Alan Hunter: The Richmond Nationals president is both optimistic and apprehensive about the future.
Alan Hunter: The Richmond Nationals president is both optimistic and apprehensive about the future.

Nationals launch new campaign

NATIONALS Richmond president Alan Hunter has conceded the party risks losing its status as the seat’s dominant conservative force unless it finds a strong candidate for the Federal election.

The Nationals yesterday opened nominations for a new preselection after the party’s candidate, Tania Murdock, quit on Sunday.

Mrs Murdock left the election race citing personal attacks on her and issues with parts of the local party. She denied a traffic accident on Saturday had anything to do with her decision.

Regardless of the reasons, Mrs Murdock’s decision to vacate the field leaves theNationals without a candidate only a few months out from the next Federal election.

Given Mrs Murdock was the only candidate at the Nationals’ original Richmond preselection ballot, and the Labor Government’s sliding electoral fortunes, Mr Hunter was viewing the coming preselection ballot with a mixture of optimism and apprehension.

“I don’t want to sound too confident. I have as much apprehension about the likely outcomes as anyone,” he said.

That apprehension was not so much based on whether the party would find a candidate. Mr Hunter said a couple of names had already been mentioned, although he declined to say who.

However, the pressure is on for the party to get the right candidate.

In a way, the main opponent for the Nats in Richmond could be the Liberal’s Joan Van Lieshout as much as sitting Labor MP Justine Elliot.

The seat’s growing urbanisation, along with its increasing population of former city dwellers, means there were more people who automatically think conservative politics means ‘Liberal’.

“If we don’t work at it, it (the conservative mantle in Richmond) is going to go to the Liberals,” Mr Hunter said.

That battle could well be independent of the final election result. Ms Elliot’s position as Richmond MP is protected by a healthy 8.7 per cent margin. Her position is not unassailable, but her conservative rivals face an uphill battle.

Former Richmond Nationals MP Larry Anthony yesterday agreed winning Richmond this time around would be ‘a big ask’ – he has previously tipped Labor to hold the seat – but said the Nationals’ hold on the North Coast at the state level meant that the party’s presence in the region was secure.

Mr Anthony said the secret to the Nationals’ success on the North Coast had been in its MPs’ independence and local credentials.

“The glue that binds it together, in a political sense, is that independence, with a close affinity to that part of the land and the different cultures and people that make it up – that’s what transcends political boundaries,” he said.

The success of those elements can be seen in State Ballina MP Don Page, who has earned a reputation for speaking against the party line when he sees fit. At the last State election, he won every booth in left-leaning Byron Bay, despite bearing the ‘conservative’ tag.

Mr Hunter said independence was important in a candidate.

When the Nationals lost a seat, it lost more often to an independent candidate than to Labor or Liberal, he said. That record, along with party polling, showed voters wanted candidates that would fight for them ahead of the interests of any party.

The Nationals’ intention in Richmond was to provide a candidate who would do that, while still clearly communicating the party’s policies, as distinct from Coalition or Liberal policy, he said.

Mr Hunter agreed the bar was set high and finding the right candidate would be hard, but he was optimistic – he had to be.

“If you are not optimistic, you are dead,” he said.

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