NEWS that northern NSW farmer Penny Blatchford will run on the Greens’ Senate ticket in NSW should send a timely reminder to the Coalition – and specifically The Nationals - that it cannot afford to take its heartland for granted.
The Greens last week beat the Coalition and Labor to the punch as the first party of the campaign to unveil its ag policy – and having a farmer on their Senate ticket can only help their bid to be taken seriously in the bush.
Of course Mrs Blatchford isn’t alone in turning her back on the Coalition.
Peter Mailler, the former chairman of Grain Producers Australia, is also having a tilt at a Senate seat, in his case for Katter’s Australian Party.
Both hail from safe Nationals electoral territory.
Yet both are also unconvinced of The Nationals’ ability to look after rural interests and not be outmuscled by their bigger city-based Coalition partner.
The results at the last election and potential for another tight result should give the major parties cause to pay closer attention to the bush. But that doesn’t mean they will.
Of the 14 rural seats in NSW, the Coalition holds eight.
Just four of those are held by the Nats, with margins ranging from 9.27 to 18pc.
All are considered safe or fairly safe seats. In fact two - Riverina and Parkes – are among the Coalition’s 10 safest seats in the country.
It’s little wonder then that many rural voters in western NSW fear their votes are being taken for granted.
That’s not to say they don’t have faith in their local members, who enjoy incredibly strong electoral support.
But nor do they expect their electorates to be paid much attention by Coalition or Labor powerbrokers, either in the way of personal visits, policies or promises – especially not when there are key seats to be won in western Sydney or the seats of two retiring Independents up for grabs.
However, Nationals MPs clearly aren’t ignoring rising political frustration levels in the bush, as demonstrated by this week’s heartening response to one of rural Australia’s most annoying themes – mobile phone reception.
The bush will be genuinely pleased by the Coalition’s promise of $100 million to address black spots in the mobile phone network.
May there be many more practical responses to the political challenges mounting up in regional Australia.