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New South Wales: campaign bungle over $80 million pipeline package may damage Coalition's chances of retaining the marginal seat of Dobell.

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Tuesday 23 October 2007

New South Wales: campaign bungle over $80 million pipeline package may damage Coalition's chances of retaining the marginal seat of Dobell


TONY EASTLEY: For Labor to win office in its own right it needs to claw back 16 seats. 


That's why there's been so much attention paid to the electorate of Dobell on the New South Wales Central Coast, the 16th most marginal seat in the country. Both parties have sent their heavy hitters there to shore up support. 


The Liberal Party unexpectedly won the electorate from Labor in 2001, and its MP Ken Ticehurst increased his vote at the last poll and now has a margin of 4.8 per cent. 


But Sabra Lane reports that a campaign slip-up last week about water has damaged Mr Ticehurst's chances of retaining his seat. 


SABRA LANE: It's a sizzling afternoon at the Toukley Bowling Club. Tom Howard is dressed in his whites for the mixed bowls competition. 


TOM HOWARD: I'm a 73-year-old and a pensioner. I have a early stages of cancer on my vocal cords. My doctor told me I'd be in hospital to have it removed by laser within two to four weeks. It's been nearly 10 weeks now. I've been ringing the hospital daily, type of thing. I'm getting no answers, you know, it's a bit of a worry. 


SABRA LANE: Health is a big issue here. So too is WorkChoices. 


Twenty-something Cindy operates a picture framing and incense stall at the Toukley markets every weekend. 


CINDY: WorkChoices, that's probably a big thing. Yes, you see all the ads on TV but they're not all right. You might get some people that are happy, a lot of people aren't. 


SABRA LANE: For all that though, she's still not made up her mind. 


CINDY: Probably swing towards Labor, I think it's probably time for a change. 


SABRA LANE: Toukley is part of the electorate of Dobell on the NSW Central Coast, between Sydney and Newcastle. It's home to a large proportion of sea-changers and retirees. It's become an area that Sydneysiders have flocked to, to escape the rat race. 


Thirty-five thousand people commute from the electorate every day for work in either Sydney or Newcastle, many travelling up to 200 kilometres every day.  


Forty-five-year-old electrician David says it's difficult to make ends meet. 


DAVID: It's hard. I don't like Johnny's policies. I don't like the WorkChoices, being employed as an electrician and a contractor. I'm sick of paying tax, after tax, after tax. It's just a joke. 


SABRA LANE: You know which way you're going to vote? Have you made up your mind yet? 


DAVID: Labor. 


SABRA LANE: And the Labor Party's sensed that sentiment here, and has moved to make milage from it. It's candidate for this seat is Craig Thomson. 


The 42-year-old has been a member of the Health Services Union for 19 years and it's national secretary for the past five years. He's campaigned heavily on WorkChoices and says he hasn't copped flack over his union ties. 


CRAIG THOMSON: Hasn't been an issue for us here at all. 


SABRA LANE: Liberal MP Ken Ticehurst unexpectedly won this seat in 2001 and increased his margin at the last election. But this time he's got a tough fight on his hands due to an own-goal. 


Much of the electorate's been on level four water restrictions for more than a year. Earlier this year, the Federal Government announced $80-million for a long awaited pipeline to guarantee water supplies to the area but Mr Ticehurst told a local newspaper last week the funds could be frozen if his party wasn't happy with the composition of the board overseeing the pipeline. 


Craig Thomson says his opponent has made a campaign boo-boo. 


CRAIG THOMSON: We both promised $80-million for a pipeline and Ken Ticehurst tried to play politics with that this week, saying that the Government may withdraw their funding if they don't get their people on the board to manage it. Now, I don't think that's something that the people of the Central Coast like to see. They don't want local politicians playing politics with their water supply. 


SABRA LANE: AM's approached Mr Ticehurst's office several times since last Wednesday for an interview, without success. 


TONY EASTLEY: Sabra Lane reporting.