Vot­ers stick to ‘Te­flon John’

Peo­ple love con­tro­ver­sial Nats leader

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - LINDA SILMALIS

HE smoked pot, suf­fered de­pres­sion and told Prime Min­is­ter Malcolm Turn­bull to quit — and vot­ers are swing­ing be­hind the Act­ing Pre­mier “Te­flon” John Bar­i­laro.

State Na­tional Party polling from two weeks ago shows the rene­gade leader has cut the num­ber of state seats “at risk” from five a year ago to just two.

And those seats, Lis­more and Tweed, are in dan­ger of go­ing to the Greens rather than La­bor, while the party is in good shape to win back Bal­lina at the polls in March.

In a can­did in­ter­view in which he con­fessed to try­ing pot in his youth and suf­fer­ing anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion as a young fa­ther, Mr Bar­i­laro, whose own seat of Monaro is mar­ginal, said coun­try peo­ple wanted bold lead­er­ship.

Ex­plain­ing a re­cent speech ad­vo­cat­ing nu­clear power, Mr Bar­i­laro said it was based on party re­search show­ing the price of elec­tric­ity was the sin­gle big­gest is­sue for vot­ers. “Some­one would say, ‘Why risk a mar­ginal seat talk­ing nu­clear en­ergy?’ But it’s be­cause our polling is say­ing the No. 1 is­sue fac­ing us, state and fed­er­ally, is elec­tric­ity prices,” he said.

“It is tied to the cost of liv­ing and peo­ple are say­ing they feel like they are work­ing harder than ever but feel poor be­cause of their elec­tric­ity bills.

“Once upon a time it was health and ed­u­ca­tion; now it is elec­tric­ity, fol­lowed by crime.

“That is why we can’t hide in our nar­ra­tive. All I’ve done is start the con­ver­sa­tion about what we do in the long term.”

Drugs, the de­cline of re­gional towns, and de­pres­sion are other ar­eas that needed ad­dress­ing. How­ever, the ice scourge was on an­other level and more ser­vices were needed for ad­dicts, he said.

“Ice is cheap and kids to­day are pre­pared to ex­per­i­ment more. I think it’s bore­dom and peer pres­sure,” Mr Bar­i­laro said.

“I’ve tried a few things, smoked a joint, but al­co­hol was the big thing in my teenage years. I got mar­ried at 22 and I think life’s re­spon­si­bil­i­ties took over.”

On the de­cline of ru­ral towns, Mr Bar­i­laro said govern­ment agen­cies needed to re­lo­cate to the bush to cre­ate more jobs while paving the way for the cor­po­rates to fol­low as they had in Par­ra­matta.

“When we pulled pub­lic ser­vants out of Syd­ney and put them into Par­ra­matta, the cor­po­rates fol­lowed as did jobs and growth,” he said. “I don’t see why we can’t do the same, such as putting the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­ment into a place like Jind­abyne, where we have the largest state na­tional park.”

John Bar­i­laro has caused con­tro­versy but also ral­lied the Na­tion­als vote in NSW. Pic­ture: Gary Ra­m­age

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