Sue Moore David Layzell Upper Hunter
Singleton Mayor Sue Moore and preselected Nationals candidate for Upper Hunter David Layzell (Images: Singleton Council/AAP/NSW Nationals)

When Michael Johnsen resigned as the Nationals MP for the Upper Hunter over an allegation of rape (an allegation he denies), he triggered a byelection that will be fought over a single issue: coal.

The now-marginal Nationals stronghold lies at the heart of NSW coal country. So it was little surprise yesterday when state Nationals leader and deputy premier John Barilaro "saluted" a coal train chugging through Muswellbrook. Hours later, the party preselected David Layzell, a local construction manager, as its candidate.

Barilaro backs his man. He praised Layzell as delivering "one of the most impressive speeches" he’d ever heard, and, perhaps more crucially, marked him as someone who understood mining.