RICHARD Torbay's political future is under a cloud after the independent Northern Tablelands MP withdrew his nomination as The Nationals candidate for New England at the federal election.
In a statement, NSW Nationals chairman Niall Blair said the party had asked Mr Torbay to withdraw his candidacy.
“The party has received information over the past 24 hours of which we were not previously aware regarding Mr Torbay,” Mr Blair said. “The matters in question pre-date Mr Torbay’s membership of The Nationals.
“The party has asked Mr Torbay to withdraw his candidacy for New England and to resign from the NSW National Party, which he has done."
The NSW Nationals is seeking legal advice on the information received, Mr Niall said.
The withdrawal came a day after The Australian Financial Review reported Mr Torbay had been helped into politics in 1999 by former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, now the subject of a corruption inquiry. Mr Torbay was also one of dozens of political and other figures featured in Mr Obeid’s diaries, published last week.
The matter is highly embarrassing for federal Nationals leader Warren Truss, who was to launch Mr Torbay’s campaign to unset incumbent independent New England MP Tony Windsor on Friday.
News of the shock decision was delivered to federal Nationals MPs via a text message and a meeting at parliament house in Canberra on Tuesday night.
New England senator John Williams told Fairfax Regional Media members were called into the office of Mr Truss at about 7pm, where Mr Torbay's resignation from the party was announced. No details about why were offered.
“I was shocked, totally shocked, “ Mr Williams said.
Mr Williams said after returning to his office and speaking to his staff about the resignation, he received a text message from NSW Nationals director Ben Franklin telling him Mr Torbay had resigned and there would be no further comment on the matter.
Mr Williams said he sent a message to Mr Franklin asking for more information but has received no response.
Mr Torbay was widely regarded as the strongest candidate to topple Mr Windsor at the September poll.
“We will immediately proceed to preselect a new candidate for the seat of New England at the earliest opportunity and will provide a strong community champion to take the fight up to Tony Windsor and the Gillard Labor government,” Mr Niall's statement said.
Mr Torbay did not answer his phone on Tuesday evening.
Joyce prepares to tackle Windsor
Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce has said he would “absolutely” consider throwing his hat in the ring in the battle for New England.
Speaking to Fairfax Regional Media on Tuesday night, Mr Joyce said the decision as to whether he would be a candidate was up to the electorate council.
While he did not know the details of Mr Torbay’s resignation, the Queensland senator said he had never had any reason to doubt the independent Northern Tablelands state MP.
“Until someone tells me why, I still don’t (doubt his integrity),” Mr Joyce said. “I will give Mr Torbay the absolute benefit of any doubt.”
Mr Joyce said he had always been “ consistent” in declaring his interest in the seat.
“I live in Maranoa and I grew up in New England... there’s only two places where you can be in the lower house: where you live and where you grew up,” he said. “These decisions are always for the people of New England and for the electorate council.
“I’ve always been guided by the people in the New England electorate. You cant unilaterally take yourself to the wedding, you need another party to go with you.
“I've put my self out there for consideration of the electorate council and it's up to them. In the game of politics you are the servant, not the Lord."