Independent candidate David Sheldon is a local politician who distances himself from the traditional party lines. He’s no Liberal Party knockoff, saying instead that his old party has “lost the cause”. Sheldon repeatedly insists that the main role of a local member is to represent their electorate.
His broad platform promises strong advocacy for the Snowy Valleys region, but admits the campaign is an uphill battle. His team will have to work hard to capture votes across the massive Eden-Monaro electorate, stretching from Yass to the upper Shoalhaven, to the Sapphire Coast and Snowy Mountains.
Sheldon is no stranger to the local community. In an hour, we talk about regional infrastructure, universities, science hubs and Snowy 2.0, but tourism is his major strength. He and wife Deb run a successful tourist business in the Goobarragandra Valley that boasts a 5-night average stay and 65% return visitation. It’s a perfect role model for this regional area looking to diversify its economy.
“We need to spread the word and get people to take up the visitor economy, because then it will be a serious sector,” he says. “This is the industry that can help the whole wider community.”
Drawing from his experience on tourism boards, David emphasises working together as three levels of government. Through sensible regional planning, he hopes to jolt the naysaying local government into action that can attract potential investment.
David also wants to push another local issue he feels has been undersold — the Brindabella Road. He doesn’t believe Council has the knowledge of whom to approach, and that the project requires big regional-scale lobbying and a possible link-in with the proposed fast train from Melbourne to Brisbane through Canberra and Sydney. Sheldon is also floating the idea of a toll-funded tunnel to take both road and rail under the mountains.
Some of his ideas are big enough to be a far cry from the modest investment our region is used to. “This side of the mountain has been drip fed. We miss out on so much,” Sheldon says. He would push for new investment in science and education, slipstreaming along with the big ticket project that’s already underway. “Snowy Hydro can be a catalyst, and so can the universities”.
Sheldon would favour local contractors and work to establish science and innovation hubs examining the environment and developing future technologies, be they lithium batteries or anything else. Combined, this would help in “future-proofing regional Australia”.
Sheldon also wants politicians to take more risks. “We’ve got to be change agents,” he says. “Be brave but don’t be stupid … Look to the 30 year future. Your kids’ kids.”
As for rural industry, Sheldon doesn’t see a big future in forestry. He points to the closure of the chipboard factory and urges diversification. He even goes so far as to call it a “dying industry”, and criticises their management of blackberry infestations.
I am keen to ask him about sustainability after reading a list of his proposals in the TA Times. It included minimum lots sizes to encourage gardening, and solar farms for small towns. Sheldon says that everyone has their part to play, and points to his own solar system, rainwater catchment, insulation and revegetation program, which has planted over 4000 trees and shrubs.
It’s the hardest question but Sheldon has practical solutions. Most of all, it’s about being open to good ideas and encouraging innovation. He notes that 70% of the world’s food is grown on small farms, and highlights a successful example of horticulture innovation between Cooma and Canberra, where an enterprising family turned a “desolate block of land” into a “massive primary production area”. This is the kind of local ingenuity he’d like to expand.
To fund some of the infrastructure, Sheldon advocates a rise in GST to 15%, reigning in of politicians’ pensions, cutting administrative positions, and directing funds into the regions away from the major metropolitan areas. Besides, he says, “Australia is resource rich. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out how funding can occur”.
Sheldon sought advice from experienced politicians before deciding to run and was warned to stay away. But his approach is steeled with determination and a genuine desire to improve the region. “I decided to throw my hat in the ring, not throw stones from the outside.”
A local walks in and asks him about his policy on brumbies. Sheldon admits having concern about hard-hooved animals and would like to see their numbers kept down. It echoes his concern about the environmental impacts of the Snowy scheme, something he’d like to be more carefully studied as the basis of a new environmental science hub.
Eden-Monaro is expected to be held safely by Labor’s Mike Kelly; the bookies put him at 1.05. But Sheldon urges the public to rethink their choice. “We’ve got it pretty good but we’ve got to govern better”. He emphasises the importance of a local representative who advocates local issues, rather than pandering to a city-centric party line.
He points to the Regional Forestry Hubs as an example of Mike Kelly’s inability to spruik the region. We have the highest concentration of timber processors in the state, but somehow missed out on the latest round of development funding.
The Sheldon campaign is privately funded and community let. The investment is worth is, he says, because our region deserves more. “The doorstep to the nation’s capital, … it needs to reach its potential. He says the Australian public should push the pause button on party politics and spread the word that he is a straight talker. “I say what I mean and I mean what I say.”
“No matter what anyone says, we are Canberra’s backyard,” he says. “We need to clean up our own backyard first.”
David Sheldon will be meeting locals at Coffee and More, Batlow, each Tuesday at 10am.