Deal or no deal? Nats deny claim

NO DEAL: National Party state director Ben Franklin has dismissed claims of a deal with Labor over preferences in Hume as “absurd.” He’s pictured here addressing the party’s annual conference in Bowral on Friday. Photo: Roy Truscott, Southern Highland News. Follow @LouThrower
Nanjing Night Net

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THE Nationals are describing as outrageous a claim they are negotiating Labor Party preferences in Hume.

Sitting Liberal MP Alby Schultz made the allegation in Monday’s Goulburn Post, saying the Nats were talking to senior ALP members about a deal. But Nationals state director Ben Franklin has branded the claim as outrageous and untrue.

“I don’t want to comment on every crackpot claim the Member for Hume makes, which seem to be coming with increasing regularity,” Mr Franklin told the Post on Monday.

“It’s quite extraordinary he’s suggesting this and I find it utterly absurd and mildly offensive.. The question has to be asked whether the Liberals are talking a preference deal with Labor.”

Mr Schultz has dismissed the suggestion, saying neither he nor candidate Angus Taylor would ever contemplate such an arrangement.

Mr Franklin said he found it strange that Mr Schultz seemed to have a “weird obsession” with what the Nationals were doing.

“We would hope to win on primary votes, but if it goes to preferences, so be it,” Mr Franklin said.

“If we run, we will have a strong grassroots candidate who wants to serve the community.”

He didn’t rule out a deal further down the track. However this wouldn’t be decided until several weeks before the election. Senator Fiona Nash, widely touted as a Nationals candidate for Hume, told the Post on Sunday she wouldn’t be bothered by such a deal.

“If we (the party) decides to run, there would be discussions around whether Labor Party preferences should come to us,” she said.

“In a lot of seats we don’t get in on primaries.”

Mr Franklin took a swipe at Mr Schultz, saying with the carbon tax due to take effect next week he should be focusing on fighting the Labor Party.

Furthermore, if the Nats decided to run in Hume it would be to give the electorate “choice.” Mr Franklin said Mr Schultz was simply telling voters that his candidate, Mr Taylor, was the best person for the job.

“We respect democracy and we will happily allow all our members to choose their candidate,” he said.

Meantime, the Hume contest generated plenty of chatter at last weekend’s Nationals annual conference in Bowral. Mr Franklin said there was “overwhelming support” to contest Hume. But several considerations would come into play.

The party did not have “unlimited resources” and it would be fruitless to run unless they had a “top notch” nominee. But he described Katrina Hodgkinson and Upper House members Niall Blair, both also rumoured to be interested, as quality representatives.

The Nats have continually said they’d wait for the Coalition agreement to be signed before deciding to contest Hume.

Asked about the hold up, Mr Franklin said he was still waiting on a “sensible agreement” from the Liberals but he expected it to be finalised in coming weeks.

Nominations would open for three weeks, with a four-week gap before pre-selection to allow nominees to meet branch members.

The party is not naming names but Hume Electoral Council treasurer, James Harker-Mortlock says he’ll put his hand up. Nationals leader, Warren Truss, told the conference that NSW would be a key state in determining the next federal election and the party’s six best prospects were Hume, Hunter, Richmond, Page, Lyne and New England, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.

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