With the National Party continuing to hold the line on whether it ‘robo’ called to test potential candidates in the NSW seat of Goulburn, and a visit from Opposition Leader Luke Foley on Thursday and Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday, voters could be forgiven for thinking all eyes are on what was once a safe conservative seat.
However, in the 2015 NSW election, ALP candidate for Goulburn Dr Ursula Stephens narrowed the Coalition’s margin by 20%, taking the Liberal Party sitting MP Pru Goward’s lead to 6.6%. Dr Stephens was recently preselected for a second tilt at the NSW elections in 2019, with the Opposition Leader visiting Goulburn to officially open her campaign. Mr Foley has made several visits to Goulburn recently, an indication of just how seriously the ALP is taking the electorate.
As the battle for the Goulburn electorate heats up, the National Party is apparently also not leaving anything to chance. While Goulburn State Electorate Council Chairman James Harker-Mortlock won’t confirm or deny the robocalling, he did say it ‘wouldn’t surprise’ him if his party was calling voters.
“I can’t definitely confirm or deny if they were but given the uncertainty in the [Federal seat] of Eden Monaro preselection, I wouldn’t be surprised,” he said.
Eden Monaro takes in the Yass and Murrumbateman areas of the NSW Goulburn seat. The Liberals and the Nationals have publicly declared their intentions of offering candidates in Eden Monaro at the next Federal election, inflaming tensions between the two parties. The seat is held by the ALP’s Mike Kelly by a slim 2.9% margin.
In the NSW Goulburn electorate, it would appear these same tensions might be simmering below the surface.
Under a Coalition agreement, the Liberals and the Nationals don’t normally run opposing candidates but a change in NSW electoral boundaries in 2015 moved the local government areas of Upper Lachlan, Boorowa and Yass Valley in the seat of Burrinjuck to the new electoral district of Goulburn. Burrinjuck was held by longtime National Party stalwart Katrina Hodgkinson who moved to the newly created seat of Cootamundra to make way for Goulburn incumbent, Ms Goward.
“If there was a possibility of Ms Goward retiring, we would do what any party would do, obtain better information on the ground. It shouldn’t be assumed the National Party will sit back and let other [candidates] go unchallenged,” Mr Harker-Mortlock said.
Asked if there were any circumstances the Nationals would enter into a three-cornered contest for the seat of Goulburn, Mr Harker-Mortlock said Ms Goward would either need to retire or be defeated in the upcoming election.
“Anything is possible and if the Liberal Party were to lose the seat of Goulburn, we’d want to run next time. Given the strong ALP candidate [Dr Stephens] who is personable and experienced in the Federal Senate, and has a network across the electorate…it’ll be a fight for the Coalition. If I were the Liberal Party I wouldn’t assume Goulburn will be an easy walk-in.”
In the south of the state, Mr Harker-Mortlock maintains the National Party needs to be on the front foot.
“We do well in northern and central NSW but down south we need to follow Monaro MP and Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s lead. We also need to be running our candidates in local government elections and get our people onto the playing field,” he said.
Mr Harker-Mortlock sees the National Party, which has traditionally held country seats, as best placed to represent the diversity in rural Australia.
“We need to move beyond ideological positions. Because of the dimensions of government in people’s lives, they are saying ‘we’re paying taxes and we don’t care about political ideology but we do care about service delivery’. The National Party has traditionally been a party that has fought for services for country areas,” he said.
“We were also the one party that delivered the Royal Banking Commission, not the Liberals or the ALP, and we went out on a limb to do it.”
Ms Goward has currently ruled out retiring before the 2019 NSW Election.