WEST Australian National Party MLC Paul Brown could be risking his political future in a bold move to try and enter the Lower House.
Since 2013, Mr Brown has been an Upper House member for the Agricultural Region in the WA Parliament and living in Northam for the past 12-years.
But he and his young family moved to Geraldton over the Christmas and New-Year break sparking intense speculation he’s now gunning for the safe Liberal seat of Geraldton that’s been held by Ian Blayney since 2008.
Mr Brown’s Lower House tilt aligns with the WA National Party’s overarching political strategy to win all non-metropolitan seats to try and hold the balance of power at each election, to achieve policy outcomes to boost regional WA.
The 46-year old has an existing office in Geraldton and was born in the regional city providing strong family connections.
He is currently co-owner and Director of Jennacubbine Livestock Services and another feedlot facility in South Hedland.
That operation was caught up in the middle of the former federal Labor government’s snap suspension of live cattle exports to Indonesia in 2011 which subsequently sparked and motivated his entry into State politics.
He was originally pre-selected at number four on the WA Nationals Upper House ticket for the 2013 WA election - but was elevated to second after disgruntled, incumbent Agricultural Region MLCs Max Trenorden and Philip Gardiner quit the party.
Mr Brown’s early parliamentary career has seen strong support for farming and the live export trade – including pushing current Federal Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce to focus on opening markets critical for WA sheep and cattle producers.
If he won Geraldton at the 2017 election, he could also emulate Mr Joyce’s successful move at the 2013 federal election shifting from being a Queensland Senator into the House of Representatives for the NSW rural seat of New England; a move that’s also enhanced his leadership aspirations.
Nominations remain open for potential pre-selection candidates for the WA Nationals to pursue Geraldton, despite deadlines closing this week for other Lower House seats, like Pilbara and Kalgoorlie.
Mr Brown declined to say directly whether he was nominating to take on Mr Blayney and risk his relatively safe Upper House position but said he was considering his future options, following the family’s relocation.
He said Geraldton was the largest population centre in the Agricultural Region and north of Perth and the area had been a “strong focus” for his party, which would continue.
Mr Brown said the multi-billion dollar Royalties for Regions policy – implemented by the WA Nationals after using its balance of power strategy in negotiations to form government, following the 2008 election – had delivered “huge” results in regional WA.
But he accused the WA Liberals and Mr Blayney of being complacent and subsequently, having missed out on large funding opportunities for infrastructure in the region, especially for the proposed Oakajee Port north of the Geraldton.
“The WA Liberals have missed out on opportunities to deliver money for the Oakajee project despite the once in a life time opportunities driven by the mining boom,” he said.
Party sources say Mr Brown may face pre-selection competition if he did nominate for Geraldton but was well-regarded and likely to be a favourite to win any potential contest.
Shane Van Styn was the National’s candidate at the 2013 election but was elected the new Mayor of Geraldton in October last year and has committed to a four-year term.
During the 2013 battle, Mr Blayney experienced a 10.7 per cent increase on his primary vote, providing him with an 11 percent margin over the Nationals.
However, he benefitted from Labor preferences in 2013 and may not receive the same treatment next time around, with preference-deals still to be negotiated.
Other speculation has suggested former WAFarmers President Dale Park may be considering running for the WA Nationals as an Agricultural Region candidate and could potentially leap-frog Mr Brown for a winnable position, on the party’s ticket.
Mr Blayney was a sheep and grain farmer for 25-years in the mid-west before winning Geraldton off Labor’s Shane Hill in 2008 who’d held the seat since 2001 following a boundary re-distribution.
Mr Blayney said he faced a strong, high profile National Party candidate at the last State election who outspent him on the campaign “two to one”.
“He (Mr Van Styn) took me on and I got through that one – but of course it’s the electorate’s call,” he said of a potential battle against Mr Brown.
Mr Blayney said he assumed the only reason Mr Brown would run against him for Geraldton was if he failed to win a safe Upper House pre-selection position, for the Nationals.