So welcome to Federal politics, Rob Oakeshott. Barring some disaster, the former National will become the third independent in the House of Representatives on 6 September, succeeding his former boss Mark Vaile in Lyne.
Oakeshott is a nightmare for the Nationals. Neither Labor nor the Liberals are running in Lyne. There’ll be no three-cornered contest. In fact, there’ll be no contest at all. Oakeshott won 67% of primary votes last year in his state seat of Port Macquarie, which is wholly within Lyne. If the Coalition was still in power, the Nats – in the shape of former Port Macquarie mayor Rob Drew – might have a chance, but their political irrelevance means there’s never been a better time to send an independent to Parliament. The Nationals will have to spend a lot of money in what they know deep down is going to be a losing cause.
Warren Truss calling Oakeshoot a Labor patsy will only help his cause. Oakeshott has made a virtue out of working with the NSW Labor Government. In fact he owes some of his success following his departure from the Nationals in 2001 to Bob Carr, who saw in the young, moderate republican a chance to mess with Coalition minds, especially as he was encouraging a strong “Country Labor” push at the time. Carr made sure Oakeshott was given plenty of access to his ministers, and Oakeshott went from strength to strength at subsequent elections. All of that bodes well for working with the Federal Government.
But Oakeshott is a Nationals nightmare, too, because he represents a huge missed opportunity for the party. As a young progressive National, Oakeshoot should have represented the party’s future in sea-change seats like those along the NSW Central and North Coasts – focussed strongly on local politics, but more in tune with a changing electorate than the Nats from Central Casting like Vaile and the current “generational change” leader, Truss. The likes of Oakeshott should have represented a chance for the Nationals to evolve into a less homogeneous, more locally-focussed regional and rural party. Instead, he will now represent another milestone on the path to political oblivion for the country cousins, who have already seen two leaders’ seats – Ian Sinclair’s stronghold of New England and, most famously, Charles Blunt in Richmond, fall from the party’s grasp.
It’s no wonder the Nationals are so addled, they can only see a future inside the Liberal party.
Oakeshott also has a wicked sense of humour. He told Imre Saluzinksy that his decision to reject overtures from the Liberals (apparently Bill “More Overtures than Mozart” Heffernan) and run as an independent was because he kept spotting David Flint in Sydney. “He’s high up in the Liberal Party and it was like a ghost telling me to stand as an independent.”
Ouch. Poor Flinty – now he’s being blamed for losing seats for the Coalition, and he’s never even met the bloke.