations and by all accounts are proving successful."
The chamber is also seeking a commitment to extend the runway at Coffs Harbour Airport and dedicate specific staff to facilitate international status for local exports and inbound tourism/sporting events.
"Regarding a runway extension I want to have a good conversation with the local Indigenous Elders about their concerns. I need to understand what the sensitivities are and whether there are any work-around options.
"In principle, I strongly support a thickened and expanded runway as well as an activated business park - including thoughts about how this links to education strategies."
Mr Oakeshott says Coffs Harbour could potentially position itself as the jump-off point for Pacific Islands travel.
"As a result of my on-going work in the Pacific Islands, I bring strong contacts within the Governments of that region," he said.
With almost one in four young people out of work, the chamber is calling on candidates to make an enhanced commitment to apprenticeship training, business tax off-sets and wage subsidies.
Mr Oakeshott says it is important for all levels of government to work together to address the youth unemployment crisis.
"This crucial challenge in the Coffs/Nambucca region was a major factor in me deciding to stand at this election."
The Coffs Harbour Chamber of Commerce is waiting for the federal election date to be locked in before they set a date for their meet the candidates forum.