LISMORE LOCAL and farmer Austin Curtin has been chosen to contest the state seat of Lismore once Thomas George MP retires from the top spot, after he received the most votes in a NSW Nationals community preselection on the weekend.
Leader of the NSW Nationals John Barilaro and Deputy Leader Niall Blair have joined with Mr George MP in welcoming the preselection of Mr Curtin.
Mr Barilaro said Austin is an exceptional candidate with a strong history of serving the communities across the electorate.
“Austin has proved himself to the communities of the Lismore electorate that he is the right person to represent them,” Mr Barilaro said.
The Weekly recently caught up with Mr Curtin for a Q&A to give readers a greater insight into his political views and life on his macadamia farm.
Austin and his wife Bronwyn now have two young children in Claudia (4) and George (2), with a third on the way. Together, they run a macadamia farm in Tregeagle, south of Lismore.
- Firstly, could you please tell The Weekly readers a little about yourself, your connection to the Lismore State Seat and your farming background?
I’m a 38-year-old macadamia grower in Tregeagle, east of Lismore. I manage two family orchards with 6,700 trees.
We have lived in Lismore since 1984. My brother, three sisters and I went to school in Lismore city and later Sydney. We have played local sport in Lismore, crashed out at the skateboard parks, paddled kayaks through floodwaters in the 80s and 90s.
We have raced rowing boats on the Tweed River, climbed Wollumbin Mount Warning as kids and adults and camped on the Clarence River.
I loved growing up here and brought my family back to the area from Perth so they could also grow up in a safe environment with plenty of opportunity for outdoor adventure.
- Could you please tell readers about your farm and its background?
Our farming operations commenced in 1989 when the macadamia industry was still developing. The fertile, red soil in the area make it an ideal place to grow macadamias.
Our properties have always focused on preserving and improving the natural environment we live in. We limit our use of pesticides and herbicides where possible, we maintain natural environments for beneficial insects to breed to help us combat pests which can destroy macadamias as they mature.
As kids we helped Mum and Dad plant hundreds of gum trees to establish koala and wildlife corridors around the farm.
We make our own compost from woodchip, macadamia husk and manure and bring in bees to stimulate pollination and wasps to control pests as well. Plus we enjoy the benefits of solar power and collecting rainwater.
We are a productive farm, employing local labour and selling to local processors.
- What are some of your political views and how do you view commerce over environment or visa versa?
We need sensible and sustainable business and population growth for our region to thrive. Commerce must thrive to continue to keep our communities employed and contributing to our local economies. This needs to happen with respect, consideration and protection of our agricultural land and natural beauty.
The push into renewable power generation is essential and our local uptake and efforts by individuals, business and industry and councils are to be applauded. On farm, we are transitioning to battery operated equipment where appropriate. The battery storage area is an exciting direction to be going in but it’s not happening overnight. In the meantime, businesses and industry that employ us, pay our wages and help us pay our bills and send our kids to school need to operate. Power must also be affordable.
Our emergency wards need to stay open and the lights on when people are rushed into our hospitals. We have to be practical, patient and logical as we make this transition.
Water quality and supply is paramount, as is the management of our local river systems.
We need all groups of people in our region to aspire to living happier, healthier lives and making a contribution. This can only be done by creating opportunities for people to work, get better educated and connect with people socially. I want to inspire people to think this way.
- Where do you see growth across the Lismore Shire? How do you believe we can best balance this growth with the environment in mind?
Our growth must come from within initially. As residents of our region we must serve, support and sustain ourselves. A dollar spent at the coast is a dollar lost to Murwillumbah, Lismore, Kyogle or other surrounding towns and villages. We must encourage businesses and investment west of the Pacific Highway.
Sensible and sustainable housing developments and construction growth will always help to drive our region’s economy and provide employment.
Tourism and agriculture are two of our fastest growing sectors. We must promote tourism opportunities particularly around the Tweed and continue to be open to innovation in agriculture especially. Blueberries in our region, soya beans and macadamias are no longer cottage industries. They coexist with the beef, dairy, sugar and timber industries across our region to provide for families. To foster growth in these key industries, our roads and bridges must be fit for purpose and fit for the future. I don’t think we necessarily need to reinvent the wheel but we have to ask ourselves what could we do that Wagga Wagga, Orange, Tamworth or Dubbo have done already? Could their formula be practical to the north of NSW?
- Finally, could you please give readers some of your experience working with Thomas George MP and what advice and guidance he has given you?
Thomas is a valuable, caring and helpful representative for our community broadly and especially to our branches. He has been very welcoming to me since I joined the Lismore branch of the NSW Nationals last year after leaving Perth. I have been able to ring his office and get prompt replies. Thomas even agreed to take me on a work experience trip with him earlier this year when I was deciding whether to throw my hat in the ring for preselection. I saw him interacting with constituents and noticed his ability to remember names, his patience and natural warmth to everyone. So far, he has advised me to remain true to myself. This has served me well through preselection so I intend on carrying that forward to March 2019.