MONARO MP John Barilaro has been elected as the new NSW Nationals leader unopposed at a party room meeting on Tuesday morning.
It follows the resignation of former leader Troy Grant and deputy leader Adrian Piccoli after the poor by-election result for the Nationals at Orange, believed to have been caused by the government’s controversial greyhound racing ban and council amalgamations.
The Nationals have held the seat since 1947 and by a margin of more than 21 per cent at the last state election, but, with some electorate’s experiencing swings of up to 60 per cent, the party is expected to lose the seat to Phil Donato from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.
Australian Racing Greyhound spoke to Donato on Monday and, while the result was still too close to call, the police prosecutor said the swing against the Nationals had sent a big message to the coalition government.
“Our party has been on the record from the very beginning sticking up for the greyhound industry and really working towards putting pressure on the government to overturn the ban,” Donato said.
“That was the reason why we initially decided to run for the seat of Orange and we wanted to send a strong message to the government.
“The result has sent massive shockwaves through the government already.
“You only have to see what has happened [on Monday] in relation to Troy Grant resigning – it has clearly sent a message to the government that the people of NSW and in particular from regional communities won’t be trodden on, spoken down to and treated this way.”
On Monday, Troy Grant spoke publicly for the first time in regards to his decision to step down as leader, labelling himself a team player.
“It’s certainly not what I wanted to do, but the circumstances are what they are,” Grant said.
“The community have a perception that we’re not listening to them. That’s not true, but that’s their perception and that’s the most important thing – what they believe and what they feel.
“We haven’t done a good enough job in communicating our message to them and telling them why we’re doing stuff and bringing them along with our decisions.
Barilaro, who takes over from Grant, will be joined by new Deputy Nationals Leader Niall Blair, who is also the minister for Primary Industries.
Barilaro has held the seat of Monaro since 2011 and claimed the seat with a narrow two per cent margin at the latest state election. He is already the Minister for Skills and the Minister for Small Business.
It is unclear at this stage what impact Barilaro’s leadership will have on the sport of greyhound racing, with the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill not set to be officially repealed until next year.
Barilaro had previously spoken out in support of the ban, notably on August 23 when the Greyhound Racing Prohibition Bill was passed by the Legislative Assembly.
“I supported the decision to end greyhound racing next year, but it was one of the toughest decisions I have made,” Barilaro said in Parliament at the time.
“It was a torturous decision that challenged one’s role in government and the legacy we leave for our communities.
“The decision is based on the need to stop animal cruelty and to assist society to change its attitude to animal welfare.
“This industry has had years to self-regulate. Live baiting has been banned for 60 years, yet there are examples of live baiting today.
“The community has been asked to trust that the industry can change. Reputable greyhound owners, breeders and trainers in the industry should be angry.
“They should be angry with those who have governed this industry and allowed it to deteriorate to this point.
“I spoke to a breeder in my community in Braidwood. I asked whether he believed the McHugh report had been exaggerated. He said he was angry with the Government’s decision but that the McHugh report is not exaggerated—if anything, it is probably the tip of the iceberg.
“Many within the industry have been aware of cruel live-baiting practices in the industry, but have sat idle and not voiced their concerns. Today the industry has to pay the ultimate price for that silence.”