ROB Taber doesn’t care if you call him a dark horse or an underdog – he’s in the election to win.
The battle for New England has been described as a clash of titans between sitting MP Barnaby Joyce and former independent MP Tony Windsor, but the Armidale-based independent firmly believes it is a three-way race.
“I’ve got no doubt that I can win this,” he told The Leader.
“When I stood at the last federal election, I gained very close to 14 per cent of the vote with a three-week campaign. I knew with a longer campaign I could achieve an outcome.”
Mr Taber said he was “disillusioned” with the way party politics had “hijacked our political system”.
“I feel as though, over my lifetime, we’ve never been represented in the way we should have been,” he said.
“I’ve never belonged to a political party and have no intention of doing so. I believe I’m a true independent.
“People have to have a good hard think about who they are voting for at this next election – they can either chose a career politician, or they can choose one of the other candidates, and hopefully we can have some new blood and vision.
“It’s so important to have vision, and I just don’t see that out there.”
Mr Taber has been in the solar power industry for almost two decades and is the chairman of Jobs Australia, so naturally a focus on renewable energy and job creation forms a key part of his platform.
He’s got big plans to keep the nation’s agricultural industry globally competitive, such as creating a farmers’ bank, subsidising certain types of industries, and reducing transport costs by putting freight back onto rail.
Coal mines and renewables
WITH his extensive background in renewable energy, it may surprise people to hear Rob Taber say Australia still needs coal mines.
“I’ve got no problem with mining. We wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for mining,” Mr Taber said.
Mr Taber got involved in the solar business 18 years ago, when he saw “we were slowly destroying this Earth, bit by bit”.
“I understand the [renewable] industry better than most,” he said.
“The renewable energy industry is there to provide an alternative form of energy, but it’s not going to be the only energy. In my lifetime I will never see renewable energy being the sole source of power.
“So we have to rely on other sources of power to carry on – we’d be crazy to believe otherwise.”
He sees renewable energy having a “major” future in New England, particularly in the research and development field.
“Producing energy from the sun is something that benefits us forever.”
But Australia has to be prepared to “nibble away” at the amount of coal it uses.
“There is no quick fix – and we can’t say we’ve got to stop mining,” he said.
“Renewable energy may eventually be able to survive on its own, but it’s a long time away. The short term is we’ve got to continue to use coal, and that’s the reality.”
Mining is not an issue, if it is done in the “right manner and the right areas”.
“What we’re seeing in the Liverpool Plains, that’s obviously not the right area – any mine on the Liverpool Plains I would be totally against,” he said.
“We have to do our homework, we have to do our research and we have to do it properly. There is no going back once we’ve destroyed what’s down there.”
ROB Taber “totally supports” the full take-up of the Gonski funding reforms for public schools.
“The Gonski reforms should have been adopted in their full extent at the last election,” he said.
“It’s a much fairer way of funding education. It gives all the disadvantaged people a fair crack at the finance available to fund education, and that has never happened, particularly in rural Australia.
“It seems to me it’s the first time this country has ever attempted to get education funded correctly.”
He also wants to see higher education, including TAFE, protected from funding cuts and privatisation.
Jobs and infrastructure
JOBS across New England are “disappearing”, Rob Taber says.
“Particularly for youth and semi-skilled people, and that’s a major concern,” he said.
“I’ve been in business for 42 years and creating jobs is something I’m quite passionate about.”
Mr Taber is being proactive about creating local jobs and is pushing for a new abattoir in Armidale.
He told The Leader he was in the final stage of establishing a company to back the project.
Mr Taber also wants to increase jobs in the bush by relocating government departments to rural and regional areas.
With agriculture playing such a large part in the New England economy, Mr Taber said the industry needed to remain competitive in the global market.
“Some areas in New England have been dry for four years and are one bad crop away from foreclosing,” he said.
Mr Taber said the nation “desperately needed” a farmers’ bank.
“If we are going to continue to have agriculture in this country, we’ve got to be able to finance it cheaply,” he said.
“We should be subsidising certain types of agriculture, such as wheat or the cattle industry – and that could be done through the farmers’ bank, through subsidised interest rates.
“Most of the other countries in the world subsidise [their agriculture industry], so why can’t we?”
Cutting transport costs by shifting freight back to rail would also keep the agriculture industry strong, he said.
“My vision for rural Australia is to have the majority of freight carried by rail,” Mr Taber said.
“Whether I’ll see that in my lifetime, I don’t know, but we’ve got to plan now.”