Northern Tablelands by-election preview

Voters in the Armidale region of northern New South Wales go to the polls tomorrow to choose a successor to independent state MP Richard Torbay.

Live coverage

8.51pm. With all booths counted, plus about 1000 postals and 5000 pre-polls, the Nationals are on a handsome 62.3% of the primary vote, with Jim Maher in second place on 13.2% and Labor in third on 10.0%.

7.21pm. The Nationals scored 64.0% at a large Inverell booth, their total vote now at 65.4%. Fourteen booths still outstanding.

7.10pm. Two Armidale booths have reported, and the Nationals vote there is at around 50%. That’s been enough to pare the Nationals vote back to 63.9%, with 26 booths reporting all told.

6.54pm. No booths in yet from Armidale or Inverell, but a booth from Glen Innes is only slightly less favourable for the Nationals than the rural booths (62.0%).

6.51pm. Now up to 21 booths out of 48, although these are of course the smallest and most rural booths. The Nationals vote is at 71.6%, while both Jim Maher (8.7%) and Labor (7.2%) have edged up slightly.

6.49pm. For what it’s worth, Antony Green’s booth matching suggests a 4.0% primary vote swing to Labor off a 2011 base of 3.4%.

6.46pm. Another seven booths have reported and the Nationals vote is little changed at 73.6% (and the NSWEC results are now ahead of the ABC’s).

6.42pm. Jim Maher is on a paltry 6.8% (75 votes), but he’ll presumably do better when the Armidale booths are in. That’s still enough to put him in second place ahead of Labor’s Harman Beyersdorf on 61 votes and independent Katherine Nicholson on 57.

6.41pm. The NSWEC has caught up with the ABC, so it may be that I’d opened the ABC’s page just as the update come through to each.

6.40pm. The ABC’s results are well ahead of those of the NSWEC, which inexplicably publishes them as PDF files. Ten booths have reported, all of them very small, and maintain a picture of the Nationals having a lock on the rural vote: Adam Marshall is on 833 votes out of 1095.

6.35pm. A belated kick-off for live coverage. One tiny booth (“Chandler Public”) has reported, and it seems to bode rather well for the Nationals in giving their candidate 63 votes out of 84.


A by-election will be held tomorrow in the northern New South Wales seat of Northern Tablelands following the resignation of independent member Richard Torbay, whose political career came to a sudden in March amid events culminating in an ICAC raid on his home and electorate office. It offers the Nationals an opportunity to snare a nineteenth seat in the state lower house, but their candidate Adam Marshall must first overcome a challenge from Jim Maher, who hopes to emulate Torbay at least to the extent of transferring from local mayor to independent state MP.

Northern Tablelands covers 44,674 square kilometres including a 150 kilometre stretch of the Queensland border, extending south through Tenterfield, Inverell, Glen Innes and Armidale. The electorate was created when Armidale was abolished with the introduction of one-vote one-value at the 1981 election. Armidale had usually been in Country Party hands, although it fell to Labor for one term in 1953, and with Bill McCarthy’s tenure as member from the “Wranslide” of 1978 until his death in 1987. His widow Thelma McCarthy ran as Labor’s candidate at the ensuing by-election, but National Party candidate Ray Chappell won the seat by 2.6% following a 4.2% swing.

The seat was won by independent candidate and Armidale mayor Richard Torbay at the 1999 election, at which he outpolled Chappell by 44.2% to 34.1% on the primary vote. Torbay then emerged as the most electorally successful of the parliament’s shifting array of independent members, his primary vote progressing to 71.3% in 2003 and 72.7% in 2007 before falling back to 63.4% in 2011. His informal seniority among the independents was indicated when the then Premier Morris Iemma backed him for the speakership, having boldly commenced his new parliamentary term by aggreeing to support an independent. Labor state secretary Sam Dastyari claimed in mid-2012 that Torbay had proposed joining the party and replacing the floundering Nathan Rees as premier. Torbay said this was a “lie”, saying an approach had instead come to him from the party’s state secretary John Della Bosca.

Dastyari’s claim came followed Torbay’s announcement that he would join the Nationals with a view to securing federal preselection to run against Tony Windsor in New England, the party having promised him “freedom to speak with an independent voice on local issues”. This clashed with Barnaby Joyce’s aspirations for the seat as a fallback option in view of Bruce Scott’s determination to continue serving in the rural Queensland seat of Maranoa. However, the Torbay option would firm after party polling showed he offered the clearest path to victory over Windsor.

Torbay’s federal ambitions became rapidly unstuck in March 2013 when the Financial Review reported he had received assistance from embattled Labor operative Eddie Obeid ahead of his run for state parliament in 1999. Over the next two days Torbay withdrew as candidate and resigned as member for Northern Tablelands, with Nationals state chairman saying the party had received unspecified information “of which we were not previously aware”. This information was referred to ICAC, which raided Torbay’s home and electorate office the following week.

The Nationals preselection for the by-election was won by Adam Marshall, who was elected to Gunnedah council in 2004 at the age of 19 and became mayor four years later. Marshall emerged a surprise winner over Nationals Farmers Federation president Alexander “Jock” Laurie, who entered the contest after first being spoken of as a possible competitor for Barnaby Joyce in the re-run of the New England preselection. Also in the field was Claire Coulton, whose father Mark Coulton is the federal member for Parkes. Marshall is joined on the ballot paper by seven other candidates, including both the mayor and deputy mayor of Armidale-Dumaresq. The former is Jim Maher, running as an independent, and the latter is Herman Beyersdorf, the Labor candidate. Other independents are local grazier Bill Bush and TAFE teacher Katherine Nicholson. Silvana Nero, the Sydney-based fiancee of the Reverend Fred Nile, is running for the Christian Democratic Party. The Greens candidate is retired English teacher Dora Koops.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

57 comments on “Northern Tablelands by-election preview”

  1. MB

    I will remember with great glee your prediction of Labor victory in this seat.

    And will remind you of it regularly.

    This result is another nail in the coffin of the indies – the richard torbay shenanigans didn’t help their cause. When a voter votes for the ALP, Libs, Nats or Greens they have a damned good idea of what they will get – the last few years have shown that with the indies they do not.

    The only saving grace for Windsor is that he has been around long enough for the voters to know what they will get. Come September with (hopefully) a majority government, Windsor will sink back into his predestined role of political impotence – and if the coalition do get in – he can expect no favours.

  2. People who voted for the nationals deserve the pain they get from not getting a fair go now

    The ofarrell government wont give extra support to the electorate

  3. Sean Tisme
    Posted Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 11:10 am | PERMALINK

    Stop making stupid predictions, you look stupid

    Looks who is talking

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