IT IS going to be an interesting marriage between the once- independent Richard Torbay and The Nationals to which he now belongs.
Mr Torbay has broken ranks and argued that mining and coal seam gas extraction on the Liverpool Plains should be halted while the issue of potential damage to water reserves and bountiful land is assessed by science.
He is the first high-profile member of the party to express that view, a stance in contradiction to the party’s position on gas and coal which is articulated in the Coalition’s Strategic Regional Land Use Policy. At a federal level, coal seam gas hasn’t rated a mention, with the Coalition’s mining focus being on dumping the Minerals Resource Rent Tax.
Not only that, he has placed the member for Upper Hunter, George Souris, in an awkward situation. Mr Torbay has crossed two electorates beyond his own to express his support for the point of view being voiced by farmers of the area and his political opponent, Tony Windsor.
At one end of Mr Souris’s electorate coalmining is proceeding at break-neck speed, while at the other end a blockade by farmers and environmentalists is still in place as they continue to fight against mining and coal seam gas extraction on the rich farming land of the Liverpool Plains. Mr Souris has said nothing about the revamped Strategic Rural Land Use Policy since its release this week nor has he responded to Mr Torbay’s call for a halt to mining and gas activities in his electorate.
Also this week, Mr Torbay called on the state government to reverse its decision to cut $30 million of funding from the Landcare budget.
Coalition policy to merge the Livestock, Health and Pest Authority, parts of the NSW Department of Primary Industries and Catchment Management Authorities into a new entity will, according to Mr Torbay, result in the closure of Landcare offices and job losses.
As an independent, Mr Torbay has always been able to express his views at will. While he can still do so, such action in the party system we know, poses two interesting questions.
What will Mr Torbay’s protests achieve?
And how tolerant will parliamentary members of the same party be of his publicly-expressed opposing views of party policy and decisions?