With coal jobs set to dominate the Upper Hunter by-election, the major parties are scrambling to choose the right candidate to contest the marginal seat.
With coal jobs set to dominate the Upper Hunter by-election, the major parties are scrambling to choose the right candidate to contest the marginal seat.

Nationals preselection date set as fight over coal heats up

The battle for Upper Hunter has begun with the Nationals to preselect their candidate on Wednesday ahead of what will be a fast and furious campaign to retain the prized seat.

Long-term Singleton Mayor Sue Moore is leading the field of prospective Nationals candidates, with party sources declaring up to three others locals are considering nominating for the seat.

Held by the party with a 2.6 per cent margin, the seat has become vacant with the resignation of Nationals MP Michael Johnsen amid allegations that he sexually assaulted the woman at a lookout in the Blue Mountains in September, 2019.

Mr Johnsen has denied the allegations.

With coal jobs one of the critical issues among voters in the seat, the party has its work cut out distancing itself from the appointment of Malcolm Turnbull as the inaugural chairman of the NSW Net-Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board, which is advising the NSW government on climate policy.

Appointed by the State government, Mr Turnbull has created a headache for the Nationals with his calls for a plan for a future beyond coal, prompting Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean personally urging the former prime minister on Thursday to stop talking down coal.

However, Nationals sources say they are confident the "right" candidate will ensure the seat will be kept in the stable.

The Nationals message to voters will focus on economic stability during an uncertain time, with the party promising a "safer and stronger" Upper Hunter.

Matt Kean has urged the former prime minister to stop talking about coal. Picture: Peter Lorimer
Matt Kean has urged the former prime minister to stop talking about coal. Picture: Peter Lorimer

Labor, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party and One Nation are also expected to challenge, with preference deals to become critical in how each party fares.

One Nation MP Mark Latham, who will visit the seat next week ahead of the party choosing its candidate, said coal industry jobs was the key issue in the electorate.

Mr Latham, who lives in Newcastle, said a recent study showed three out of five households in the Singleton and Muswellbrook local government areas had an interest in the coal industry.

He seized on state government's the appointment of Mr Turnbull as "climate chief", a move he said had been endorsed by the Nationals.

Mark Latham … One Nation will field a candidate. Picture: Bianca De Marchi
Mark Latham … One Nation will field a candidate. Picture: Bianca De Marchi

"Protection of their jobs and securing their economic future is the only issue in Upper Hunter and that's what we are campaign on," Mr Latham said.

"Malcolm Turnbull said that coal is on its way out, that coal has no future and people should work in horse breeding and wine growing - this is someone endorsed by the National Party.

"What an amazing, disgusting, arrogant and insulting thing to say to people heavily dependent on coal mining, and spoken from a harbourside mansion in eastern Sydney. We will be fighting for coal jobs and we certainly won't be doing any preference arrangements with anyone that wants to destroy the coal industry.

It is understood the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining Energy Union (CFMEU) are pushing for Labor to preselect a coalminer.

However, Labor leader Jodi McKay has played down the party's prospects.

Labor sources from both the Left and Right factions say Ms McKay's leadership will come under threat should the party fail to win the seat from a government that has been in power for 10 years.

"This is a referendum on Jodi," one Labor frontbencher said.

Shooters MP Rob Borsak said several potential candidates had indicated they would like to run.

"We will preference Labor if they preference us," he said.

"The Libs dragging the Nationals against coal mining is not going to help them, nor their animal rights agenda. Farming is also big issue there."

Greens MP David Shoebridge said another key issue in the seat was the sale of Scone TAFE, with around 50 angry locals turning up to a public meeting last week.

"They were not only angry that the 17 hectare site was bought for $4 million - but that the purchase was announced on the day disgraced local MP Michael Johnsen announced his resignation," he said.

"They now are calling for every cent of that $4 million to be spent on a new TAFE and not one of those connected learning centres, which are basically an internet cafe without the coffee."

The Nationals preselection will be held in Singleton.

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Nats preselection date set as fight over coal heats up

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. Picture: Mick Tsikasvia
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull. Picture: Mick Tsikasvia

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