IN soccer terms, the Safe Schools gaffe from Liberal candidate for Light Karen McColl wouldn’t go as far as being called an own goal, but it was certainly an opportunity that sailed well wide of the net.
Asked, at the Salt Church political forum on Sunday night, if her party supported the abolition of the Weatherill Government’s Safe Schools initiative – which it does – Ms McColl gave no clear answer.
In a time where the two major parties are criticised for being too similar, it should have been a perfect chance for the Liberal challenger to distinguish herself from her Labor opponent, the incumbent Member for Light, Tony Piccolo.
Instead, it was the newly-minted Australian Conservatives candidate, Carl Teusner, who leapt upon the opening, with his response, lashing the Safe Schools program as “disturbing”, drawing the biggest applause of the night.
Mr Teusner was certainly the surprise package of the evening, finding his rhythm as the forum progressed, while sticking true to the conservative message of his party – something that resonated with the Salt Church audience.
He wasn’t shy in criticising the failures of the current government, albeit while offering little policy to remedy said failures, and his local knowledge, being a longtime resident of the area, added weight to his assessment of Gawler’s well-documented traffic issues.
Mr Piccolo, having been Light MP for 12 years, was, as expected, well-versed in local issues and, while delivering a few subtle barbs of his own, came away virtually unscathed, despite there being numerous chances for criticism.
On the topic of protecting whistle-blowers to ensure greater transparency in government, Ms McColl agreed with Mr Piccolo that there was already working legislation in place, despite the Labor incumbent’s own government facing backlash this past week over the Oakden aged care cover-up.
Similarly, when the topic of conversation turned to traffic congestion at Evanston’s infamous Tulloch Road intersection, Mr Piccolo gave the clearest, most authoritative answer.
This was despite it presenting a good opening, for either candidate, to question the Labor MP further about the State Government’s role in the planning of the nearby shopping precinct, which has since impacted traffic flow at the site.
Thus far, the race for Light has been a docile one.
That may be by design, but the niceties certainly continued into Sunday night’s forum to, in our view, the detriment of those present due to the lack of real, robust discussion.
There was certainly a reluctance from Ms McColl to play the man, or even the party – if anything, Mr Teusner led the charge on that front.
It’s hard to see the heat being turned up at this late stage of the election, given the pleasant nature of the campaign so far, and only time will tell whether that approach has been the right one.