RICHARD Torbay’s decision to run for federal preselection with the Nationals in the key battleground of New England has drawn a mixed reaction from locals and other politicians.
The Member for Northern Tablelands ended weeks of speculation on Friday by announcing that he would make a tilt at the seat of New England while representing the National Party.
In a joint media conference with Nationals leader Warren Truss at the University of New England, Mr Torbay said he was entering party politics after 13 years as an independent because he believed it was the best way to deliver outcomes to his constituents.
“I’ve made no secret about my disappointment with the damage to the independent brand and I think the number one reason I’m in politics is to deliver outcomes for my area,” he said. “I think this is the best way that I’m going to be able to do that in future parliaments, given what’s happened in the hung parliament.”
If Mr Torbay is successful in his preselection bid, he will continue to sit on the crossbenches in State Parliament until the federal election is called.
He said that, if elected to the Federal Parliament, he would focus on securing funding for regional development and health services.
“Regional development is going to be a particular passionate area for me; I think access to infrastructure and investment in regional areas has been underdone,” he said.
“I know these are very similar objectives to why the Country Party was created and why the Nationals and their charter exists today.”
Mr Truss said he was delighted with Mr Torbay’s decision and did not see any issue with Mr Torbay’s insistence on being allowed to cross the floor on certain issues.
“The Nationals expect all of our members to stand up for their electorates; that doesn’t mean they’re mavericks, it means they’re being a good local champion and doing their job properly in federal parliament,” he told The Express.
“Yes, there have been some clashes in the past between Richard and the Nationals, angry words said in the moment of battle. But I’m confident that his wish to be a Nationals-endorsed candidate is sincere, that he believes that this is the best way that he can achieve things for his constituency and I agree with him.”
Mr Truss said New England would be a key battleground for the Nationals and hoped the party’s fortunes in recent state elections would be repeated at the federal poll.
“We want to build on the achievements of recent elections and I’m hopeful that we’ll pick up a number of seats in NSW; seats held currently by independents but also seats held by the Labor Party,” he said.
Mr Torbay’s announcement was praised by Premier Barry O’Farrell, who took to Twitter to wish him well and described him as “one of the best local MPs I’ve seen in the NSW Parliament”.
But he was criticised by the ALP, including Opposition Leader John Robertson.
“The interesting thing is that he is going to join the National Party, he’s going to run as a National Party candidate, and pretend he’s sitting here still as an independent,” he said.
Country Labor Duty MLC for Northern Tablelands Mike Veitch said the move was a betrayal of Mr Torbay’s constituents.
“There would be many people dismayed at finding out today that Mr Torbay thinks he can contest a National Party federal preselection whilst remaining as an independent in the NSW Parliament,” he said.
“I feel for all those people who trusted and voted for Mr Torbay because he was an independent. They must feel betrayed.”
Readers have taken to armidaleexpress.com.au to express both pleasure and disappointment in Mr Torbay’s decision.
‘Goodbye Richard’ claimed to have voted for Mr Torbay because he was an independent, but believed he “will become a Coalition lackey who toes the party line”.
“Windsor and Oakeshott did what they thought best at the time and I believe they acted with the best of intentions. You would do well to realise how despised and loathed both Abbott and Gillard are by voters,” he wrote.
But ‘Bush bunny’ said both Mr Torbay and Mr Windsor had delivered for the region.
“Do you want an unknown entity to be elected to New England if Richard does not stand?” she asked. “Both have done the region proud until Tony stood to support ALP in the last election. Don’t be so tribal, I think Nats have learned a lesson or two, thanks to TW.”
Mr Windsor was not willing to comment on the latest developments, claiming he is focused on the proceedings of the