Andrew Hastie and Matt Keogh grilled by seniors at candidate forum

Canning Liberal candidate Andrew Hastie and Labor’s Matt Keogh faced what was possibly the toughest crowd of their political careers on Monday morning, at a forum of Mandurah seniors.

Organised by National Seniors, a non-profit lobby group for the over 50s, the forum was billed as an opportunity for candidates to explain their positions on issues relevant to older voters.

But while pensions and cuts to seniors’ concessions were on the agenda, both men used their opening statements to deliver key lines about Prime Minster Tony Abbott, whose popularity has emerged as one of the key issues in the campaign.

Mr Hastie said the byelection was about the person best able to represent the people of Canning.

“There will be 12 names on the ballot paper; I’ll be one of them, and I believe I am best qualified,” he said.

“This byelection is not about the PM, not about Bill Shorten, not about Canberra, as much as people in Canberra will make out that it is.”

Mr Keogh said across the electorate the key issue for voters was their displeasure with Tony Abbott.

“Two years ago Mr Abbott stood up and said there would be no changes to pensions,” he said.

“But about 8700 pensioners in Canning alone will be at risk to having their pensions cut.”

However, seniors attending the conference were more interested in issues of economics and the environment.

Responding to a question about balancing the Federal budget, Mr Hastie said the last two years had been about correcting the mistakes of the previous Labor government.

“The Howard government handed over a surplus; under Labor we had six years of economic mismanagement,” he said.

“The challenge for Mr Keogh is whether he repudiates six years of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government; I certainly do.”

Mr Keogh said the budget went into deficit because of the Rudd government’s response to the global financial crisis.

“We went into deficit, but that’s okay, because sometimes you have to go into deficit to fix the economy,” he said.

“Now with the change in economy, Abbott and Hockey have managed to double the deficit.”

On the GST, Mr Hastie said at this stage he did not support an increase.

“But if we want to talk about tax reform, then I’d be happy to talk about ideas,” he said.

Mr Keogh said raising the GST was a “live issue” for the Abbott government.

“It needs to be remembered that the GST is a flat-rate tax, which is one of the reasons we have concerns about raising it,” he said.

“If you think WA gets a bad deal now at 10 per cent, imagine how bad it would be at 15 per cent.”

Both candidates were asked about climate change and renewable energy.

Mr Hastie said he opposed a climate tax.

"We always need to consider the cost of living and families," he said.

"I will never advocate for a carbon tax; it hurts families, it hurts jobs, and you’ll never see it under my watch."

Mr Keogh said Labor supported moving towards 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

National Seniors chief Michael O’Neill, speaking before the forum, said the pension cuts earlier this year may deliver a backlash in the byelection.

“By cutting the pensions of mid to low income retirees in the 2015 budget, the Coalition has taken a gamble on its traditional support base,” O’Neill said.

“Canning will provide interesting insights into the next general election,” he said.