TWO polls conducted this week show Richard Torbay holding a significant lead over Tony Windsor as the preferred member for New England at the next federal election.
A ReachTEL survey of 532 New England residents show Mr Torbay as the clear favourite among respondents, with 60.2 per cent nominating the aspiring Nationals candidate as their first preference. Only 24.6 per cent of respondents chose Tony Windsor on first preferences, with a Labor-endorsed candidate receiving the next highest figure at 4.6 per cent.
Based on the distribution of preferences at the 2010 election, the poll indicates a two-party preferred result of 65.7 per cent for Mr Torbay and 34.3 per cent for Mr Windsor. Another poll, conducted on armidaleexpress.com.au, shows a reduced lead for Mr Torbay. 54.2 per cent of the 238 respondents said they would vote for Mr Torbay if preselected as a Nationals candidate, with 42.4 per cent claiming they would not and 3.4 per cent undecided.
Of the 129 people who signalled they would vote for Mr Torbay, 20 said they would do so because he had decided to join the Nationals. Conversely, 25 of the 76 people who said they would not vote for Mr Torbay indicated they would change their mind if he contested the election as an independent.
Mr Torbay told The Express that while the polling figures were encouraging, they were no reason for complacency.
“Obviously, I’m encouraged by the response in the community, but you have to be recognise that they’re only polls,” he said. “Every election is a tough election and I never take voters for granted, but I’m certainly encouraged by the responses I’ve received.”
Claims made at the weekend by NSW Labor’s general secretary, Sam Dastyari, that Mr Torbay had offered to join the party in return for becoming premier in 2009 appear not to have damaged local perceptions of the state MP, with messages of support coming in from across the electorate.
“The traffic has been enormous, people have been responding positively and have also been extremely supportive in response to mud thrown by Labor to coincide with the preselection announcement,” Mr Torbay said.
Former Labor powerbroker Graham Richardson and federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen have also weighed into the debate, with Mr Richardson claiming Mr Dastyari had contacted him several times in late 2009 to discuss the matter. But Mr Torbay denies the claims and said it was “clear that Labor is attempting to defend Tony Windsor in New England”.