THE north faces the prospect of two major elections within months as a day of high drama saw the political death of one of the most popular elected politicians ever in Richard Torbay and the spectre of more sensational headlines to come.
Chief among them is the fact the dumped Nationals contender for New England at the next federal poll has been referred to the state’s corruption watchdog by the NSW Nationals, who preselected him just seven months ago to take on sitting MP Tony Windsor.
And as one star fell, another federal figure’s stellar party stakes looks to have risen – Barnaby Joyce is waiting in the wings for The Nationals to call him to contest New England.
As The Nationals rallied to press on and wipe out what has gone before, the political landscape in New England and the Northern Tablelands was rocked with comment and conjecture.
Just the day before, The Nationals’ star recruit was sitting pretty in party polling, which suggested Mr Torbay would topple the man who was once his mentor but had become a bitter adversary.
Yesterday, Mr Torbay, a one-time Armidale mayor and university union manager, was seemingly dead in the water and gone from politics in so many ways: spectacularly, suddenly and sensationally. In his wake are questions and few answers so far.
Late yesterday the NSW Nationals confirmed a Fairfax online article that information in the party’s possession regarding Mr Torbay had been referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
The party said the information was provided to ICAC on a confidential basis, it had no comment about the content of that information and would not make any further comments.
Speculation was rife in the wake of reporting days ago that Mr Torbay’s name had been mentioned in the diaries of disgraced former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid – but so had so many others, and not all of them have fallen on their sword or had their positions revoked.
There was also speculation Mr Obeid had helped get Mr Torbay into politics, and the spectre of Labor Party funding underwriting Mr Torbay’s entry into politics, outraging other Nationals MPs, was also reported.
Mr Torbay is the son of Lebanese immigrants and there are family connections to Mr Obeid, whose wife, Judith, came from Armidale, so any friendships or relationships can be explained easily in that context.
After an overnight sensation, where it was reported that Mr Torbay had been dumped by the Nats, there was more drama.
The former independent MP for the state seat resigned yesterday, forcing a by-election in the Northern Tablelands.
Mr Torbay was first elected to the Northern Tablelands as an independent in 1999 by beating the Nationals’ sitting member, Ray Chappell.
He had once also been the Speaker of the House in the NSW Parliament, and, according to Premier Barry O’Farrell yesterday, the best one the Labor government had had.
In statements to the media – Mr Torbay has gone to ground and has been unheard of and unseen since Tuesday – he claimed his political career had been too much of a strain on his family and personal life, and that’s his reason for going.