IS Hillarys MLA Rob Johnson only interested in fighting old battles and grabbing headlines?
Is North Metropolitan MLC Peter Katsambanis a “blow-in” from Victoria, who is out of touch with the community?
These are questions attendees were left to ponder at a robust Joondalup Business Assocation debate between the two rivals for the seat of Hillarys on Tuesday.
Mr Johnson regularly referred to his Victorian-born Liberal opponent as a “blow-in”, while Mr Katsambanis accused the former Police Minister of being more about “cheap headlines” than substance.
Mr Johnson, an independent since resigning from the Liberal Party, used the platform to continue his attack on the Globalheart church and the influence he perceives it has on Liberal Party politics in the northern suburbs.
Globalheart associates include Ocean Reef MLA Albert Jacob, Joondalup MLA Jan Norberger and local Federal MP Ian Goodenough – all Liberal members.
Mr Johnson accused the church of being the “ruination” of the Liberal Party.
“If you vote Liberal in the northern suburbs, you are basically voting for Globalheart religious cult,” he said.
Mr Katsambanis asserted he was “not owned by anyone” and clarified he was a member of the Greek Orthodox Church.
He said the Hillarys electorate needed someone with “fresh ideas… who was willing to work as part of a team”.
He argued Mr Johnson did not have a vision for the future and was more interested in fighting long lost battles with his opponents.
Questions about Colin Barnett’s future as Premier had Mr Katsambanis reiterate Mr Barnett’s stance that the Member for Cottesloe would lead the Liberals should they win the March poll but would step down later in that term.
Mr Johnson labelled Mr Barnett “the worst Premier we’ve had in decades”, which prompted smirks and raised eyebrows in the audience.
The contentious issue of branch stacking was raised with the politicians accusing each other’s factions of involvement in it.
Branch stacking involves party powerbrokers manipulating the pre-selection of their preferred candidate by signing up members, even if they live outside the electorate, who will support the contender.
The adversaries were asked if they thought branch stacking should be banned. Mr Katsambanis said the strategy was “wrong”, suggesting pre-selection should be decided by a vote between only those members who are enrolled in the electorate.
It was a rare point upon which the two seemingly agreed, with Mr Johnson saying branch stacking was “disgraceful” and branches “should only sign up people who live in the area”.
Locally, Mr Katsambanis said he was “100 per cent committed” to getting the Ocean Reef Marina project started, declaring that if he earned the seat of Hillarys, he would make sure whoever won the election honoured the promises made about the development.
He highlighted the Liberal Party’s plan to lift the payroll tax threshold, but said he’d prefer to see the tax abolished completely.
Mr Johnson spruiked his 25 years as MLA in the electorate as evidence he would be better placed to help small business in the district, particularly given the rising rates of bankruptcy.
He underlined his loathing of big business saying, “they rape and pillage”. He did not support the development of high-rise apartments on the coast of Sorrento.
Mr Johnson has a fair task ahead of him if he is to convince voters to stray from the Liberal safe seat, which the party holds by a significant 16.2 per cent margin.