Hunter MP Joel Fitzgibbon believes Labor is “in the race” heading to the 22 May Upper Hunter by-election.
The Nationals have held the state seat for many decades but face a huge challenge next month following the shock resignation of sitting member Michael Johnsen in the wake of numerous unsavoury claims, which he’s strenuously denied.
The party recently pre-selected Clarence Town resident David Layzell as its candidate.
However, a number of other contenders – including Singleton businesswoman Sue Gilroy (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party), former Muswellbrook Shire deputy mayor and coal miner Jeff Drayton (NSW Labor), Muswellbrook Shire councillor Steve Reynolds (Independent), Upper Hunter Shire councillor Sue Abbott (Greens), Singleton businessman Dale McNamara (One Nation) and ex-Dungog mayor Tracy Norman (Independent) – have put their hand up to challenge him.
Mr Fitzgibbon admitted there was a lot of stake.
“Labor has never won the seat, so we have to watch expectations here,” he told 2GB’s Chris Smith in a radio interview at the weekend.
“Having that, I believe we’re a bit of a chance.
“Obviously, The Nationals are going to suffer a bit of a backlash for one, creating a by-election.
“No one likes being dragged to an additional election and, two, the basis or the cause of the by-election.
“So, that’s a bit of an opportunity for Labor.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said the organisation boasted an “excellent candidate” in Mr Drayton.
“If anyone was in any doubt that we turned our back on the coal mining industry, I think we’ve dealt with that by pre-selecting a coal miner and a coal mine official, a union official,” he stated.
“We made that very, very clear.
“The way it stands, coal has been a big issue in that part of the world.
“But, Labor, The Nationals, One Nation, Shooters (Fishers and Farmers); they’re all saying they support the mining industry.
“So, that should neutralise that issue, and we can get on to talking about health, education and TAFE, infrastructure, the other things important to people.
“And, on that basis, you know, we’re a bit of a chance.
“However, it’ll be a Melbourne Cup field.
“There are already nine candidates and nominations don’t close for two weeks yet.
“It’s optional preferential at the state level, so people don’t have to send their preferences anywhere and that makes it even less predictable.
“But, you know, Labor will give it a good shot.”