Are The Nats In Crisis?

The National Party was created to give country people a voice in the state and federal parliaments. But people in the bush are turning away from the party they once voted for…

Coonamble is a town on the central-western plains of New South Wales with a population of approximately 2,750.

“My whole family was generational National Party voters,” Coonamble resident David Chadwick told The Project. “You can't just continue to be treated with contempt.”

Fellow Coonamble resident Nathaniel Deans stated, “I won’t be voting Nats this year.”

Peter Knight a Coonabarabran (population approx. 2,537) resident also shared his grievances with The Project.

“We're just really disappointed in the National Party.” Knight explained.

We really think they've let country NSW down

The Nationals have always been the party for the bush, and country people have been their loyal supporters, but in the Nats’ heartland, there’s a feeling the party is no longer putting the needs of country people first.

Rob Lee’s farm has been in his generation for five years. He states climate change is his biggest concern. Rob began accepting the science around climate change in the early 2000s when he was still the odd one out among his farming peers.

“The more severe droughts are starting to occur quite frequently. We’ve had to sell quite a lot of our livestock so we’re running about half what we would normally run on this farm,” Rob explained.

“I was the nutter. It just seemed logical to me, but I would find a lot of my friends saying, ‘it’s always changed, it’s always changing’.”

Rob on his farm

Recently Rob has noticed a big shift in thinking.

“There’s a big pool of farmers that couldn’t give two hoots about it not that long ago that are now starting to engage with the topic and ask questions.”

Rob almost always votes for the Nationals but he’s rethinking his support this time around.

It’s not just climate change, but its causes that are getting under farmers’ skin. Australia’s major coal and coal-seam gas basins are almost all in Nats-held seats, and farmers say that’s come at their expense.

“Where are you going to go if we are allowing mining to completely ravage the country...we're being sacrificed and it just doesn't seem to be fair,” Nicole Hunter, a Barwon constituent said.

This grassroots revolt is starting to play out on the state level.

Anyone But Nats pressure group

In New South Wales, the electorate of Orange used to be Nats through and through, until a massive swing against them in a 2016 by-election. Now ahead of the March 23 state election, the NSW Nats’ leader John Barilaro has admitted he’s worried and has even stripped his website of the party’s branding.

But the message doesn’t seem to be making it to the Nationals in Canberra.

“The climate’s been changing since the day dot,” Michael McCormack, National Party leader said.

“Well we’ve got to give the planet the benefit of the doubt and that’s why I’m delighted I’m part of a Liberal-National government which is putting so much money into making sure that we have the best policies to protect our waterways, to protect the land.”

Ron Campey is a retired farmer and lives in Narrabri, which is in the huge state electorate of Barwon, a National Party stronghold for 69 years. Ron used to be a Nats’ donor, before the party backed a coal seam gas proposal for his hometown.

“The National Party and the Liberal Party are pro coal seam gas and pro coal mining and I don't think in this day and age with the problems we've got with global warming that you know I don't think it's appropriate,” Ron told The Project.

“The fact is we need to be able to extract gas, the fact is we need to be able to dig up coal, the fact is we need to meet our energy needs,” McCormack countered.

“They will stop at nothing to get coal seam gas, the entire community doesn't want it,” Ron stated.

Coonamble resident David Chadwick is in agreement.

“97 percent of the people out here across three and a half million hectares in the towns surrounding the Pilliga have said don't touch the water, no CSG and associated industry and we're ignored.”

When asked if a change in policy on coal seam gas and climate change would get his vote, retired farmer Ron laughed.

“No I don't think I will ever go back. Because you know I'm running out of time.”

To see more of this story watch The Project tonight at 6.30pm on Network Ten.