Margin: Independent 19.4% versus Nationals*
Region: New England
Federal: New England (76%)/Parkes (24%)
* Nationals 31.0% at by-election on 25/5/2013
Candidates in ballot paper order
2011 BOOTH RESULTS MAP
Two-party preferred booth results from 2011 state election showing Labor majority in red and Nationals in green. New boundaries in thicker blue lines, old ones in thinner red lines. Boundary data courtesy of Ben Raue of The Tally Room.
Encompassing rural territory along the Queensland border, including Armidale, Inverell, Glen Innes and Moree, Northern Tablelands was the scene of one of seven by-elections held during the current parliamentary term, at which its natural status as a safe Nationals seat was reasserted. It had hitherto been held for 14 years by independent Richard Torbay, whose career came to a sudden in March 2013 amid events culminating in a raid by the Independent Commission Against Corruption on his home and electorate office. As redrawn by the redistribution, Northern Tablelands covers 53,154 square kilometres from Glen Innes and Armidale at the eastern end, through Inverell to Moree and Mungindi. The latter area has been gained from Barwon in the redistribution, adding about 8400 voters, while transfers in the east have cost it 3750 voters in Tenterfield and 2500 around Walcha further to the south, who respectively go to Lismore and Tamworth.
The electorate was created in 1981 upon the abolition of Armidale, a traditional National/Country Party seat that nonetheless fell to Labor’s Bill McCarthy in the Wranslide of 1987, and stayed with him until his death in 1987. His widow Thelma McCarthy ran as Labor’s candidate at the ensuing by-election, but a 4.2% swing delivered it to Nationals candidate Ray Chappell by a margin of 2.6%. Torbay, who at that point was the mayor of Armidale, unseated Chappell at the 1999 election after outpolling him by 44.2% to 34.1% on the primary vote. He then emerged as the most electorally successful of the parliament’s shifting array of independent members, his primary vote progressing to 71.3% in 2003 and 72.7% in 2007, before falling back to 63.4% in 2011. His informal seniority among the independents was indicated when the then Premier Morris Iemma backed him for the speakership, having boldly commenced his new parliamentary term by agreeing to support an independent in the role.
In 2012, it was announced that Torbay would join the Nationals with a view to securing federal preselection to run against Tony Windsor in New England, the party having promised him “freedom to speak with an independent voice on local issues”. This clashed with Barnaby Joyce’s aspirations for the seat as a fallback option as he sought to move from the Senate to the House of Representatives, in view of Bruce Scott’s determination to continue serving in the rural Queensland seat of Maranoa. However, the Torbay option firmed after party polling showed he offered the clearest path to victory over Windsor. Labor state secretary Sam Dastyari claimed at this point that Torbay had proposed joining the Labor Party in 2009 so he could replace Nathan Rees as Premier, which Torbay dismissed as a lie.
Torbay’s federal ambitions became rapidly unstuck in March 2013, when the Australian Financial Review reported he had received assistance from embattled Labor operative Eddie Obeid when he first ran for state parliament in 1999. Over the next two days, Torbay withdrew as candidate and resigned as member for Northern Tablelands, with Nationals state chairman saying the party had received unspecified information “of which we were not previously aware”. This information was referred to ICAC, which raided Torbay’s home and electorate office the following week.
The Nationals preselection for the by-election was won by Adam Marshall, who was elected to Gunnedah council in 2004 at the age of 19 and became mayor four years later. Marshall emerged a surprise winner over Nationals Farmers Federation president Alexander “Jock” Laurie, who entered the contest after first being spoken of as a possible competitor for Barnaby Joyce in the re-run of the New England preselection. He effortlessly prevailed at the ensuing by-election, recording 63.3% of the primary vote and finishing 31.0% ahead of Labor after preferences.
Corrections, complaints and feedback to William Bowe at pollbludger-at-bigpond-dot-com. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.