THE seat of New England is shaping up as an absorbing battle within a battle in the lead-up to next year’s federal election.
Hot on the heels of maverick Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce expressing an interest in contesting the New England seat at the 2013 poll, the Member for Northern Tablelands, Richard Torbay, is also “strongly considering” a run at the federal seat.
Mr Torbay revealed on Friday he had been courted by three parties to run against the sitting member, independent Tony Windsor.
Mr Torbay told The Express that The Nationals, Liberal Party and Bob Katter’s Australia Party had all approached him in recent weeks to step up from State politics for a run at preselection in the seat of New England.
The popular local MP said that if he did accept an offer to join a party, it would be “on my terms and not a strings-attached deal”.
“I’m not the sort of person who changes my values, and my values are about delivering outcomes,” the independent MP told The Express.
“I’ve worked closely with both sides of politics, and in fact I’ve been accused of being part of both sides of politics in my career.”
Another to be courted in recent weeks by The Nationals is Walcha farmer and National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie, who refused to rule out a run at preselection.
Mr Torbay confirmed that if he was to align himself with a party, it would probably be The Nationals.
He reiterated that the independent brand had been “greatly damaged”.
“I am concerned that, federally, for an independent at the next several Parliaments, it’s going to be very difficult to have influence in that situation, given what’s happened with the independents in the current hung Parliament,” he said.
“I can confirm that I have been approached by The Nationals to run for the seat of New England, or run for their pre-selection for the seat of New England.
“I’ve actually been approached by more than The Nationals,” Mr Torbay said.
“The Liberals have approached me, as well as the Katter Australia Party. That was a very interesting meeting, but I don’t quite have the hat for that particular party,” he added tongue-in-cheek.
Asked how strongly he was considering a move to federal politics, Mr Torbay said: “Well, I have made no secret of my disappointment about the trashing of the independent brand.
“There’s no doubt it’s been damaged by a hung Parliament, and that’s been very disappointing from my perspective.
“We’ve seen that reflected in a number of State polls, where Victoria now doesn’t have any more independents in their Parliament; there were three lost at the last NSW election; and at the recent Queensland election we saw three independents go.
“So, there’s no doubt there’s been massive brand damage, and that’s what I think has caused these approaches to occur.”
He said that if he sought pre-selection, his decision would not be based on a personal offensive against Mr Windsor.
“It’s not about personalities for me,” he said. “It’s about outcomes being delivered for our local areas. I really like speaking up on local issues, and representing the community. Those are matters that will not be negotiable for me in the future. I think it’d be smart for a party to pick up those sorts of approaches.
“And if there are political members of parliament who don’t believe there has been damage to the independent brand, they are clearly not hearing the very strong messages in the community. I think people will vote away from a hung Parliament in their droves.”
He added that, “I don’t want to see New England sidelined in the future. We can’t afford to pay a price”.
Mr Windsor yesterday said that, “I won’t give a running commentary on this”.
“The time for debating it will be when the next election is called,” he said.