Independent candidate Robert Oakeshott failed to make the desired impact in the seat of Cowper. Picture: Frank Redward
Independent candidate Robert Oakeshott failed to make the desired impact in the seat of Cowper. Picture: Frank Redward

Oakeshott’s Canberra dream over as voters back Nats

Independent Rob Oakeshott has failed in his bid to return to politics, after losing the mid-north coast seat of Cowper to Nationals candidate Pat Conaghan.

Six years after retiring from politics, Mr Oakeshott was backed by the bookies to claw his way back to Canberra after running a campaign on climate change.

But first time candidate Pat Conagahan believed voters were nervous Mr Oakeshott would install a Labor government in the event of a hung parliament - the same way he famously installed the Gillard government in 2010.

"Retirees and business people were worried; not about Oakeshott as a man but about Oakeshott as an Independent aligning with Labor," Mr Conaghan said.

"I've thought for weeks people would walk into the polling booth and say 'I'm just not sure about change and Labor'."

Mr Conaghan replaces retiring MP Luke Hartsuyker who was the former Minister for Vocational Education and Skills in 2015.

Mr Conaghan only recently considered politics after growing frustrated with prime minsters being knifed on both sides of the aisle.

"I got into politics because I was sick of yelling at the television, at my side and the other side," he said.

FEDERAL
2019
Cowper

"Labor got rid of their prime ministers, then the Coalition got rid of their prime ministers and that made me really angry.

"I was angry and my wife said to me, 'if you think you can make a change then away you go'."

Elected Nationals member Pat Conaghan with his wife Ilona and supporters celebrate a win in Cowper. Picture: Frank Redward
Elected Nationals member Pat Conaghan with his wife Ilona and supporters celebrate a win in Cowper. Picture: Frank Redward

He credited his win to being a local, which he said worked in his favour when he was a police officer in Kempsey for 12 years.

"People wondered if I'd be able to make arrests in my home town, when I knew so many people," he said.

"In actual fact, if I turned up to a tense situation people would recognise me as Paul's brother or Margaret's brother and it would diffuse it.

"In the same way, people voted for me because they could recognise me as a local trying to make our towns better."

Voters were expected to deliver a brutal verdict to the major parties on Saturday night, with independents and minor party candidates eyeing off up to 10 seats.

Long-serving crossbenchers Andrew Wilkie, Bob Katter and Adam Bandt were returned to the House of Representatives after they all recorded swings in their favour.

 

Going into the election there were eight crossbenchers in the lower house including Kevin Hogan who sits on the crossbench but remains in the Nationals party room. Early counting indicated it could drop to five.

Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie was also on track to be re-elected last night off the back of a small swing. But the Liberal Party remained hopeful it could claw back the seat of Indi, held by Cathy McGowan who retired at yesterday's election.

In the beachside electorate of Flinders Greg Hunt repelled a challenge from former Liberal Julia Banks and is expected to hold on to his seat despite a swing to Labor.

With Tony Abbott dumped by voters in Warringah, former Olympic skier Zali Steggall has been propelled to the crossbench.

In Wentworth, independent candidate Kerryn Phelps was in a tight battle with Liberal Dave Sharma.

Liberal-turned-independent candidate Julia Banks lost her campaign bid as well. Picture: Mark Stewart
Liberal-turned-independent candidate Julia Banks lost her campaign bid as well. Picture: Mark Stewart

The Coalition was predicting a tough fight in regional NSW where former health minister Sussan Ley was fending off a challenge from independent Kevin Mack in Farrer. Early counting showed support for Ms Ley was down by 10 per cent from 2016 but she was still expected to hold on to her electorate in southern NSW which stretches from Albury to South Australia.

Water was the only issue that mattered in the seat of Farrer. Mack, Albury's mayor struck a chord with drought-stricken towns and farmers by campaigning for a five year pause of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which is the same policy that helped the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers steal western NSW seats off the Nationals in the March NSW state election.

"Rural and regional areas in Farrer are really feeling neglected. The hardship farmers and small businesses are feeling is significant," Mr Mack said.



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