Three years since the pair first squared off, Labor's Ross Hart and Bass Liberal MHR Bridget Archer met once again on the debate stage at Country Club Tasmania to try and win the hearts and minds of one of the nation's most tightly fought electorates.
Almost exactly a month since Prime Minister Scott Morrison called the 2022 federal election and with less than 10 days until voting day, The Battle for Bass Debate on Thursday night presented prospective voters with a chance to see the Bass candidates of both major parties side by side answering the questions that matter most to voters.
From aged care to urgent care, health services remain a pressing issue for many voters, particularly in Northern Tasmania where hospitals and auxiliary services are often reported to be lagging behind their mainland counterparts. With that in mind, both the Australian Medical Association and the state government are supporting a 50/50 federal-state funding split for Tasmanian healthcare services.
When asked if they would similarly support the funding proposal, Mr Hart said his party's leader had indicated that, if elected, Labor would "have that conversation" with the state, but fell short of committing to the policy.
Ms Archer shifted the conversation to addressing healthcare gaps and noted that "it's not enough just to put more money in the hospital system". She went on to criticise the feasibility of Labor's proposed bulk-billed urgent care clinics - three of which are planned for Tasmania, which Mr Hart rejected.
Likewise, on the topic of GPs and primary health services, Mr Hart brought attention to the proposed clinics, which he also believed would attract doctors looking for career advancement.
Ms Archer conceded that "we need more doctors - that's the bottom line" and also flagged Tasmania as the site for "pilot programs".
Turning to dental care, Ms Archer brought attention to the federal government's work improving access to dental check-ups for children. She went on to note that a universal free dental care system "would be great, but we have to balance all the considerations".
Similarly, Mr Hart said would be happy to lead the conversation surrounding free dental care, but cautioned that if "that is what you [the public] want, you have to be prepared to pay for it".
The COVID-19 pandemic and a royal commission report have both shone a spotlight on the issues facing the nation's understaffed and underfunded aged care facilities. When asked how they would combat these issues, Mr Hart pointed to Labor's federal budget reply, which outlined its plan to address increasing wages for aged care workers.
In one of several moments of bipartisanship during the debate, Ms Archer said there was "very little difference in terms of what the major parties think needs to happen".
"But we need to make sure we have the nurses first to make sure you don't put a system under pressure under more pressure," she added.
Turning to a more local, but equally pressing issue, the health of the kanamaluka/Tamar estuary continues to be a major election issue for a large swathe of the Bass electorate.
With that in mind, both candidates said they would advocate on a federal level if and when the state government put forward a plan to improve the issue of sediment.
Speaking to their own credentials regarding the river system, Ms Archer brought attention to sewerage improvements under the Launceston City Deal and Mr Hart referenced his party's $8 million commitment earlier this month to restore wetlands in the North Esk River, which in turn, would have an impact on reducing Tamar sediment.
Looking at the candidates' wider environmental positions, both Mr Hart and Ms Archer spoke of the economic opportunity renewable energy presented to Tasmania.
"The opportunity for renewable energy is clear and we should be rushing headlong towards it as an opportunity for Tasmania," Mr Hart said.
Ms Archer went on to note her past credentials on the topic of climate change and the emissions targets set by the federal government, which she among other ministers advocated for.
In the three years since the previous federal election, the subsequent housing boom and accompanying COVID-induced economic downturn have left many unable to afford a home or - in some cases - forced them out onto the streets.
On the topic of homelessness in Northern Tasmania, Ms Archer said it was a "challenging and complex area", but said new houses were being built since the Coalition wiped the state's public housing debt.
She said she would continue to advocate for federal funding to address the issue, which required the intersection of state, federal and local government.
Mr Hart brought attention to Labor's proposed "Help to Buy" initiative, which seeks to get more people into affordable housing through a federal loan scheme.
A moment that had the audience applauding Mr Hart was when he implored the federal government for emergency intervention for the growing issue of homelessness on Launceston's streets and in Tasmania more broadly.
The Examiner frequently reports on the impossible choices facing victim-survivors of family violence, with support services continuing to call for more government action to address the issue.
Earlier on Thursday, Mr Hart had committed $2.25 million for crisis accommodation in Bass, which he said would help address the "national epidemic" of family violence.
For her part, Ms Archer said the issue of family violence was "very dear" to her heart as a victim-survivor of family violence and child abuse herself. She said she was continuing to talk with experts about the issue, which would feed into the next national family violence plan. She went on to mention the federal government's Safe Spaces and Escaping Violence initiatives, the former of which funded a series of additional safe spaces currently under construction for those fleeing family violence.
A controversial sports bill brought forward by Tasmanian Liberal senator Claire Chandler flung trans rights into the spotlight early on in the election campaign. Mr Hart called the bill "reprehensible" and called for more support for the LGBTQI+ community.
Ms Archer, who made headlines when she crossed the floor over the similarly-controversial Religious Discrimination Bill, said her views on the issue had been "widely ventilated".
"I will always stand with LGBT members. They are some of the most vulnerable and marginalised in our communities," she added.
With both candidates supporting a federal Independent Commission Against Corruption - or ICAC - the debate gave an opportunity for each candidate to address their thoughts on corruption in politics.
While neither said they had experienced corruption firsthand, both said they would like to see corruption stamped out of politics. Mr Hart said that despite Ms Archer's stance on a Federal ICAC, "her leader does not back her".
"If you vote for me we will deliver an ICAC this year," he added.
Ms Archer, who also crossed the floor on this issue during her time as Bass MHR, said she would "100 per cent" support a federal ICAC and would also like to see a 'pro-integrity' system come into play at a federal level.
Young people are continually under-represented in the workforce and bringing the region's youth into jobs remains a pressing challenge for any incoming representative. Both candidates looked to education as the answer to youth unemployment.
Despite the heightened political environment of the election, both candidates advocated for a more bipartisan approach to political engagement, with Ms Archer lamenting what she called a "real decline into tribalism around the world".
"Good ideas are found on both sides. We have to find those ideas where they are and make those consensus decisions," she said.
Echoing Ms Archer's comments, Mr Hart said much of the bad perception facing politics could be attributed to the emphasis on Question Time.
"In my experience, there's far more cooperation with people working in that building than there is conflict," he said.
With inflation continuing to make headlines, both major parties have diverged considerably on how best to tackle the cost of living pressures facing many Australians. Defending her party's economic policies, Ms Archer said Australia was leading the country and Tasmania leading the world in its economic recovery despite the current cost of living pressures.
"There is some light at the end of the tunnel. Those immediate measures are needed but we also need to grow the economy," she said.
Cost of living initiatives have been a keystone issue in Labor's election campaign and Mr Hart was asked to account for the as-yet un-costed plans. "They will be costed in the ordinary course and will be released before the election day [...] Other than raising the taxes on multinationals there will be no new taxes," he said.
The persistent gender pay gap continues to be one of several barriers facing women. Speaking to this, Mr Hart reiterated Labor's pledge to add gender equity to the Fair Work Act and also referenced his party's plans to cut the cost of childcare. Combating this claim, Ms Archer - who has five children - didn't agree that cheaper childcare was the answer and instead said more should be done to improve "flexibility in the system".
When asked simply why she and her party should be re-elected, Ms Archer said Tasmanians should "look at how we've come through this unprecedented crisis" in relation to other countries around the globe.
If re-elected in opposition, Ms Archer believes she would have no issue continuing to advocate for Bass.
"I've taken the fight up to my own government so if I have to take it to the opposition then I'm sure that won't be an issue," she said.
Meanwhile, Mr Hart's final answer focused on his party's policy plans, including reducing the impact of climate change, renewable energy and easing living costs.
Why not have your say? Write a letter to the editor here:
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Got a story tip? Email me on email@example.com
Got a story tip? Email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.