Lismore City Hall was packed for ABC's Q&A on Monday night.
Lismore City Hall was packed for ABC's Q&A on Monday night. Liana Turner

What happened on Q&A when cameras stopped rolling at Lismore

THE future of farming and regional centres were among issues raised at Lismore City Hall as part of ABC's Q&A tonight.

But it was in a bonus question after live broadcasting ceased that Nimbin hemp campaigner Michael Balderstone asked the panel about drug-driving legislation.

The live panel program, hosted by Tony Jones, featured former Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell OAM, Kyogle-based engineer Matt Sorenson, Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon and National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson.

Mr Balderstone suggested his town of Nimbin was over-policed with its nine permanent officers.

"It's like letting lions loose in a cage full of deer," he said.

Ms Dowell said Nimbin "must be the most over-policed place anywhere, probably in the world."

She said current roadside drug-testing had nothing to do with detecting whether a person was under the influence.

"It's not about impairment," she said.

"It's about detection of small quantities of illicit substances in your saliva or in your blood."

Mr Littleproud said this was a "vexing issue for state governments to work through".

"It's about getting the balance right and understanding the practicalities of this legislation at the coal face," he said.

Farming woes and foreign aid

Lismore Red Cross volunteers Gay McEwan and Kylie Burnett raising funds for farmers outside Lismore City Hall before the ABC's Q&A program was filmed there on Monday night.
Lismore Red Cross volunteers Gay McEwan and Kylie Burnett raising funds for farmers outside Lismore City Hall before the ABC's Q&A program was filmed there on Monday night. Liana Turner

Panellists took questions from a host of people concerned about drought-stricken portions of the agriculture industry.

Ms Simson said state and federal governments needed to help create a "strategic plan for agriculture" to help secure the sector's future.

Mr Littleproud told of his electorate's seven-year-long dry spell and the impact this had on farmers but also businesses across their communities.

When a member of the audience asked why so much money goes into foreign aid, Mr Littleproud said some of this was also a boost for Aussie farmers.

He said money spent training people in Vietnam for abattoirs which would use Australian-raised meat was an example of this.

"We've got to (have) strategic and smart foreign aid," he said.

Lismore-based Red Cross volunteers were raising funds for the Buy a Bale campaign outside the event.

Regional infrastructure

One member of the audience, a "Sydney economic refugee", recalled moving to the Northern Rivers as it was a more affordable place to live, and to own a home.

But the disparity in services between the city and the regions came as a shock.

Mr Sorenson said investment in making regional areas "more liveable" was crucial.

"With the ageing infrastructure there's obviously a lot of work to be done," he said.

He said plans like that of the Tabulam Agri-business Precinct would help to inject life into the economies of regional areas.

Mr Fitzgibbon said community involvement in such improvements would be vital.

"Local leadership has to drive the ideas and the innovation, and then look to government with a case," he said.

"Government has a role to play but the ideas will come from the local community."