NSW Nats start the campaign on the coast
THE NSW Nationals parliamentary team is on the road this week to gauge the issues that matter most to local communities, eight months out from the State Election.
The party is undertaking a 900-kilometre week-long bus tour from Tweed Heads to Tamworth, taking in Murwillumbah, Lismore, Ballina, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Port Macquarie and Taree.
Key issues raised with MPs on Coffs Harbour's Jetty Foreshores this afternoon included the expansion of farming under native vegetation legislation, the future of marine park protections, local infrastructure funding and state-funded tourism incentives for coastal communities.
Deputy Premier and Minister for the North Coast, Andrew Stoner said the tour showed The Nationals remain a united party without factions that effectively represents 93% of the New South Wales landmass in State Parliament.
"It's a good time to connect with people about the issues that matter to them so we can develop our policy to take to the election," Mr Stoner said.
Asked whether The Nationals hoped to repeat the party's landslide results from 2011, Mr Stoner said the party faced a vastly different election next year whilst in a Coalition government.
In opposition, The Nationals won 19 of the 20 seats the party contested four years ago and claimed seven positions in the Upper House while securing every available seat on the North Coast.
"I don't think we will experience those same margins that we did last time because back then we were towards the end of a 16-year Labor government that was stuttering along with changes of leadership, changes of ministers and scandal after scandal," Mr Stoner said.
"Most of our guys are standing with margins over 20% to 30% so they are historical highs, but in politics over the long term a margin of 10 to 20% is a strong margin - it's what you would call a safe seat.
"We have got some ridiculous margins at the moment and I expect some of that tide will go back out."
He said the party's first term achievements included $13 billion in regional infrastructure projects and returning more than 2,000 nurses, teachers and police officers to the frontline in regional New South Wales.
Mr Stoner said the retirement of long serving Ballina MP Don Page was the party's biggest political challenge on the North Coast.