Occasionally we are fortunate to get a politician you can really trust, regardless of which party they are from. A perfect example is Liberal politician the late Liz Kernohan. She was clearly a defender of the Camden community ahead of party politics – much to her own detriment as she admitted in her final speech to the NSW parliament.
As State elections swung between Labor and Liberal, the community stayed true to Liz and increased her margin every time because, equally, she stayed true to our electorate. At the end of the day, the party she was aligned to didn’t matter.
Sadly, I can’t say I feel the same about the current Liberal candidate. Which is a concern, because with the Liberal Party’s 18% margin in Camden, Peter Sidgreaves is almost unstoppable when it comes to being the next State MP for Camden.
There are a number of reasons I struggle with the whole idea of him as a local representative who will put our community ahead of party politics.
It has been suggested in numerous articles that Mr Sidgreaves colluded with current MP Chris Patterson to exploit his own party’s pre-selection processes to avoid the intent of new Liberal party rules and become the only nominated Liberal candidate. If true, this is clearly a case of putting his own interests even before those of his local Liberal branch.
In a recent article in South West Voice, Mr Sidgreaves said his conscience was clear over the manner of his pre-selection saying, “In terms of the timing, Chris Patterson was actually in London at that time. I wasn’t in communication with him at all, and I put my nomination in knowing that if Chris didn’t step down I would withdraw my nomination.’’
However, reports in the Sydney Morning Herald claim Chris Patterson was a referee on the nomination, along with Mr Patterson’s staffer Debby Dewbery. As far as I can see this has not been publicly challenged.
Mr Sidgreaves could have overcome the concern about his preselection by stepping down and nominating again. This would have allowed local Liberal members to throw their hat in the ring. It’s a genuine shame for democracy that the local Liberal branch did not have the opportunity to have such a competitive pre-selection.
Secondly, as a follower of Camden Council since the last election in 2016, Mr Sidgreaves’ voting record suggests he will vote primarily according to agreed party positions. On every occasion that I could find since the 2016 Council elections he has voted with the bloc of Liberals who dominate council.
By contrast, most Liberals in that bloc have at one time or another stepped away from other Liberal members to vote on matters as individuals. Every Labor councillor has broken ranks multiple times from their own party bloc and both independents have also shifted to break voting blocs. Mr Sidgreaves and only one other Liberal councillor are the only two to have voted as part of the Liberal collective every single time.
Mr Sidgreaves record on taking part in community committees through the Council is also a matter of concern. On September 27, 2016, the Liberal councillors managed to seize the vast majority of committee positions. At the time I noted how they gave themselves all the plum positions with Mr Sidgreaves finding a place on eight committees. At the time, it appeared there was an active intention to play politics and exclude Labor and one independent councillor from key positions on important committees by taking as many of these spots as possible.
A year and a half later, on March 27, 2018, Mr Sidgreaves resigned from six of those committees following a post on Camden Council Watch that he had failed to turn up to the past eight meetings of the Belgenny Farm Trust. He was the only Council member on the Trust committee. His resignation from six committees suggested he didn’t have time for them and that playing politics using the Liberal voting bloc 18 months ago had led to a direct negative impact on the community committees.
That said: his work on Camden Traffic Committee, which he did turn up for, was excellent.
And then of course there are his views on the concentration of development and his belief, expressed in the candidates forum held at the Greater Narellan Business Chamber that infrastructure in our area had kept up with population growth, although “it might be a little late with schools”.
To me this statement is pure party politics. I find it hard to believe that any one honestly believes infrastructure in our area is up to scratch unless they are following orders from party headquarters. The list of local infrastructure issues is long and concerning, aside from schools that were overcapacity from the day they opened, we have chronic parking issues at nearby train stations, a rail line that stops on the edge of our electorate, a 10-year delay since Spring Farm Parkway was promised, abysmal public transport options, some of the longest hospital waiting lists in NSW and more.
The fact that the Liberals have made promises to address all of these shortfalls in this election clearly shows they are only now playing catch-up with this infrastructure.
In short, the record of playing political games and toeing the party line from the man most likely to be our next MP concerns me greatly. Hopefully I am wrong and, should Peter Sidgreaves win on Saturday, he turns out to be the champion for this area our community needs.
Of course, it's impossible to guarantee that Labor, the Greens or any of the other single issue parties will not be beholden to party pressures that make them political footballs rather community representatives.
Perhaps as Camden Advertiser's Jeff Mcgill suggested a few weeks back, maybe it's time for someone completely independent of party politics to be given a go. Camden and Wollondilly both have options on that front.