NSW Nationals Bede Burke state election
NSW National Party chairman Bede Burke (Image: NSW Nationals)

It’s been a rough few months for the Nationals. Plagued by sex scandals, neo-Nazi entryists, dead fish and the never-ending saga of Barnaby Joyce, the Nats are now tipped to lose a string of seats at this weekend’s New South Wales election, putting the Berejiklian government’s majority in jeopardy.

It’s gotten so bad that Deputy Premier John Barilaro has lashed out at his troubled federal colleagues, telling them to “shut up” in order to stem the tide of votes flowing away from them.

Away from the headlines, the party’s bureaucracy faces the thankless task of overcoming these scandals, and bringing a sense of normalcy to the Nats. After profiling Labor and the Liberals last week, Crikey now takes a look at some of figures running the NSW Nationals from behind the curtain.

State director: Ross Cadell

Barnaby Joyce’s former campaign manager took the job of state party boss early in 2018, and couldn’t have asked for a tougher first year in charge. First, there was news that Joyce was having a baby with a former staffer, which broke just days before an allegation of sexual harassment against Joyce.

Then the ABC reported that the youth wing of the NSW party had become infiltrated by members of the alt-right. Cadell moved to purge the members, but said it would be a challenge weeding out all the white nationalists in the party.

Cadell also managed to get in a stoush with one of the party’s key lobbyists and donors Michael Kauter over an unpaid $18,000 debt for sponsorship of the party’s 2017 state conference. The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Cadell threatened to call debt collectors on Kauter, and while he did back down, it wasn’t until after both men had told each other to fuck off.

Chairman: Bede Burke

Burke, an egg farmer from Tamworth, is in his fifth and final year in the role of chairman. Burke sits on the party’s federal management committee, and is also a seasoned member of the egg lobby — he is both on the board of directors of Australian Eggs, and chairman of NSW Farmers’ Egg Committee.

Burke was involved in a minor rift within the party in 2015, when former Howard government minister-turned-mining-lobbyist Larry Anthony took over as federal president of the National Party in 2015. Amid concerns about Anthony’s links to the mining industry, Burke shocked the party by withdrawing his nomination for Anthony. Much to the chagrin of farmers opposed to the Shenhua Watermark coal mine Anthony lobbied for, the party’s federal director overruled Burke and installed Anthony.

Deputy state director: Thomas Aubert

Aubert started working for the Nats fresh out of law school, and worked on several campaigns before taking on the deputy state director role in 2015.

In 2017, he was faced with a minor fiasco when a former candidate for preselection, Rod Bruem, dropped out over allegations of homophobia. Bruem, who is openly gay, said he faced unacceptable and homophobic questioning about his partner by a preselection committee in Lismore. Aubert led a hastily convened meeting of the party’s ethics committee and found that no rules were breached during the questioning. Aubert denied there was anything homophobic in the questioning Bruem faced, and called further claims made by the candidate about similar treatment faced by other party members “baseless allegations”.

Still, NSW party leader John Barilaro condemned Bruem’s treatment, and called him to personally apologise.

Vice chair: Jocellin Jansson

Jansson hails from a Country Party/Nationals farming family in Narrabri, and was appointed to the Vice Chair position in 2018.

After more than two decades in Sydney, during which she was chief executive of the Royal Agricultural Society Foundation, Jansson returned to Narrabri and got heavily involved in Nationals politics, reportedly at the urging of now-Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey