Heated words hit campaign

THE campaign for Clarence has started to get personal.

Independent candidate Richie Williamson yesterday claimed he was offered, by two sitting North Coast National Party MPs, a “clear go” at the seat in four years' time if he pulled out of the election race.

Mr Williamson said incumbent Member for Clarence Steve Cansdell made the offer to him at an informal meeting at Mr Cansdell's home on October 30 last year and that he had text messages that proved the meeting took place, although not the content of the meeting.

Mr Williamson said another North Coast MP (whom he refused to name) made two phone calls about the issue – both times offering him endorsement as the Nationals candidate. Mr Williamson said his phone records would indicate he had received these calls.

All three discussions, Mr Williamson said, took place after he announced he would run as an independent.

But the claims have been denied by Mr Cansdell as well as the other North Coast Nationals MPs, including Andrew Fraser (Coffs Harbour), Thomas George (Lismore) and Andrew Stoner (Oxley).

Sticking by his claims, Mr Williamson said the offers were an indication that the National Party was looking for an easy way to win the election.

“It tells the electorate that the Nationals are taking the seat of Clarence for granted,” he said.

“I have never been a member of the Nationals or any other party and I have no intention of becoming a member.

“An offer such as this is not how I work and it is not in the best interests of the Clarence Valley.

“My focus is on winning on Saturday. I think people are over the grubby party politics.”

Mr Cansdell said Mr Williamson's claims were “downright lies” and an indication of his opponent's campaign desperation.

Having held the seat of Clarence for eight years, Mr Cansdell said he had had many dealings with Mr Williamson as Clarence Valley Council mayor and had “generally talked” with him about becoming his successor down the track.

“He came here in tears saying that he was going to get the sack if he ran for mayor,” Mr Cansdell said.

“I said to him, you've got to run otherwise you will ruin your chances of becoming the state member.

“He met with the Nationals chairman and the state secretary and led us to believe he was going that way. But I'm talking way before, like 12-18 months ago.”

Asked if Mr Williamson's claim was an indication he would retire after this term, Mr Cansdell said: “I would retire if I was happy there was someone who could win the seat ... but all bets are off now.

“I will run as long as it takes.

“He's really up himself. Richie is desperate for oxygen in this campaign.”

Mr Williamson agreed that he had been in discussions with National Party stalwarts about his possible succession of Mr Cansdell but said he believed independent representation was needed for the Clarence now.

“At the same time that we've seen upgrades to the Pacific Highway north and south of this electorate and a new police station in Kempsey and Lismore – we've missed out,” he said. “It must be a concern to everyone.”

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