Maitland cafe owner Josh Angus is in line to be the Nationals’ candidate for Cessnock as all four major parties deal with varying levels of dysfunction in the Hunter before next month’s state election.
The Nationals’ Largs branch chairman, Nick Stibbard, said on Monday that the party would announce Mr Angus’ nomination at their state campaign launch in Queanbeyan on Sunday, though a party source in Sydney said it was “premature to talk about any candidate”.
The process of finding and nominating a conservative candidate in Cessnock has caused disquiet on both sides of the Coalition as they try to eat into Labor incumbent Clayton Barr’s 22 per cent margin.
Cessnock councillor and Liberal branch president Paul Dunn said on Monday that he was “eagerly awaiting” to find out if the Nationals would put forward a candidate.
“I hope it’s for the betterment of Cessnock, whatever decision they’re going to make,” he said.
Mr Stibbard said the Liberal and National party state directors had reached an agreement on the Nationals nominating a candidate in Cessnock.
The NSW Nationals’ website is advertising a Largs branch meeting on March 3 at Bushrangers Bar and Brasserie featuring a discussion with the federal member for Lyne, Dr David Gillespie, and the “candidate for Cessnock”.
Cr Dunn, one of three Liberals elected to the council in 2016, said he believed the Liberal branch was “in a position to deliver for the people of Cessnock” as the “only link to government”.
“We’ve got the capacity, we have the people, and we are ready to go. We’re just waiting to see what they’re doing,” he said.
“I’ve spent the best part of the last two years positioning our brand to be able to deliver for Cessnock.”
Mr Stibbard, a former vice-president of the Maitland Liberals branch, left the party and set up the Nationals’ Largs branch in September 2017.
He was quoted in a media interview at the time as saying the Nationals were the “only party that represents rural NSW, that cares about the state north of the Hawkesbury”.
Mr Stibbard said Mr Angus had grown up in Sydney, now lived in Maitland, outside the Cessnock electorate, and was passionate about small business and mental health issues.
Rock musician Angry Anderson was the Nationals’ candidate for Cessnock in 2015 but withdrew a month before the poll due to “personal reasons”.
Mr Barr claimed an 18.1 per cent swing in beating Mr Anderson’s replacement, Jessica Price-Purnell.
The Liberals named Blake Keating (Newcastle), Jenny Barrie (Charlestown) and Sally Halliday (Maitland) as candidates two weeks ago but have not nominated yet in Wallsend and Swansea.
Asked in Newcastle on Friday whether voters deserved to know who their conservative candidates would be, Premier Gladys Berejikilian said the Coalition was “looking forward to getting all of our candidates up and running” and pointed out she did not have a Labor opponent yet in her seat of Willoughby, which she holds with a 24.4 per cent majority.
The Liberals and Nationals are not the only parties to encounter choppy waters on the way to the March 23 election.
Labor lost “star” candidate Martin Rush in Upper Hunter, which the Nationals’ Michael Johnsen holds with a slender 2.2 per cent margin, after an anonymous complaint that Mr Rush had been involved in an altercation with a female flatmate.
His replacement, Cessnock deputy mayor Melanie Dagg, also does not live in the Upper Hunter electorate.
And the Greens’ candidate for Swansea and the federal seat of Shortland, Peter Morris, quit the party in November in disgust at factional infighting.
Held by: Tim Crakanthorp (ALP)
History: Libs’ Tim Owen resigned in 2014 over ICAC scandal
Liberal candidate: Blake Keating
Greens: Charlotte McCabe
Held by: Jodie Harrison (ALP)
History: Libs’ Andrew Cornwell resigned in 2014 over ICAC scandal
Liberal candidate: Jennifer Barrie
Greens: Therese Doyle
Held by: Sonia Hornery (ALP)
History: Always Labor since seat was reformed in 1968
Liberal candidate: ?
Greens: Sinead Francis-Coan
Held by: Yasmin Catley (ALP)
History: Ms Catley won marginal Liberal seat in a landslide in 2015 after incumbent Garry Edwards was disendorsed over ICAC scandal
Liberal candidate: ?
Greens: Douglas Williamson
Held by: Greg Piper (Ind)
History: Held by Mr Piper since 2007
Liberal candidate: Lindsay Paterson
Labor candidate: Jo Smith
Greens: Kim Grierson
Held by: Kate Washington (ALP)
History: Two-term Libs incumbent Craig Baumann withdrew endorsement in 2015 over ICAC scandal
Liberal candidate: Jaimie Abbott
Held by: Jenny Aitchison (ALP)
History: Ms Aitchison won in a landslide in 2015 after retirement of Liberal incumbent Robyn Parker
Liberal candidate: Sally Halliday
Greens: John Brown
Incumbent: Clayton Barr (ALP)
History: Labor since 1991, but was marginal before Mr Barr’s big win in 2015
Liberal/Nationals candidate: ?
Greens: Janet Murray
Held by: Michael Johnsen (Nat)
History: Has never voted Labor but came close with Mr Rush last time
Labor candidate: Melanie Dagg
Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party: Lee Watts
Greens: Anthony Lonergan