LABOR leader Bill Shorten may visit New England to campaign for Labor’s candidate David Ewings leading up to the December 2 by-election.
Mr Ewings ran for Labor at last year’s federal election against incumbent Barnaby Joyce polling 7 per cent of the vote as the Nationals leader romped to a comprehensive win including against his arch rival and former independent MP Tony Windsor.
Mr Joyce’s campaign team are focussed on a grass roots strategy where he’ll spruik victories in Canberra for his NSW rural electorate rather than broader policy delivery related to his Deputy Prime Ministership or Agriculture and Water Resources portfolio which are on hold while the election battle is waged.
The announcement of Mr Ewing’s New England nomination was made alongside Mr Joyce’s federal policy rival and Shadow Agriculture and Regional and Rural Australia Minister Joel Fitzgibbon during a media conference outside the Tamworth hospital today.
“We already are well advanced in the planning of a number of Shadow Ministerial visits to the New England over the course of the next few weeks,” Mr Fitzgibbon said.
“We are organised, we are ready, and….we are determined to be competitive at this election and to give people a choice.
“I expect that Bill Shorten will visit the New England during the campaign.
“I can’t be absolutely sure about his time.
“He is under a lot of pressure in terms of his commitments, but I know that’s under consideration.”
ABC election analyst Antony green said Mr Joyce won at the 2016 election with a margin of 8.5pc versus Mr Windsor and his two-party preferred margin versus Labor was a much safer 16.4pc.
“The decision of former MP Tony Windsor not to contest the by-election makes it much more likely that Barnaby Joyce will be re-elected - it is likely that there will be more than a dozen candidates,” he said.
CountryMinded also ran a candidate at last year’s polling and is considering running another this time around.
Mr Ewings acknowledged the margin last year saying, “We are up against it and there is no doubt about that”.
“I’m clearly the underdog in this race, but…we made that commitment in 2016 that we would be building the brand and getting our message out from then on and that is exactly what we have done,” he said.
“The government that we have got, simply put, they don’t care about working people.
“The National Party and other conservative forces, with maybe changed names for the last century or so, have been incumbent in this electorate and that is a problem because when that is the case, complacency sets in and what we are talking about here is the electorate of New England is being taken for granted.
“I am here to represent Labor’s views and to represent the people of this electorate who want to see an alternative and to show them that we can do things differently and to say to them that this is an opportunity for you to send a message
“Not only to New England but to regional Australia everywhere where there is conservative or National Party incumbent members.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said during the 2016 election the Labor candidate “did an outstanding job”.
“When he said he was committed to New England for the long haul, well he has proven that now and is back - taking up the fight to Barnaby Joyce,” he said.
He said Mr Ewings comes “highly credentialed particularly as a former member of the RAF”.
“He’s an intelligent person who is hard working, he lives in the electorate in Scone with his fiancé Bec, but importantly shares all of Labor’s ideals and objectives including inclusive economic growth and making sure opportunity is spread fairly within our communities,” he said.
“I have chosen Tamworth Hospital as the backdrop today because it’s emblematic of the contrast between Labor on health investment and policy and the Coalition.
“This by-election is an opportunity for the people of New England, on behalf of all Australians, to send a clear message to Malcolm Turnbull, that they are sick of the chaos and dysfunction in Canberra and are sick of the priorities where millionaires are receiving tax cuts while people are having their basic services in their communities cut.
“Bill Shorten and I said four years ago that we wanted every person in every regional community to have a choice at every election.
“Labor and David Ewings is giving them that choice on December 2 and we ask people to take the opportunity to send that message to Malcolm Turnbull.”
Challenged on whether New England had been taken for granted, given since August there had been $90 million announced for the electorate, Mr Fitzgibbon took the question.
“Suddenly we see announcements when a by-election is called,” he said.
“The three major road projects in this electorate Labor funded in government.
“Yet here we are in the fifth year of this government and not a sod of soil has been turned.
“And here we are now suddenly, when there is a by-election in the offering, Barnaby Joyce is out there now talking about progressing these projects.
“It’s another con job by Barnaby Joyce and I think many people in the electorate ought to wake up to it.”
Mr Ewings said at the last election he was up against “two of the biggest brand-name politicians in the country”.
“And I don’t necessary think it’s any easier per se this time - but there’s not a better alternative in my view at the moment in the Labor party,” he said.
“So if people out there are feeling disaffected, that do want things to change, that do want improvements across a range of different portfolio areas, they should really consider voting Labor this time round.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said he knew Mr Joyce was expecting some sympathy votes for his breach of Section 44 of the constitution - which triggered the by-election due to dual NZ citizenship and his disqualification - but “he needs to start taking responsibility”.
“Politicians have been talking about section 44 for at least 20 years, we’ve had three cases in that time, we are all very aware of it,” he said.
“Barnaby Joyce either arrogantly decided to ignore it, or incompetently got it wrong.
“Either way, it’s Barnaby Joyce’s fault and its time he started taking responsibility for his action or indeed inaction.”