THE NATIONALS’ state deputy leader Adrian Piccoli yesterday endorsed the party’s attempts to recruit Northern Tablelands MP Richard Torbay as their candidate for the seat of New England at the next federal election.
His backing came as the war of words between Mr Torbay and Liberal Duty MLC for Northern NSW, Scot MacDonald, heated up yesterday.
Mr MacDonald lashed out at Mr Torbay, describing his interest in running federally as being driven by “political opportunism”.
Mr Piccoli, who is also the Education Minister in the O’Farrell Government, told The Express that Mr Torbay would be an asset to the party if he were to accept the offer of running federally as a National.
“The Nationals have known Richard for a long time - I’ve personally known him for 13 years - and he has been an incredibly effective member for his community, so why wouldn’t we approach him to become a part of our team?” he said. “The people of New England want an effective member of parliament, and if Richard was to run for one of the Coalition parties it would be fantastic from our point of view.”
Mr Torbay said in Monday’s Express that he was considering approaches by members of the Nationals, Liberal Party and Bob Katter’s Australian Party to contest the seat of New England against incumbent Tony Windsor at the 2013 poll.
But Mr MacDonald said there had been no official approaches by the Liberal Party to Mr Torbay.
“There’s certainly no official approach, and there will be no official approach,” he said.
Speaking from his parliamentary office in Sydney, Mr MacDonald criticised Mr Torbay’s attacks on the Coalition in recent years.
“He’s fought against the Coalition for years, he’s denigrated the party and he doesn’t hold our values,” he said. “He doesn’t have any economic principles, he doesn’t have any values, he doesn’t have any policies and really, he’s just a political opportunist.
“He’ll go wherever he thinks he can improve his political position, not out of any love of any political parties; it’s just about what’s in it for Richard.”
While Mr Piccoli was not privy to discussions between Mr Torbay and the Liberal Party, he referred positively to Mr Torbay’s work in politics.
“Scot MacDonald’s comments are unfortunate and not correct,” he said. “What we want are the most effective local members, and Richard has proven himself to be incredibly effective at producing outcomes for his community.”
Mr Torbay was not willing to comment on what he described as “personal attacks” by Mr MacDonald, but said he had been flooded with messages of support from constituents since the party approaches went public.
“There’s been a lot of encouragement from the community, and it’s been overwhelming,” he said. “But I’m still the state member working very hard on a range of issues that I’m firmly focused on, given that the federal election is still 18 months away.”
He said the uncertainty of the hung parliament was fuelling premature speculation about the next election nationwide, with the recent controversy surrounding federal Speaker Peter Slipper adversely affecting the public’s view of politics in general.
“I think this applies downward pressure on the institution (parliament) and it has negative implications for all politicians when these sorts of matters continue to happen and get the airplay that they get,” he said.