NATIONAL Party MPS Geoff Provest (left) and Thomas George (right) chat with Nationals senator Fiona Nash at Chinderah on Saturday.
NATIONAL Party MPS Geoff Provest (left) and Thomas George (right) chat with Nationals senator Fiona Nash at Chinderah on Saturday. Tweed Daily News

Election battle begins

THE battle for next year's federal election has suddenly taken off in the Tweed - with the National and the Liberal parties vying to challenge sitting Labor MP and Minister for Ageing Justine Elliot.

National Party members, stunned by the prospect of Liberals standing against Ms Elliot for the seat of Richmond, have moved to quickly find their own candidate.

Senior party members meeting at Chinderah on Saturday decided to urgently find a candidate for the seat, which for decades was safe National Party territory, held by former deputy prime minister Doug Anthony and later by his son Larry.

Senior party members, including Senator Fiona Nash and state MPs Geoff Provest and Thomas George; are understood to have been riled by former mayor Joan van Lieshout's suggestion she may stand for the Liberal Party, splitting the conservative vote.

Tweed Nationals president Murray Rees said yesterday, Saturday's meeting which went for nearly five hours, voted to expedite the pre-selection process.

“The goal is to get a candidate up and running before Christmas,” he said.

Mr Lees said the party hoped to officially call for nominations next month, setting in train a process during which potential candidates could make themselves known before fronting party members at a pre-selection meeting about a month later.

He said the need to choose a candidate was also made more urgent by the possibility Prime Minister Kevin Rudd could call an early, double-dissolution election.

“Fiona (Nash) did some research on election dates. One possibility is Rudd could go before the budget in March.

“That's why we want a candidate up and running.”

Last week Cr van Lieshout who stood for election to Tweed Shire Council as a Liberal, revealed she might contest the seat for the party.

Her comments followed a decision by the NSW Liberals to call for nominations in the adjacent federal seat of Page which takes in Lismore, Ballina and Grafton; and is held by Labor's Janelle Saffin.

Speculation that Cr van Lieshout has been considering a career in federal politics had been fuelled by the efforts of her husband, Peter van Lieshout, in resurrecting the Murwillumbah branch of the Liberal Party.

Cr Lieshout has attended branch functions and made a point of speaking with senior Liberals on visits to Sydney and Canberra.

Mr Lees said the National Party had “identified at least two good candidates to run in Richmond” but he could not name them “until they decide to put their hands up publicly”.

“With a margin of 8.9 per cent, Richmond is now technically a 'fairly safe' Labor seat. However we believe it is winnable with a good local community-focused candidate,” Mr Lees said.

“The election of Geoff Provest shows that people will vote for a local champion over a do-nothing party hack.”

He said the Liberal Party in Richmond was deeply split between left and right wing factions.

“It is unlikely that Joan van Lieshout or any other candidate would be able to unite local party members,” he said. “If they want Turnbull in the Lodge, a far more effective strategy would be to support the Nationals candidate.”

Ms Elliot is remaining non-committal over who her challenger might be.

“Regardless of who runs for the Coalition, their leader Malcolm Turnbull is out of touch, lacks judgement and will bring back WorkChoices,” she said.

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