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First leaders’ debate highlights policy distinctions

Union activists, pressure groups and members of the public took the opportunity to fire questions at the leaders of the three political parties contesting the forthcoming general election during a GBC debate on Monday night.

In the first leaders’ event of the 2019 election campaign, GSD Leader Keith Azopardi, GSLP/Liberal Alliance Leader Fabian Picardo and Together Gibraltar Leader Marlene Hassan Nahon were quizzed on a wide range of issues including workers’ rights, skills and training, the environment and the law on abortion.

On an area of important policy distinction - the provision of government housing for rent - Mr Picardo said the GSLP was in favour of constructing for affordable purchase and rental housing for pensioners.

He said: “We will if necessary build housing for rental…[but] I am against just building just for rental, building a whole new government estate for rental is not a good thing for our economy, it doesn’t make sense.”

The GSD will, however, “absolutely” construct housing specifically to rent, Mr Azopardi said.

He said that whilst census-to-census the local population has grown “exponentially”, housing stock for rental has remained static since 1981.

“While we are growing the number of households we are doing so for people to purchase, that’s a good thing if you can afford to buy but it’s not good if you cannot afford to buy,” he said.

Ms Hassan Nahon said her party will conduct a “deep review” of the situation in order to understand what is needed.

“In line with our environmental commitments the most important thing to do and most significant thing to do would be to fix [empty properties] up and get them into working order and deploy them to people who need them without having to start building again,” she said.

The event, organised and broadcast live by GBC, gave the three leaders the opportunity to put across their policies and address issues put to them by members of the public.

A question on abortion reinforced the polarizing views that exist on the issue.

In July the Gibraltar Parliament approved an amendment to Gibraltar’s crimes legislation that would allow abortion under certain circumstances.

But the legislation is to be put to the community in a referendum next year.

Ms Hassan Nahon said this was a “healthcare issue” and urged it be treated as such.

She said: “We have to stop this attitude of judging women, women are entitled to healthcare, it’s happening down the road, everybody knows it, everybody has a family member who’s had it…”

Mr Picardo urged a “rational approach” to the matter, adding that the view of the public is now needed through a referendum.

“You will press the trigger to start the Act or you will not,” he said.

“Marlene will not give you that power and neither will Keith.”

Mr Azopardi restated the GSD stance on the issue, reiterating that it was about “balancing rights” between the woman and the unborn child.

“We will not commence the law of abortion on demand passed by the Parliament at the instance of the GSLP, we will legislate to protect the unborn child subject to the exceptions of rape, incest and fatal foetal abnormalities.”