With the Wagga byelection being held on September 8, we’re asking candidates to share their vision for the electorate. Independent Joe McGirr has the number three spot on the ballot paper.
Tell me about yourself?
I’ve trained as a medical practitioner. I’m married. My wife is an orthopaedic surgeon. We have four children.
In Wagga, I originally worked in the emergency department.
I did that for five years and then I was actually asked to run the Wagga Base Hospital as a general manager, so that began my career in administration and I worked in the health service, and the area health service, up until 2010.
I actually worked for quite a while around establishing the new Wagga Base Hospital. I remember talking about that with the area health service chief in 2000.
By 2010, it had barely progressed, and I recall a decision being made that Tamworth would go ahead and I remember thinking at the time ‘that’s probably something to do with marginal seats’ and so that was actually part of what spurred me to stand as an independent.
I thought that unless the seat was in play, as they say, and that there was skin in the game for the local politicians and the government, that we would keep getting put off.
So I ran in 2011 and was not successful, but we did get a fair bit of the primary vote, which was gratifying. I think that was a good result.
I’m getting a feel that there’s a sense people feel we could make a change.Joe McGirr, independent candidate
Many people consider your 2011 campaign to have been very successful, even though you lost, because after that Wagga got a new hospital.
People say that, and I think the community had done a tremendous amount of work for a hospital when it was clear things weren’t progressing.
There had been real leadership from the council and from doctors. Real leadership, at the time, from the community.
To me, it was the community. The Labor party was not popular at all. They suffered at that 2011 election and the hospital was a big issue.
So we got 30 per cent of the primary vote. I think what it did was it got the government and the local politicians focused on the issue, but I think that was just a small bit on top of a huge community effort.
Why are you running again now? What’s renewed your interest?
I was disappointed with the chain of events that lead to this election. I was disappointed that first we had a member who resigned under not the best circumstances, a delay for that resignation to take place, and then a decision that this was ‘a Liberal seat’, almost as though it was owned by the Liberals.
So then, you have a situation where a Liberal member leaves, another one comes in, business as usual.
I think that worries me because it speaks about a level of complacency and I think that’s dangerous for a community because once you get comfortable, then you slide back, and that worries me.
So, I wasn’t happy that had happened and then there was a snap election. A number of people approached me. They thought it was the right time and that having a credible alternative would send a message.
If you’ve got a safe, comfortable seat then it doesn’t have the same focus. It just doesn’t.
So it’s important to create that doubt because that gets a focus on delivery.
What are you hearing from voters? Is there a certain level of disenchantment?
I think there is a certain level of disenchantment, I think people are disappointed with pork barrelling, the buying of votes.
I don’t know what these issues with Canberra did. I’m not sure how that’s going to play out because there was already a level of disaffection here.
I am hearing that and I’m getting a feel that there’s a sense people feel we could make a change. That now is the time.
What are people telling you they’re worried about?
I know everyone says health is not a big issue, we’ve got the hospital.
But the Tumut Hospital is a big issue, and actually ongoing funding for health is an issue. People do feel staffing levels are not right at the hospital and they do think services aren’t fully used.
I do think there are needs in the community. People talk a lot about roads.
There’s an issue around the bypass for Wagga, but also an interesting issue – an important issue – is around community safety.
And the issue that comes out of that is can we do more for young people in terms of jobs in the area, and can we do more for their education and link it to a job, so they’re not at a loose end and looking for something to do, but are invested in the community?
I think people are also very keen to see the region grow and the intermodal is clearly a big opportunity for that.
What are you hearing about ice and drugs in our community?
I hear from mental health and other staff that it’s a huge issue in Wagga and in regional Australia.
Clearly we’ve got to support our law enforcement authorities, and that’s clearly a big feature, and we need to ensure we’ve got the treatment and rehabilitation services in place.
If you win the seat, how confident are you that you would be able to deliver for Wagga?
If I were to be elected, the seat suddenly becomes one they are going to want, and it’s going to be important for me to establish relationships with the government.
The government will want to deliver on their promises because they’re going to want to win the seat back.