Aberdeen farmer and community advocate, Kirsty O'Connell, has announced she will stand as an independent in the race for the seat of Upper Hunter.
Born and raised in Muswellbrook, Kirsty has spent the past 15 years leading community engagement for some of Australia's largest infrastructure projects. She still works to bring communities and industry together from the family farm in Aberdeen.
"The Upper Hunter produces around $1 billion in royalties for the state government annually but from next year all of that money will be put into a 'future fund' while our schools, hospitals and roads are in urgent need of investment now," she said.
"Why are we still waiting for bypasses that should have been built years ago? Why do we see more preventable deaths in Muswellbrook Hospital than in remote areas like Brewarrina? Why is Singleton still waiting for basic upgrades to its police station? It feels like we're being taken for granted.
"We always hear politicians from Sydney saying that coal royalties are the backbone of the state budget, but if that's the case why don't we have the best schools, hospitals and infrastructure in the state?"
A mother of two, Kirsty says she was prompted to stand out of concern for her daughters' future.
"I really believe the Upper Hunter is at a critical tipping point. The world is changing whether we like it or not. Global thermal coal demand is declining and that's both a challenge and an opportunity. If we make some sensible choices now we still have a chance to be ready for that change," she said.
She has consistently called for balance between mining and other long-standing industries such as farming through her voluntary role with community organisation, Friends of the Upper Hunter.
"My husband and I are both fifth generation locals and we want to see our daughters have a prosperous, healthy future here. We want them to enjoy the childhood that we both had - but that's under threat," she said
"I believe we urgently need a pause on new mining while we can make a sensible plan for our future. It's the only way we can prosper in the medium to long term. No one around here wants to shut all the existing coal mines down tomorrow, but no one thinks that now is the time to approve ten new mines either."
She said that she doesn't see it as a battle between coal miners and the rest of the community.
"Building new coal mines wont help my friends and family who work in coal mines that are already running well below capacity. It won't ensure that existing mines stay profitable and can fulfil their commitments to us.
"We're all part of this community. It's essential that existing local mine workers and mining exposed businesses are protected as part of creating a sensible plan for the Upper Hunter.... and that they're involved in making that plan.
Kirsty said she believes it is essential that locals send a clear message at this election.
"No one on either side of Government seems to want to address the changes that are happening right before our eyes. I can see examples within my immediate circle of people who have already had to transition. This isn't something that will happen in 30 years, it is happening now and we need to act," she said.
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