Despite all appearances to the contrary, key Riverina National Party figures insist things have never been better.
Reports that former Education Minister Adrian Piccoli is considering standing down could not come at worse time for the NSW Nationals.
Right-wing parties like the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers are smelling blood in the water, seeking to fracture the Nationals’ traditional base.
Shooters and Fishers MP Robert Borsak has publicly stated the party intends to take aim at the Nationals across the state, but newly-minted MP Wes Fang believes local voters are smarter.
“In an age where people are disillusioned, it’s easy for populist politicians to promise the world, but I think the people see through that and know they need to elect people who can deliver,” Mr Fang said.
There’s no question (Cootamundra) is going to be a tough fight, but people know that if we say we’re going to do something we have the ability to do it.Wes Fang
“We know we have to make promises that are costed, responsible and sound because we know we have to deliver on them.”
Cootamundra was considered very safe for the Nationals, which retiring MP Katrina Hodgkinson held in 2015 with a 30 per cent margin.
But while Ms Hodgkinson was one of three Nationals to cross the floor over Mike Baird’s controversial greyhound ban last year, she recently refused to oppose the equally divisive council mergers.
Shooters candidate Phillip Donato leaned heavily on both issues at the recent Orange by-election, resulting in a shock defeat for the Nationals. It’s expected the same playbook could present a serious challenge to the Nationals in Cootamundra.
But federal MP Michael McCormack rejected suggestions of instability, saying it was “business as usual” for the National Party.
“By-elections are always difficult and at times there’s a tendency for people to be against the government, but the people of Cootamundra know that the Nationals deliver,” Mr McCormack said.
“Whilst people are keen to criticise, they only need to look around at what the Nationals deliver, we care about electorates.”
Former Riverina MP Kay Hull said people had been predicting the death of the Nationals for 100 years.
“These things have been constant since the days of the Country Party, there’s nothing new in it,” Ms Hull said.
“You’ll always get the smaller parties coming under attack from any political aspirants.”