The failure by the Liberal candidate for Higgins to attend a public forum on climate change and poverty left her open to attack by her rivals.
Labor’s contender for the seat, high-profile lawyer Fiona McLeod, dug the boot in early at the recent event at South Yarra Community Baptist Church organised by Oxfam Australia.
Ms McLeod said that the inaction on climate by current and past Liberal governments was “a great motivator for (Katie Allen’s) absence”.
Greens candidate Jason Ball’s comment that Dr Allen’s failure to face a concerned public “says it all” was greeted with a cheer from an audience of about 150 people.
Mr Ball faced tough questions from some who demanded to know why the Greens had decided not to support Labor climate policy during the Gillard and Rudd governments.
Ms McLeod said the audience was “a bit of a home crowd” for proponents of strong climate action, but was critical of Mr Ball’s policy pledges.
“It’s easy to make promises when you don’t have to keep them,” said the ALP candidate, who drew on an extensive knowledge of the Australian political history surrounding climate policy.
The Adani coal mine project was the hottest topic on the night.
Labor leader Bill Shorten has reportedly declined to rule out reviewing the project’s federal environmental approvals if he becomes prime minister and revealed he would not sign a petition by the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union outlining support for coal jobs.
However, Ms McLeod said she personally did not support the mine. She outlined legal issues surrounding the already approved plan, and warned that if handled poorly it could lead to an “own goal” for the mine developers.
Mr Ball responded by saying that given her views, Ms McLeod “should be running for the Greens” which was met with laughter and applause. He said the two major parties allowed this kind of development because they received political donations from companies in the fossil fuel industries.
Also on the panel were Stella Wiedemeyer and Scarlett Beckenham, high school students who played a role in organising Melbourne’s recent student strike against climate action, and Oxfam’s Dr Simon Bradshaw.
Each spoke briefly on the climate crisis and its effects on the population, Dr Bradshaw declaring the issue “our generation’s Apollo mission”.
Organiser Nina Crawley said they chose to hold the forum in Higgins because it was an “important seat with a genuine three-way contest” and that she was disappointed that Dr Allen was not there.