FOLLOWING a momentous swing against his party at the Orange state byelection, NSW Nationals leader and Deputy Premier Troy Grant announced this afternoon he would vacate his leadership role at tomorrow’s party room meeting.
The Police and Justice Minister said he took pride in the Nats’ achievements during his tenure, but the unprecedented swing against his party, which saw one third of the Nats traditional voters abandon the party, had forced his hand.
The vote count in Orange continues, where the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers are neck and neck with the Nats. If they take the seat from the bush conservatives, it would be the Nats’ first loss in Orange since 1947.
“As a result of The Nationals candidate for Orange Scott Barrett facing an uphill battle to hold the seat, I have informed the NSW Nationals leadership team that at tomorrow’s Party Room meeting I will be standing down as Leader of the NSW Nationals,” Mr Grant said in a statement.
“At all times I have been guided by my principles of honesty, integrity and hard work but I accept the result in Orange is a clear message that we haven’t always got it right, nor have we always taken the community with us.”
Mr Grant enjoyed a meteoric rise to lead his party, stepping into the role which was vacated by Andrew Stoner in October 2014. He came to the post after being first elected to parliament in the Dubbo electorate in 2011, after serving 22 years as a Police officer.
As the magnitude of anger in the Orange electorate became apparent, NSW Nats members spoke out against Mr Grant.
Coffs Harbour stalwart Nationals MP Andrew Fraser said on Sunday he would move a spill motion against the Deputy Premier and called on Mr Grant to "walk away" from the party leadership.
Speculation over Mr Grant’s replacement is rife ahead of a scheduled meeting tomorrow. Regional Development and Skills Minister John Barilaro is tipped as the frontrunner.
Mr Barilaro is MP for the swinging Monaro electorate, which he won from Labor’s Steve Whan in 2011 and held in 2015 on a narrow margin of 5 per cent (two-party preferred basis).
Other prominent Nats’ Coalition Cabinet members have also been discussed as potential leaders, with Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair and Local Government Minister Paul Toole in the mix.
A prominent opponent of Mr Grant’s abandoned Greyhound racing ban, Barwon MP Kevin Humphries, is a potential wildcard.
Education Minister and Deputy Nats Leader Adrian Piccoli announced he would step down as Deputy Leader tomorrow as well.
"I won't be standing as deputy. I've had eight years. I hope to remain as the minister for education, but that's a question for the new leader, whoever that might be,” Mr Piccoli said.
Mr Grant said he was proud of the Coalition’s achievements during his tenure.
“It has been an incredible privilege to serve in that role and lead a team whose sole focus is to serve the people of regional NSW,” Mr Grant said.
Mr Barilaro’s office has been contacted for comment.