Nationals eclipsed in bush seats

Rueben Hale, Sophie Morris andDylan CapornCountryman
Kado Muir on the outback hustings for his run at the Senate for the WA Nationals.
Camera IconKado Muir on the outback hustings for his run at the Senate for the WA Nationals. Credit: Countryman

The WA Nationals have been beaten by Labor in the bush and are behind One Nation in the Senate count, in a challenge to the party’s claim to be the strongest advocate for the regions.

The party is also lagging Labor in the Liberal-held rural electorates of O’Connor and Durack.

In O’Connor, the Nationals were pipped at the post for second place by Labor’s Jon Ford. Likeable Pingelly farmer and Nationals candidate, John Hassell, had been regarded as a serious chance against the incumbent Liberal Rick Wilson, but ended badly with an indicative 4.89 per cent two-party preferred swing against him.

Mr Wilson comfortably retained the seat with an indicative 3.49 per cent swing in his favour, with Labor’s preferences set to further bolster his margin.

In Durack, Liberal incumbent Melissa Price bolstered her numbers with an indicative two-party preferred swing to her of 4.4 per cent. Indigenous Labor candidate Carol Martin also significantly increased her numbers.

Bruce Rock local Lisa Cole had been parachuted into the seat as the Nationals’ candidate just one month out from the poll. Voters responded with an indicative swing of more than 7.22 per cent against her in a two-party preferred count.

Mr Hassell, who said he felt very flat after the result, said he would now be concentrating on making sure he produced a bumper crop this year.

“It’s obviously very disappointing, but it was always going to be a challenge competing against a well-funded campaign in a very short amount of time,” he said.

Mr Wilson said the Nationals had had their run.

“The O’Connor result for the Nationals was in-line with their polling around the country,” he said.

“You can’t expect to win if people don’t know if you are even going to be part of the coalition team and rehash a six-year-old issue like WA’s GST share.”

Ms Cole said she was proud of her efforts in contending for the seat, despite the poor result.

“This ended up being a very Labor-Liberal focused campaign,” she said. “I think our party needs to more clear about what we offer people, which is something that is being discussed federally.”

Ms Price said she believed she had increased her margin in the election by sheer hard work.

“Myself and Rick Wilson have shown there is no need for the Nationals any more because we are doing a great job listening to the people in the bush already,” she said.

WA Nationals leader Terry Redman conceded it was a disappointing outcome.

He said the party would review its performance ahead of the State election in March after failing to gain traction.

“We’d love to perform better, but if you look back at the history of voting in Western Australia in terms of those regional seats in particular, we perform very well at a State level but there’s a strong support for the Liberal Party when it goes to a federal vote,” he said on Monday.

The result is a far cry from 2010, when the WA Nationals won the seat of O’Connor and sent Tony Crook to Canberra for one term.

This time, Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce tried to talk former WA Nationals leader Brendon Grylls into running for the Upper House in the hope that the lower hurdle of a double dissolution election could deliver a Senate spot.

But Mr Grylls rebuffed Mr Joyce’s advances in April and the party instead fielded indigenous anthropologist and former Greens candidate Kado Muir at the top of its Senate ticket.

Farm groups say the result is disappointing for agriculture.

“A strong swing for the Liberal incumbents in O’Connor and Durack indicate those electorates are looking for stability,” WAFarmers president Tony York said.

“The Nationals were not able to distinguish themselves and ended up as the disappointing causality of the voter swing.”

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said the Nationals are now a spent force in the short term.

“They received the brunt of voter backlash because they remain a middle-of-the-road party with no clearly defined policies,” he said.

On the Senate count so far, the WA Nationals have attracted fewer first preference votes than Pauline Hanson’s One Nation but have not yet given up on securing a spot.

“Whilst we didn’t get the result we wanted to, we are fighting hard to ensure the major parties take note and respond to regional issues,” Mr Hayward said..

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