Leading Nationals at Lismore Base Hospital from left, Deputy Leader Nigel Scullion, Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Senate Leader Fiona Nash and Nationals leader Warren Truss.
Leading Nationals at Lismore Base Hospital from left, Deputy Leader Nigel Scullion, Senate Leader Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Senate Leader Fiona Nash and Nationals leader Warren Truss. Jacklyn Wagner

Nats draw Page battlelines

THE next Federal election is not due for more than a year, but the National Party has already launched its battle to retake Page - the seat named for one of the party's founders and the man to broker the first Coalition agreement.

The Nats' leadership group - Barnaby Joyce, Fiona Nash, Nigel Scullion and party leader Warren Truss - yesterday rolled into Lismore to chew the fat and share their unsurprisingly low opinion of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The visit hints at the election blitzkrieg due to hit the residents of Lismore, Ballina, Casino, Kyogle, Evans, Grafton and everywhere in between late next year.

Yesterday's issue was health, with each of the MP's taking turns swiping at the Federal and State Labor governments - but mostly the Feds - for their failure to fix the health system.

“What's coming through is disappointment,” said Nationals Senate Deputy Leader Fiona Nash. “We were told that Kevin Rudd would fix hospitals. He said he'd do it by June 30 this year; but the hospitals haven't improved. He just said he'd have another review.

“People are extremely disappointed. He's simply broken that promise.”

Nationals Leader Warren Truss raised his preferred solution to the ongoing health catastrophe - the return of regional boards to decide how money should be spent in a region.

However, the leader agreed his solution - last mooted by former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard shortly before he lost office in 2007 - was unable to account for problems created by a straight lack of money.

Senate Leader - and the Nationals MP most often confused for party Leader - Barnaby Joyce said Labor's stimulus spending meant there wasn't enough money left for big health projects such as fixing Lismore Base Hospital or properly covering local mental health services.

“In this town you've had a murder associated with mental health problems,” he said. “You can't have one social worker looking after mental health cases; it's putting their lives at risk.” Maybe he doesn't feel threatened in Page, maybe he doesn't think the race has yet started.”

When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was in Lismore a week ago, also talking about health, his over-the-political-fence swiping did not even mention the Nationals. He was focused on Liberal leader Malcolm Turnbull and, for some reason, AWA's and how lucky we were to be shot of them.

But the PM may have underestimated the Nats' desire to have the seat named after Sir Earle Christmas Grafton Page returned to them.

Senator Joyce, who laughs off suggestions he might consider a run at the seat, speaks glowingly of local State Nationals MP's and of the willingness of the punters in Page to freely voice their opinions to visiting MPs.

Whether that translates into a solid chance at the ballot box is anyone's guess - and the Nats know it.



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