The National party has held the state seat of Orange for 69 years, but it looks increasingly likely that they’ll lose it in 2016.
An enormous swing against the party has handed 24 per cent of the primary vote to Philip Donato of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party – who have never held a lower house seat in NSW history.
The shocking vote result has led to Nationals head and Deputy Premier Troy Grant stepping down from his position.
Many media commentators have pinned the swing on the Grant’s leadership, but Save the Tumbarumba Shire Committee spokesperson Ron Frew said it should be read as a direct rebuke to Mike Baird.
“I wouldn’t vote for [the SFF Party] personally but that’s got nothing to do with it, what I think is important is the reaction against the Baird amalgamations,” he said.
Like Tumut and Tumbarumba, the towns of Cabonne, Blayney, and Orange were forcefully amalgamated last year. They mounted a court challenge against their merger, which was dismissed.
Mr Frew was involved in a campaign throughout the Orange byelection to put the Nationals last.
He said Baird’s “arrogance” throughout the merger process would cause people who were lifelong Liberal/National Coalition voters to desert the party they see as not listening to them.
“People here, over and over again, are saying I always voted Liberal and I never will again, and they’re still saying that. It’s one thing to say that six or twelve months ago in the heat of the moment, but they’re still saying it now and saying it vehemently,” he said.
“We’re aiming for a de-merger. Once Baird is rolled which I think will happen, if the Greens and the Labor Party and so on keep their promise [to undo the mergers], we look down that road.”
The Nationals candidate Scott Barrett still received just under 30 per cent of the primary vote, but with the majority of parties preferencing against them, it might not be enough for them to keep the seat.
Local state MP Daryl Maguire, whose seat of Wagga Wagga has also been held by the Coalition for decades, said it would be unwise to comment until the votes have all been counted.
“There’s postal votes and preferences to be distributed, so that means that the outcome is still uncertain. It could come down to half a dozen votes,” he said.
However, he said that in regards to his own seat, it was unlikely to be affected by the media circus that surrounded the byelection.
“What I’d be worried about is everyone under the sun arriving in an electorate talking about coal mining in Queensland, talking about renewable energy in South Australia, and every other topic known to man,” he said.
“I think there’s a lot of reasons [for the swing against the Nationals] – firstly the number of candidates, and the fact that they all preferenced against the Liberal/National candidate – so in other words they ganged up on us.
“The campaign was particularly influenced by commentators, media across Australia, highlighting every ill that affected the world, and it was all directed at Orange.”
Representatives from the anti-merger movements, greyhound industry, and volunteer firefighters arrived to support the Shooters, Fishers, and Farmers party, with radio personalities Ray Hadley and Alan Jones broadcasting live from Orange during the election.
The byelection took place after the previous Nationals MP Andrew Gee, who held the seat with a 21.7 per cent margin, left the seat to participate in federal parliament.
Mr Grant said he was listening to the message the Orange byelection had sent.
“At all times I have been guided by my principles of honesty, integrity, and hard work, but I accept the result in Orange is a clear message that we haven’t always got it right, nor have we always taken the community with us,” he said in a statement.