Nats are back
By ALEX EASTON
THE Nationals have tightened their hold on the North Coast, with voters delivering the party control of all Northern Rivers state seats for only the second time in 48 years.
Saturday's election strengthened the holds of National's MPs Don Page (Ballina), Thomas George (Lismore), and Steve Cansdell (Clarence), and delivered victory to the party's Tweed candidate Geoff Provest.
Aside from now Page MP Ian Causley's 12-year reign in Clarence, between 1984 and 1996, the Northern Rivers has had at least one a Labor MP since 1959, when Keith Compton won Lismore.
However, the victory was bitter sweet, with voters across the state matching predictions of opinion polls and returning Labor to Government.
While Tweed MP Neville Newell was yesterday afternoon still to concede, Mr Provest was sitting on nearly 49 per cent after preferences, with about 30 per cent of the vote still to be counted.
Nationals campaign manager for Tweed, Murray Lees, said voters had delivered Mr Provest an eight per cent swing, likely to leave him sitting on a four per cent margin once voting was complete.
Ballina MP Don Page and Clarence MP Steve Cansdell have each increased their primary votes and, when counting is finished, they, along with Lismore MP Thomas George, are expected to have substantially bigger margins.
As of yesterday afternoon the NSW Electoral Commission had recorded Mr Page with a primary vote of 53.47 per cent, with 26 per cent of the vote still to be counted. Mr George had 53.86 per cent of Lismore's primary vote with 26 per cent still to be counted, and Mr Cansdell had 53 per cent, with 24 per cent still to be counted.
Scrutineers for Mr George on Saturday night reported a primary vote around 55 per cent, with more still coming.
That compares to total prim- ary votes in the 2003 election of 44.5 per cent for Mr Cansdell, 51.5 per cent for Mr Page, and 55.4 per cent for Mr George.
A clearly delighted Mr George said his first priority would be ensure Lismore Base Hospital got its radiotherapy unit and its redevelopment.
"I'm putting North Coast Area Health Service and the Minister on notice," Mr George said. "This community will fight until we achieve a result for radiotherapy and stage three (of the redevelopment) is done.
"Transport is still a major issue and we'll still be trying for the trains to be reinstated."
Mr Page said he would continue working for all residents of Ballina, regardless of their political inclination, and Mr Provest vowed he would be 'pounding on the door' of the Labor Gov- ernment on local issues such at Sextons Hill.
Labor candidates Melanie Doriean (Ballina) and Peter Lanyon (Lismore) and Lismore Greens candidate Andy Gough (who also increased his vote) said the wins could be chalked up to the strong personal followings Mr George and Mr Page had built in their electorates.
"I think anti-Labor sentiment played a huge part in it, but Thomas George also has huge grass roots support. He's a nice guy with an amazing ability to remember everyone's first name. We just think he's in the wrong party," Mr Gough said.
Ballina Electorate Council chairman Albert Enzerink told supporters at Mr Page's election party the result showed the Nationals remained a potent force in Australian politics.