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”

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  1. Labor or independent likely to win

    i still stand by my prediction 51-53 to labor , but wont be surprise if the independent gets in

    its win win for windsor

  2. Tisme: “This will be a litmus test for Tony Windsor”

    The fail is strong with this one. Northern Tablelands isn’t New England. It’s the northern corner of it. The population centre of Tamworth is Windsor’s main stronghold, and isn’t part of today’s ballot.

    Anyone who pulled their head out of their arse long enough to read a map would know this.

  3. al Dente

    is right Tamworth is the biggest population city , but its not the biggest area of new england

    northern tablelands is 52% – tamworth area is 48% of new england

  4. Al Dente
    Posted Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 7:06 am | PERMALINK
    Tisme: “This will be a litmus test for Tony Windsor”

    The fail is strong with this one. Northern Tablelands isn’t New England.


    Spot on ,

  5. I think it will be a guide to September. If the Nats can’t win today then you would have to think Windsor is safe and we are saved from BJDPM.

  6. Sean

    When Windsor went from state to federal parliament the by-election for his state seat of Tamworth saw a big win for the nationals yet when it came time for the next federal poll Windsor held New England very easily

    The Nationals should win Northern Tablelands, the state government seems to be doing a good job.

  7. Tony Windsor is in deep… deep… trouble.

    Indies rejected, Nats embraced in Windsor country.

    Expect to see Barnyard Joyce in Federal Parliament next year.

  8. disgusting people fell for the nationals , thinking they will keep the nbn

    the small areas should have woken up

    my prediction was wrong i will take the heat

  9. davidwh

    dont worry its not going to change my mind one bit,

    federal labor and windsor will win it

    with a bit of luck Mod lib may not see this 🙂

  10. [GhostWhoVotes ‏@GhostWhoVotes 1m
    #NorthernTablelands By-election after all booths & pre-poll: NAT 62.6 IND Maher 13.9 ALP 9.7 GRN 4.5 CDP 2.1 #nswpol #auspol]

    Comfortable Nat win, but I suspect they will be disappointed. ALP and Greens picked up a 7.5% swing.

  11. yes you are right reawaken

    that swing would likely go to windsor

    which makes it more harder for joyce to get a swing of over 22% to win

  12. davidwh

    When you consider the candidates , labor , independents, greens will likely to wo windsor in the new england election

    Its not good that the nationals did better , but windsor is a different beast

  13. davidwh

    Who told you this is the second largest win? From Anthony Green.

    [Torbay needed preferences to win when first elected in 1999, but was easily elected with more than 70% of the first preference vote in both 2003 and 2007. Torbay even polled 63.4% of the first preference vote at the 2011 election when all other rural Independents were defeated.]

  14. davidwh

    I am sure they are happy to win the seat back after losing a crown jewel for 14 years. But they could not beat Torbays 2011 vote. The combined Nat Torbay and Nat vote in 2011 was over 90% it has shrunk to just over 60%.

    I would not be happy if I was a Nat hard head.

  15. Rua there would always be some level of Labor inclined votes Torbay attracted which were never going to go to the Nats.

  16. I guess you can say

    from 2011 to now

    the nationals picked up 7-9000 extra votes

    labor picked up picked up 2-3000 extra votes

    from torbay not being in this election

  17. Okay the Nats won what they should have and by its usual margin.

    In a way the Nationals have done well in recent times for there was a time when they were considered dead.

    I don’t see any federal implications.

  18. Meguire Bob @3

    “Labor or independent likely to win … i still stand by my prediction 51-53 to labor”

    Is there a quantitative way to measure how big a douche you and your predictions are ? It good to keep the faith but part of time head must come out of anus to actually look around .

  19. [42
    Posted Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 9:14 pm | PERMALINK
    Okay the Nats won what they should have and by its usual margin.

    In a way the Nationals have done well in recent times for there was a time when they were considered dead.

    I don’t see any federal implications.]

    Nats now hold 19 seats in the lower house versus 20 for ALP.

    I think in one of the Wranslides the Nats won same number of seats as Libs – 14 each.

  20. morpheus
    Posted Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 9:51 pm | PERMALINK

    Is there a quantitative way to measure how big a douche you and your predictions are ? It good to keep the faith but part of time head must come out of anus to actually look around .


    not at all , where i was the vide was for labor and independent

    yes i made a prediction

  21. any way morpheus

    i guess you are saying Abbott must have his head further up his you know what

    because he expected to be pm by the end of 2011

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