Chris Couper (left), Gerard O’Connell (middle) and Mick Kruger (right) answer some of the locals'concerns.
Chris Couper (left), Gerard O’Connell (middle) and Mick Kruger (right) answer some of the locals'concerns. Griffith Thomas

Mayoral debate sizzles

GERARD O'Connell trounced his opposition at the mayoral debate in Hervey Bay on Tuesday night.

Over an hour and a half of questioning that covered each candidate's background, vision for the future and general knowledge of the Fraser Coast and the role of mayor, Mr O'Connell was the clear winner with the majority of the large audience.

While Mick Kruger and Chris Couper drew some laughs with a few not-so-gentle digs at each other, Mr O'Connell was able to inspire several spontaneous rounds of applause from the crowd by speaking clearly, calmly and confidently across a range of issues.

Mr Couper and Mr Kruger were both able to get the crowd behind them at times as well.

However, this was balanced with more stumbles in their answers and needing to be pulled up by moderator Mat Nott to stop meandering away from the question at hand a number of times.

The only answer Mr O'Connell gave which caused some confusion concerned his second job and whether he could give full value as a councillor or mayor if the public office was not his only employment.

Mr O'Connell answered in two parts, saying that as a current councillor he felt he had given full value, as his other work combined with his roles in council saw him working 80-hour weeks.

The second part of his answer was that if elected mayor he would treat the role as a 24 hours a day, seven days a week role, leading some in the audience to think he was not specifically ruling out holding down a second job if elected.

Mr O'Connell said after the event that this was not the case, that his "24/7, seven days a week" comment meant that he would step down from other paid employment if elected.

Each candidate got the questions the community has been asking about them.

Mr Kruger was asked about his love of a beer at the local and why he was running again in spite of saying he was be a one-term mayor before the last election.

On the love of a friendly ale he said everyone in a high pressure job such as mayor needed downtime, while on his broken promise he said he still had more to do for the community.

Mr Couper was asked about his real estate connections, and how he could lead the community despite not being part of any community groups.

Mr O'Connell was asked whether he actually achieved anything as a councillor, or if he was just all talk and no action.

Each had their strengths.

Mr Kruger showed his experience and knowledge of the workings of local government by framing many of his answers around the relevant sections of the Local Government Act, and was also able to play up his man of the people reputation to great effect.

Mr Couper was strongest when he stayed on the message he hopes will see him elected - that times are tough on the Fraser Coast and that part of the problem was the current leadership who "fell asleep at the wheel".

Mr O'Connell's strength was his consistency and confidence in any answer. The weaknesses of each were also apparent.

In spite of most of the audience who were polled on the outcome stating that Mr O'Connell was the standout performer, many were still undecided whether or not they would actually vote for him - highlighting the battle Mr O'Connell has to convince people he is more than a good voice.

Mr Kruger was unable to convince the doubters he has what it takes for another term, and his comments on the massive pressure a mayor finds himself under sounded like a man who was tired.

While Mr Couper showed plenty of energy, he also showed a real lack of knowledge about how local government works and also of the Fraser Coast in general - stumbling on the issue of whether he would need to excuse himself from council debates on land usage due to a perceived conflict of interest through his real estate business, as well as later showing he knew nothing about the Butchulla people.

The questions were submitted to the Chronicle from the public in the week before the debate, and Mr Nott had his work cut out for him attempting to mould them into common areas to avoid asking the same question more than once, and to keep debate flowing.

Following the debate, 20 members of the audience were asked for their take on the event.

These members included men and women who were pensioners, young professionals, small business owners, divisional council candidates, members of the Chamber of Commerce, and members of young families.

The overwhelming response of this cross-section was in favour of Mr O'Connell, with the next highest response being "undecided".



Gerard O'Connell: 60% - this included everyone who said Mr O'Connell was the standout performer of the debate, however some of these also said they were still undecided on whom they would actually end up voting for.

Mick Kruger: 10% - each person who said Mr Kruger was the standout performer also said they would be voting for him next week.

Chris Couper: 5% - each person who said Mr Couper was the standout performer also said they would be voting for him next week.

Undecided: 15% - these people said they could not decide on a standout performer, saying all were either equally strong or weak.

Unsaid: 5% - these people had an opinion but wanted to keep it to themselves.

Mat Nott: 5% - these people said the standout performer of the debate was the moderator for the evening, Mat Nott, rather than any of the candidates.

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