Dalton wants Premier’s promise on police station, timber
The Deniliquin district looks set to be catapulted into its strongest political position for decades in tomorrow’s Murray byelection.
The result is expected to deliver the region into a marginal seat, with a strong possibility it could fall to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.
In a Griffith newspaper poll, SFF candidate Helen Dalton has a commanding lead of The Nationals’ Austin Evans, who is trying to replace the recently retired Adrian Piccoli.
The Nationals say they expect to win narrowly. If they don’t, they are likely to throw everything — including plenty of money — at the region before the next state election in March 2019 in an attempt to win it back.
Mrs Dalton, a farmer from Binya, east of Griffith, has for many years been a strong advocate for farming issues, in particular better water policy.
Her main opponent, Mr Evans, is battling a widely held view that his party has not done enough for the region it has represented for decades.
The Deniliquin district has been a safe Nationals’ seat for more than 35 years.
The only time it was a notionally marginal seat was following a boundary redistribution that moved our region into Murray-Darling in the lead-up to the 2007 state election. That seat was held by Country Labor’s Peter Black.
It led to Labor and The Nationals making a broad range of promises in their respective bids to win the seat, including the commitment of a new police station which, a decade later, is finally under construction.
In the current campaign The Nationals have again made generous funding commitments, and have rolled out more Ministerial visits in the last two months than we have seen since 2006-07.
Ironically, as the new station nears completion, policing is one of the issues Austin Evans has been forced to defend.
He has been unable to quash speculation the Local Area Command headquarters will be relocated from Deniliquin after the election in what NSW Police is calling a ‘reengineering’ of command boundaries.
The Deniliquin district has learned over the years that ‘re-engineering’ and ‘restructuring’ generally means relocating local positions to larger regional centres such as Albury and Wagga.
Mr Evans and Premier Gladys Berejiklian have both denied the review of Local Area Commands will lead to less police numbers in Deniliquin.
Mrs Berejiklian was in Deniliquin last week; the only NSW Premier to visit the area since Bob Carr was here during the 2007 campaign.
Another policing issue that has caused local angst over those 10 years is Hallmark status for the Deniliquin Ute Muster.
In the 2007 campaign The Nationals pledged to ensure the Ute Muster would not have to pay for police presence, but this has never been delivered. As a consequence, the local event has since paid nearly $1 million for taxpayer-funded police services, with no reprieve in sight. Major Sydney events, including the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, do not pay for police presence.
Local government amalgamations, health, water policy and returning National Parks to sustainable working forests have been other key election topics.
The Nationals may get a backlash from residents of the former Conargo Shire tomorrow after making a commitment there would be no formed amalgamations, then last year forcing Conargo into a merger with Deniliquin Council that it vehemently opposed.
The incumbent party has also been under fire for failing to sufficiently protect the region and its farmers under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and not doing enough to retain health services in smaller communities like Deniliquin.
On the forestry issue, the Coalition has failed to reverse a 2010 Labor decision to turn local forests into National Parks. Mr Evans says he will submit a Private Member’s Bill if elected, but it is unlikely to get Liberal Party support.
Despite the claims The Nationals have not done enough to protect local communities, state leader John Barilaro has said this week he believes the Murray by-election will be tight, “but I do believe we’ll get there”.
Mr Evans this week said there would “always be some people for whom nothing is ever enough, who say that we should have delivered more. What they need to understand is that regardless of who is elected . . . it’s The Nationals who will have to deliver from government”.
Mrs Dalton said ‘‘our current representatives have underperformed. We need to hold them to account for sitting complacently on a perceived ‘safe seat’.’’
She needs to make up a margin of more than 22 per cent to wrestle Murray from The Nationals.
Such is Helen Dalton’s confidence Murray voters will send a message at the polls tomorrow, the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers candidate has already vowed to visit Deniliquin often ‘‘when I am elected’’.
Mrs Dalton was in Deniliquin on Wednesday for some last minute campaigning.
It included personally handing out how to vote flyers at the Deniliquin Multi Arts Centre in Cressy St — a pre-poll voting centre — alongside the party’s upper house member Robert Brown.
Deniliquin and district has been a safe Coalition seat for decades, and Mrs Dalton said it has led to a focus on this electorate that is ‘‘not good enough’’.
In a return visit to Deniliquin since the by-election was called, Mrs Dalton this week said her main focus was on retaining Deniliquin as the Police Local Area Command’s headquarters and continuing the push to have sustainable timber harvesting returned to the Murray Valley National Park.
Mrs Dalton said sustainable logging, in particular, was a passion.
It was one of the topics she explored as a Nuffield Farming Scholarships Trust scholar in 2007, as part of a broader environmental stewardship research project which called on government policy to ensure ecological goods were also valued.
The scholarship allowed her to travel to Scotland and the United States to research sustainable timber harvesting.
Mrs Dalton this week condemned NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on failing to commit to reversing the National Park status.
She also slammed her for not disclosing details of the upcoming Native Forestry Bill 2017, which Mrs Dalton said will make harvesting of private timber stands more difficult for commercial businesses.
‘‘The Liberal Nationals have hoodwinked the community in Deniliquin and surrounding areas on the River Red Gums,’’ Mrs Dalton said.
‘‘While the Premier, senior ministers, and Nationals’ party candidate Austin Evans were on a ‘fact finding’ tour in the region they failed to disclose the facts of the upcoming private Native Forestry Bill.
‘‘What are they hiding from us? Since the Liberal Nationals took power in 2011 the message from locals has been clear: Reverse the National Park status. Full stop.’’
Mrs Dalton also criticised the answer given by Premier Berejiklian to a question by Parliamentary colleague and Member for Orange Philip Donato during question time on October 11, 2017.
‘‘The Premier was given the opportunity to unequivocally support returning the River Red Gums back to forestry and sustainable timber harvesting. She failed to do so,’’ she said.
‘‘Asked whether she would support a Shooters Fishers and Farmers’ Bill in the Upper House to revoke the lock-up of the red gums she ducked and weaved and refused to answer the question.’’
Mrs Dalton has also called on the NSW Government and Police Minister Troy Grant to unequivocally rule out a speculated merger between Deniliquin and Griffith Local Area Commands.
‘‘What is he waiting for?’’ she asked.
‘‘When Premier Berejiklian was in Deniliquin last week she made no such commitment, instead deflecting to the Police Commissioner.
‘‘The buck stops with the Police Minister and I call on him to confirm Deniliquin Police Station will be the centre of a stand-alone Deniliquin LAC.
‘‘The ‘re-engineering’ process is code for cost cutting. My party does not support any regional Police LACs being a part of a rationalisation and cost cutting process.
‘‘Police mergers in regional areas will mean a loss of back office staff which will force front line police back behind desks and less time fighting crime in the community.’’
Mrs Dalton said the NSW Government seemed ‘‘suspiciously silent’’ on regional police mergers ahead of tomorrow’s vote, despite announcing some metropolitan mergers on October 6.
Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party’s Helen Dalton and The Nationals’ Austin Evans (centre) flanked by Independent candidates Brian Mills (left) and Peter Robinson (right) in Deniliquin on Sunday.
Shooters, Fishers & Farmers NSW Murray by-election candidate Helen Dalton and the party’s NSW upper house member Robert Brown with the stockpile of thinning trial harvested timber in the Murray Valley National Park.