In this Q&A series, we speak with Newcastle’s federal candidates to find out what they believe are the most pressing issues, how they plan to deliver change and why they want to be your number one vote on May 21.

In the third instalment, we meet Australian Labor Party candidate, Sharon Claydon.

Sharon Claydon is the incumbent Federal Member for Newcastle and has held office for nine years. She is committed to bolstering the national healthcare system, reducing the cost of living and ensuring Australians have access to affordable housing. Women’s safety and domestic violence funding are among her top priorities.

Q. What do you think is the most important issue facing the Newcastle electorate? How do you plan to address this?

A. Coming out of the global pandemic, my priority is strengthening our universal healthcare system, Medicare, and saving the GP Access After Hours Service.

On Christmas Eve, one GP Access clinic was permanently closed, and the hours of the remaining clinics were decreased—it’s horrifying as I don’t know a family who hasn’t used that service.

I’ll also address the recruitment of doctors to the Hunter. The government changed how they define the Hunter Region, which means we don’t get to take advantage of incentives to attract doctors here. These shortages add to the mix of healthcare difficulties our region is experiencing.

Q. What will your top local priorities be in Parliament? What are your top priorities regarding the wider domestic sphere? 

A. I intend to start tackling other issues, such as the cost of living. Medicare assists in those cost of living issues as it provides affordable access to quality healthcare. I also want to make childcare cheaper.

Housing is another issue that is consistently raised with me—it’s not just people struggling to get into the market, but a lack of affordable rental availability. Labor commits to building 30,000 new social and affordable homes and has announced a $10 billion Housing Australia Future Fund, which will help attract private investment into some of those builds. Some housing will be allocated to different groups, such as women and children fleeing domestic violence.

Nationally, there’s a big commitment from Labor to invest in manufacturing and renewable energies. If Australia is going to become a renewable energy superpower, we need to do some serious national reform work. 

Q. What skills, qualifications and background would guide you as a Federal Member of Parliament?

A. I’ve had nine years of experience as a Member of Parliament, and I’ll be bringing all of that to bear.

It’s taught me a lot. But, of course, I’ve been in Opposition that whole time, but I’ve worked very hard to build good relationships with ministers in other parties as well. 

Before entering Parliament, I was an anthropologist—I’ve long worked in remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberly region, worked in the community-based disability service sector, and served on local government as an elected councillor. So it’s a deep commitment to building communities that have been my life focus and something that I continue to do—I like to make sure communities are strong, vibrant and inclusive. 

Q. What differentiates you from the opposing parties?

A. While I might not have personally met some of the people on the ticket, I can only applaud people who wish to participate in the democratic system. 

Eight candidates are running in Newcastle – it’s an important part of democracy, and hopefully, candidates go with good intent to do good things for our community.

Q. Who are you preferencing and why?

A. I will preference the Animal Justice Party and the Greens before the other candidates. Ultimately, it’s a decision for each voter to make. I am supporting these two parties as I am very challenged by the stances of other parties who are anti-vax. I will place One Nation last.

Q. Reflecting on your past term, is there anything you would like to change or improve on?

A. I’m deeply saddened that we still don’t have a strong independent anti-corruption commission. We had many opportunities to do that, but that never happened despite the Morrison Government voicing commitment for it last term. 

I am horrified that the Government did not honour their commitment to women’s safety— it makes my blood boil when the PM voices an interest in women’s safety because I can think of so many occasions where he failed his word.

If you want to see justice and a commitment to fixing the housing crisis, a strong manufacturing industry, secure jobs with decent pay, a strong Medicare system and a change to the aged care crisis, then we have to change the Government.

Federal governments have the opportunity to change the nation, and that’s where big reform can happen.

For more information on the priorities and plans of the Australian Labor Party, visit their website.

Maia O’Connor

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