Voters stick to ‘Teflon John’
People love controversial Nats leader
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