A by-election is to be held in the Riverina region seat of Murray after the resignation of Adrian Piccoli, who is taking up a position with the University of New South Wales. Piccoli entered parliament as member for Murrumbidgee in 1999, before assuming the new seat of Murray that emerged from the abolition of Murrumbidgee and Murray-Darling in 2015. He was deputy leader of the Nationals from 2009 to November 2016, and Education Minister from the 2011 election victory to January 2017. The former position was relinquished when both he and leader Troy Grant stood aside after the party lost the Orange by-election to Shooters Fishers and Farmers, which was followed two months later by his demotion to the back bench after Gladys Berejiklian became Premier.
Murray covers the south-western corner of the state, with most of its population concentrated in the Riverina centres of Griffith and Deniliquin at the eastern end of the electorate. It was created in 2015 out of abolished Murray-Darling and Murrumbidgee, with the former providing a slight majority of the voters. It existed in various forms from 1859 to 1999, and was mostly held by the National/Country Party after 1932.
The name change to Murray-Darling in 1999 reflected the addition of Broken Hill, the decline of which had caused the electorate of that name to be abolished. This left Murray-Darling with a notional Nationals margin of only 3.5% going into the 1999 election, which was accounted for by a 7.7% swing to Labor candidate Peter Black, previously mayor of Broken Hill. Black gained a further 2.5% swing in 2003, but the next redistribution converted this to a notional Nationals margin of 1.4% by adding further conservative rural territory to compensate for its ongoing population stagnation.
Murray-Darling was gained for the Nationals at the 2007 election by John Williams, who gained an 8.8% swing on debut and added a further 17.1% in the 2011 landslide. However, the rug was effectively pulled from under him when Murray-Darling and Murrumbidgee were consolidated into Murray, since the member for the latter was Adrian Piccoli, who had seniority as Education Minister and deputy party leader. Williams was made to settle for all-but-winnable eleventh position on the Coalition upper house ticket, from which he duly failed to win election.
The Nationals candidate is Austin Evans, an agricultural engineer, Murrumbidgee councillor and former mayor of Jerilderie. Evans was preselected from a field of seven candidates that included David Landini, a former Wakool councillor; Perin Davey, managing director of a public relations firm; Virginia Keenan Halse, principal of a telecommunications consultancy firm; Elizabeth Stott, a farmer; Greg Adamson, a teacher; and Jon Armstrong, a geologist.
Evans' biggest threat may be from Shooters Fishers and Farmers, who embarrassed the Nationals in last year's Orange by-election and have now landed a strong candidate in Helen Dalton. Dalton is a Binya farmer who has campaigned locally on irrigation issues, and polled 18.2% as an independent candidate in 2015, finishing second ahead of Labor. Labor's candidate is Michael Kidd, a radiographer and Leeton Shire councillor. Also in the field are a Greens candidate and two independents.