The battle for Upper Hunter claimed its first victim on Tuesday when Malcolm Turnbull was dumped as chair of a new state government board advising on climate change.
Mr Turnbull's removal six weeks before the Upper Hunter by-election was yet another example of the politicisation of climate change policy and discussion.
One Nation upper house MP Mark Latham, who is in charge of the party's campaign in Upper Hunter, has berated Mr Turnbull as an "anti-coal activist" since the government announced last week that he would head the Net Zero Emissions and Clean Energy Board.
NSW Energy and Environment Minister Matt Kean had earlier lauded Mr Turnbull's expertise and experience but bowed to the political pressure on Tuesday, announcing the former PM would not take up the role.
"The focus should not be on personality," Mr Kean said of a board established to "create jobs in low-carbon industries and see the state reduce its emissions in ways that grow the economy".
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was "incredibly fond" of Mr Turnbull, whom she respected as a "great intellect" but whose appointment was becoming a "distraction".
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Mr Turnbull said he was the victim of "thuggery" in the right-wing media, which has joined Mr Latham in railing against his appointment.
"The right-wing media, they cracked the whip, as bullies do, and got their way," Mr Turnbull told the Sydney Morning Herald. "In actions like these, you have to ask, 'Who's in charge?'"
Mr Turnbull wrote to the NSW government last month objecting to the expansion of Mount Pleasant coalmine near his family's grazing property.
He has said publicly that he supports a moratorium on new mine approvals in NSW as existing mines are damaging landscapes and leaving towns like Muswellbrook with the worst air quality in the state.
He says new or expanded mines could "cannibalise" other producers amid doubts over future coal demand and leave taxpayers with a huge remediation bill.
His dumping reflects the vying parties' attempts to out-coal each other before the May 22 by-election.
Nationals MP Michael Johnsen resigned last week over rape and sexting allegations. The party will pick its replacement candidate on Wednesday night.
Labor is widely tipped to pre-select mining union delegate Jeff Drayton.
The party's NSW shadow environment minister, Kate Washington, said Mr Turnbull "should never have been appointed".
"This whole debacle was always political and divisive," she said.
Rogue Hunter federal Labor MP Joel Fitzgibbon, a vocal pro-coal campaigner before and after quitting shadow cabinet late last year, said it had been a "terrible decision to appoint such a high-profile anti-coal advocate to the board".
"It sent all the wrong messages and demonstrated an anti-coal bias," he said.
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