As the Nationals still hurt from the debacle of the Orange by-election, their new leader John Barilaro has accused his former leader Troy Grant and ex-Premier Mike Baird of not fronting the public.
Mr Barilaro, NSW deputy premier, says the battering the party suffered has taught some harsh lessons. He says the former leaders were afraid to confront a restive constituency.
If they’d fronted public meetings during the Orange by-election he claims the party could have retained the traditional Nationals seat, a seat it had held for nearly 40 years.
“I honestly believe if Mike Baird and Troy Grant had gone to Orange and spent more time in places like Molong in those horrible town hall meetings over the local government issue, we would have had hundreds of more votes and we would have won the seat,” Mr Barilaro told The Land in an interview.
“As politicians, you have to have the guts to turn up in those rooms that are unpleasant.”
Mr Barilaro said even after five months as the new NSW Nationals leader he was constantly being asked if the Government had learnt from its mistakes on the greyhound ban and local governments forced amalgamation issues.
“The last 12 months have been difficult for the Liberals, Nationals. We have to acknowledge those mistakes, the greyhounds and local government. We have to acknowledge it. You can’t reset unless you acknowledge, learn from those mistakes. And then move on.
“What happened clearly on the back of the Orange by-election is that we lost trust, trust with our communities and we even lost trust with our own members of the party, that we weren’t listening and that we were pushing ahead with policies that weren’t actually reflective of the aspirations of our communities.
“The best way to do it (to earn back public trust), as a marginal seat member, you have to turn up to all those town hall meetings and unpleasant ones, we have to go town hall to town hall community to community, so they can see the whites of your eyes, so they can vent.
“There’s no good talking to the converted, we have to get out and about. The Premier’s office and mine are adamant that all ministers and members need to get out to every corner of the state, answer the questions, engage and listen, then you will cut through the white noise of politics.”
“I don’t have a political background, I came out of the middle of nowhere. I was a small business owner, you have to approach things thinking the customer is always right. You turn up, you find out a solution. I just converted that to politics.”
Mr Barilaro spoke with The Land before the Nationals state conference in Broken Hill today and tomorrow, where he hopes to regain the trust of party membership. The new Berejiklian Government has since dropped forced council amalgamations and delivered a new greyhound industry package to make it sustainable for the future.