Libs muscle in: Nats to share polling with Coalition partners
By PETER CATON
THE fight for the seat of Richmond in this year's federal election is set to take a bizarre new twist, with the National and Liberal parties to both field candidates in a bid to bring down encumbent Labor MP Justine Elliot.
The Sydney-based head office of the Liberal Party has called for nominations for Richmond, but potential candidates have not yet publicly put their hands up. They could have months to do so, with the party yet to decide on a%deadline for nominations.
But the party is determined to run a candidate against National Party candidate Dr Sue Page, splitting the conservative vote and setting some supporters against each other.
Former Tweed Shire councillor and president of the Liberal Party's Richmond federal electorate council John Murray ruled himself out as a contender, but said he expected a number of "good%potential candidates" to put their names forward.
Mr Murray said one nomination had already been received and he was "talking to others as well". But he declined to release any names.
"My position is to encourage people to nominate and to even search out possible contenders," he said. "We will be standing a candidate".
Mr Murray said demographic changes had made the seat winnable for the Liberals, and running both Liberal and National candidates would maximise the conservative vote under the federal electoral system where allotting preferences is compulsory.
"The Tweed has become more of an urbanised seat than the country seat it was," he said.
"A lot of that growth has been from metropolitan areas, from Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong and Melbourne.
Dr Page said she was unfazed by the additional challenge in her bid to win Richmond, saying another candidate would make the contest "very interesting".
"I had been told that this was a possibility some time ago, so I'm not too shocked by this," she said.
"The only real risk that you run is that you don't get as many primary votes with a Liberal candidate running (against a National candidate), but I still think I'm the best candidate for the job, which is why I put my hand up in the first place. I look forward to the challenge."
Ms Elliot said the prospect she would face both National and Liberal challengers showed "major divisions" between the two Coalition parties and she would be asking the Liberal candidate to debate industrial%relations.
"I challenged the National Party candidate to debate John Howard's extreme industrial relations laws. It was very disappointing for the people of Richmond that she failed to attend," Ms Elliot said.
Tweed Nationals president Murray Lees said the move would split the conservative support base, but under the Coalition agreement the Liberal Party was entitled to stand a candidate.
He believed the move was also out of touch with the wishes of rank and file Liberal Party members on the Tweed.
"I don't think a lot of local Liberals would be too keen to support someone standing against Sue Page," he said. "There's no way in the world they would win."
Mr Lees warned the move could also create logistical problems for the conservative campaign, dividing the number of available volunteers who would have to operate two separate teams outside polling booths.