AN UNDERCURRENT of anger over forced council mergers continues to ripple across the Riverina, with more political observers declaring the issue is the “death” of the National Party in the bush.
It comes as heavyweights in Gundagai begin pooling money in a bid to overthrow sitting MP Katrina Hodgkinson in “Tony Windsor-like fashion” – a move Ms Hodgkinson has dismissed as personal ambition.
But outspoken Darlington Point ratepayer James Tongue said Nationals’ MPs should not underestimate the level of anger in regional areas.
Despite Darlington Point’s council winning its fight not to merge with Griffith, Mr Tongue said forced council mergers could be a turning point in the Nationals’ grip on power in the Riverina.
“If they put up a strong independent candidate here, people would take to him or her like a hit,” he said.
“(Murray MP) Adrian Piccoli was part of the Cabinet that thought this whole thing up.
“The major parties have let us down and the bush always comes off second-best.”
Mr Tongue said when Murrumbidgee council went into battle against the initial merger proposal, minor parties were the only ones to offer support.
“All Adrian Piccoli was doing was covering his arse,” he said.
“And it wasn’t only the National Party that didn’t want anything to do with it, the Labor Party didn’t either.”
Mr Piccoli defended the government’s decision to pursue forced council mergers and said ratepayers couldn’t have it both ways.
He cited the inefficiency of Conargo and Deniliquin councils having two general managers and dual planning directors despite being 20 minutes apart.
“People are against this, I get that, I have people ringing me, but doing nothing is not an option,” Mr Piccoli said.
“People want more council services and they want infrastructure upgrades – can we do those things with what we’ve got?”
Well-known farmer Helen Dalton – who ran against Mr Piccoli as an independent at the last state election – said she had been encouraged to run again.
“I think the fact that I secured 19 per cent of the primary vote after five weeks’ campaigning, and there was a field of eight candidates, shows there is a lot of disquiet in the community,” she said. “We’re tired of The Nationals and we’re tired of not being listened to.”