Even with a 20.5 per cent margin, the Liberal MP for Farrer Sussan Ley is under pressure. (ABC Goulburn Murray: Allison Jess)
Regional seats proved the toughest battleground for the Coalition at the New South Wales state election, and with just days to go until the federal poll the pressure remains.
- In Cowper the Nationals hold the seat by 4.6 per cent and face a challenge from independent Robert Oakeshott
- In Farrer the Liberals hold the seat by 20.5 per cent and face a challenge from the Albury mayor amid water allocation anger
- In Gilmore, the Coalition’s most marginal seat in NSW, there is only a 0.7 per cent margin
Liberal and National Party candidates are under threat in the south western seat of Farrer, along with Cowper on the mid-north coast, and the Coalition’s most marginal seat in NSW — Gilmore on the south coast.
In some of those races, independents are proving a key factor.
Independent Rob Oakeshott, who helped Labor form Government under Julia Gillard, is making a comeback in Cowper, a seat the Nationals hold by 4.6 per cent.
Mr Oakeshott said he was trying to make a comeback because he had unfinished business and believed there was a mood for regional independents.
“I do think there is an organic movement that has built up in response to what is happening, and people want their democracy back.”
“There is a common thread of frustration across regional Australia as we see million-dollar fish kills, and towns having to import water, so those frustrations are real, but it is very organic seat by seat.”
Cowper independent candidate Rob Oakeshott (left) could be a threat to Nationals candidate Pat Conaghan. (ABC News: Claudia Jambor, Sarah Maunder)
At the weekly ‘Real Food Markets’ in Port Macquarie memories of Mr Oakeshott’s time in a Parliament were still fresh.
Farmer and stall holder, Alex Rullis still has faith in him.
“People got dirty with him because he went across the line for Labor, but he was still for the local people.”
Local, Noel Giles also remembers him fondly.
“He did a tremendous job last time he was in Parliament, we’ve got a magnificent base hospital here.”
Another local producer Adam Tutt from Bowraville, had a different memory of Mr Oakeshott, but is struggling to pick another candidate.
“He really has no support, but I’m not seeing anything out of the box, or any sort of thought behind any policies from government at the moment.”
Kempsey-born former police officer and lawyer, Patrick Conaghan is hoping to hold on to the seat as Luke Hartsyker retires and said voters were telling him they were worried about the instability independents could bring to the Parliament.
“Oakeshott was in a unique position that will not be repeated again, they don’t want to see an independent returned to Cowper.”
Independent candidate for Farrer, Kevin Mack on the campaign trail at the Griffith Field Days is calling for the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to be put on hold. (Facebook: Kevin Mack for Farrer )
Hundreds of kilometres away in the drought-stricken seat of Farrerr, former Liberal Minister, Sussan Ley is fighting to hold onto her seat against another conservative Independent.
Albury Mayor, Kevin Mack has the backing of the Southern Riverina Irrigators and has put water and the Murray-Darling Basin at the heart of his campaign.
“Bringing the issue of water to the forefront and making people understand that without water, we don’t have communities,” he said.
He has called for the plan to be put on hold.
“To get across the line will be a significant task, but we’re quietly confident we’ve done a good job.”
Despite holding the seat with a 20.5 per cent margin, the backlash over water allocations has shown up in recent polling seen by local newspapers suggesting Ms Ley’s primary vote is down.
She is warning the response to the issue is more complex than hitting the pause button.
“While we always get caught up in this irrigator-environment sort of push and pull, that’s not really what it’s about. What it should be about is food security.”
The Coalition’s most marginal seat in NSW of 0.7 per cent is notable also as one of the most confusing.
In Gilmore, former Labor Party President, Warren Mundine has been parachuted in by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, causing the locally supported Liberal, Grant Schultz to run as an Independent, and leaving two former Liberal members backing the Nationals candidate Katrina Hodgkinson.
Labor’s candidate Fiona Phillips said watching the Coalition chaos had been a distraction,
Fiona Phillips welcomes Opposition Leader Bill Shorten during his visit to Nowra as Labor puts pressure on the traditional Coalition seat. (ABC News: Andy Kennedy)
“I often describe it as like a racehorse you have to put blinkers on because there’s so many other things happening.”
Producers at the Kiama weekly farmers market have watched the campaign circus with interest.
Adam Walmsley, one of co-founders of the market said it had been a fascinating local race.
“It’s a real melting pot, such a narrow margin, I couldn’t pick it at the moment, I would say Labor by a whisker, but who knows it’s pretty tight.”
He said he would like to see more focus on a response to climate change.
“There are topics dear to my heart as a farmer. I have concerns about how the current Federal Government is addressing climate and sustainability.
“I look at what the candidates in Gilmore are promising, I find some hope, but there is no one candidate that is standing out at the moment.”
Katrina Hodgkinson, Fiona Phillips and Warren Mundine are fighting for the seat of Gilmore. (ABC Illawarra: Gavin Coote)
Lamb producer Kiri Kinski from Woollamia, said she had made up her mind based on Liberal Party policy, but was not impressed with the candidate.
“From a personal perspective I’ve made a decision based on my investments and where we have planted our money.
“For the Labor Party to try and change legislation and tax rules at a later date, is not fair. My father’s generation have worked my whole life for an investment strategy based on government policy and now they are threatening to change those policies and tax them.”
“I don’t like the candidate, I think the candidate is really poor, but I respect the fact that I can vote and won’t throw that away.”
Kiama dairy farmer, Kel Grey has diversified his family farm’s production to include making cheese and gelato and welcomed the pressure a marginal seat puts on the candidates.
“Being marginal is a good thing and having choices is a good thing, but I don’t think anyone is standing out, I think we have lost our way in terms of forming policy and in house fighting.”
And, unlike the gelato he makes, he said the choices in Gilmore are much less interesting,
“Yeah, it’s like plain, plain or plainer.”
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