RICHARD Torbay has been axed as The Nationals candidate for the seat of New England, has resigned from the party, and a cloud now hangs over his future in the NSW Parliament.
Last night The Nationals state director released a brief statement by the party’s NSW chairman, Niall Blair, announcing the party’s move.
It gave no reason for the decision, although Fairfax Media has speculated the withdrawal came a day after the Australian Financial Review reported Mr Torbay had been helped into politics in 1999 by former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, now the subject of a corruption inquiry.
Mr Torbay was also one of dozens of political and other figures featured in Mr Obeid’s diaries, published last week.
Mr Torbay entered state Parliament in 1999 as an independent, after ousting a sitting Nationals member.
Mr Torbay did not answer calls from The Northern Daily Leader last night and at the time of going to print had not released a statement about the shock revelations.
It also appears as though Mr Torbay’s Twitter account has been deleted as those on the social media site speculate about why he was asked to withdraw as a candidate.
NSW Nationals state director Ben Franklin gave no reason for Mr Torbay’s withdrawal, saying legal reasons prevented him.
State and federal MPs were advised of the decision and were given no explanation.
Mr Blair said: “The party has received information over the past 24 hours of which we were not previously aware regarding Mr Torbay.
“The matters in question pre-date Mr Torbay’s membership of The Nationals.
“The party has asked Mr Torbay to withdraw his candidacy for New England and to resign from the NSW National Party, which he has done.
“We will immediately proceed to preselect a new candidate for the seat of New England at the earliest opportunity and will provide a strong community champion to take the fight up to Tony Windsor and the Gillard Labor government.”
He said the party was seeking legal advice about the information received and would be making no further comment at this stage.
Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce, who is keen to enter the lower house and who grew up in the Tamworth district, indicated last night his renewed interest in seeking pre-selection for New England.
One Liberal said the dumping was an opportunity for Barnaby Joyce to move to the House of Representatives.
Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham, speaking on Sky News, said the news was “not ideal” but he hoped the Nationals would get a new candidate on the ground soon.
NSW independent and key crossbencher Rob Oakeshott tweeted: “As stated before, the reach of E Obeid went beyond one political party. And is one of reasons why I’m now Independent MP. Good luck Tony Windsor.’’
NSW Labor powerbroker Sam Dastyari tweeted: “Good riddance to Torbay, a career liar who has been caught out. Australia can do without him in our nation’s Parliament.”
There was speculation last night that Mr Torbay, a former speaker of the NSW Legislative Assembly, could come under pressure to resign from his seat of Northern Tablelands.
The man Mr Torbay set out to topple in the September federal poll, independent MP Tony Windsor, said he would not be responding to the news until he had more details.
He was heavily engaged in meetings relating to media reform legislation last night.
But in an article in the Australian Financial Review on Monday, Mr Windsor shed light on the Obeid connection.
“It seems as though being advised and mentored by Obeid means he’s got a few questions to answer,” Mr Windsor had said.