The by-election in the mid south-west set of Cootamundra has arisen following the resignation of Nationals MP Katrina Hodgkinson, who has represented the local area since 1999. The seat was created at the 2015 election after the abolition of Hodgkinson's existing seat of Burrinjuck, together with neighbouring Murrumbidgee. Labor is fielding a candidate at the by-election, but the Nationals may be more concerned about the threat from Shooters Fishers and Farmers after their win in the Orange by-election last November.
Katrina Hodgkinson served on the front bench in opposition from 2003 to 2011, and then in government as Primary Industries Minister until the 2015 election, after which she was demoted to parliamentary secretary. She was further demoted to the back bench in August 2016 after crossing the floor to vote against the later-rescinded ban on the greyhound racing industry, and announced her resignation from parliament in late July.
Cootamundra was created at the 2015 election out of the abolished Nationals strongholds of Burrinjuck and Murrumbidgee, the former providing the western half and the latter the east. Though the area provided by Murrumbidgee was the greater, Burrinjuck provided around 62% of the voters, mostly concentrated in the population centres of Cowra, Young and Cootamundra itself.
The area was once strong for Labor, who held Burrinjuck from its creation in 1950 until 1988, and Murrumbidgee from 1944 to 1984. The tipping point in Burrinjuck arrived with Labor's defeat in 1988, when it was won for the Liberals by Alby Schultz, later the federal member for Hume from 1998 to 2013. The seat remained vacant until the state election the following at March, at which the seat was contested for the Liberals by Alby Schultz's wife, Gloria Schultz. However, Schultz finished third and Hodgkinson won the seat with a margin over Labor of 1.2%.
Hodgkinson's hold on Burrinjuck was secured over the next few terms with a succession of swings and a favourable redistribution in 2007, in which Goulburn was traded for conservative rural territory further inland. When the redistribution ahead of the 2015 election was finalised, Hodgkinson initially intended to challenge senior Liberal front-bencher Pru Goward in Goulburn, but she was prevailed upon by Barry O’Farrell to stay nearer her existing base.
The Nationals candidate is Steph Cooke, an owner of local floristry businesses. Cooke was one of five candidates for preselection, all of them women the others being Miriam Dayhew, a university administrator and former nurse; Ruth Fagan, a Cowra councillor and small business owner; Rachel Smith, a veterinarian; and Wendy Tuckerman, former mayor of Boorowa Shire Council.
Labor's candidate is Cootamundra-Gundagai councillor Charlie Sheahan, who also ran in 2015. Shooters Fishers and Farmers have endorsed Matthew Stadtmiller, an independent newspaper publisher and former deputy mayor of Harden, which is currently being merged with the shires of Young and Booroowa to form Treetops Council. Also in the field are candidates of the Greens and the Christian Democratic Party, along with Jim Saleam, the candidate of the unregistered hard right party Australia First.