“Health and education” are the two fundamental reasons Kate McGrath is running as the Labor candidate for Tamworth against sitting Nationals MP Kevin Anderson.
The Gunnedah Shire councillor has always worked serving her community, working in disability, aged care, and early childhood education, as well as being a founding member of the Gunnedah Community Roundtable.
McGrath sees running for State as a logical next step. Raised in Manilla from a working-class background, McGrath was a natural fit for Labor.
Coming from Gunnedah, with three kids, McGrath has experienced the regional healthcare crisis firsthand, having fronted the Rural Health Inquiry.
“It really has to be dealt with at a systems level – at a state level,” McGrath says.
“Pay people a fair wage – ambos and nurses should not be regularly taking strike action. These are the people who got us through a pandemic.”
With two children in Gunnedah’s local high school, McGrath notes the irony of the Minister for Education and Early Learning, Sarah Mitchell, is a Gunnedah local herself.
“That says it all, doesn’t it? She has a house in town.”
“We’ve got something like 30% of teachers leaving in the first five years – at the other end, we have people retiring much earlier than they would have otherwise, because the system is in such disarray.”
McGrath thinks that teachers are, like nurses, blamed entirely too much for the systemic problems faced in education – that it’s easiest to blame those on the frontline.
“At some point you have to ask what is going on? We’re getting to a point where if you’re a person who cares about your child’s education often you have no choice but to send them into the private system, because the public system has been so depleted.”
Another concern is the transition to renewables, with Gunnedah being a major source of both coal and coal seam gas, and McGrath wants more government involvement in the process, especially with helping workers in the extractive industries transition into new jobs as mines and gas projects close.
“I think if the government is really present in that space, it means a lot of the existing or the proposed government procurement around things being Australian, being Indigenous owned, things being locally owned, is in play a bit more.”
“As a person who lives in Gunnedah, where we are entirely dependent on groundwater, I’m suspicious of any kind of extractive industry that could compromise the current artesian basin,” McGrath says, but also says that current renewables projects could be handled better with more community consultation and agency.
“A lot of the criticism around the way the renewable energy zones have rolled out is that it’s a lot of foreign owned transnational companies that are putting these renewable projects in place.”
“They don’t necessarily have the local and cultural knowledge to ensure that that’s been done effectively and in a way that’s going to benefit the community as much as potential shareholders.”
McGrath says that Labor’s promise to create an independent Agriculture Commissioner would both ensure that land disputes would be managed appropriately and that it would be a “doubling down” to ensure the independence of the Planning Commission, but admits that it’s too late to stop the Santos Gas Pipeline.
“It’s done,” McGrath says, “Matt Kean signed off on it. It won’t be undone.”
“But that does not mean future extraction will be permitted on the Plains.”
McGrath understands that the Tamworth electorate is an untargeted seat for Labor, and that unseating Kevin Anderson would be difficult – but necessary, especially as it seems like Labor will be taking government.
“Kevin’s very personable, and a very good communicator – he’s been part of the government for twelve years,” McGrath says.
“He’s held ministries within that government, and he’s not been particularly effective. I don’t think he will be even a tiny bit effective in opposition.”
“I think the sad reality is that changing the government will likely benefit the state as a whole, but if Kevin’s reelected that will likely disadvantage our community – which is a frightening prospect.”
McGrath has not set her preferences yet – her “personal leaning” is towards independent Mark Rodda – but says the local Labor branch will put forward their recommendations to be endorsed or not by the party itself.