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  • Rikki Lambert

Nats hang NSW coalition hopes on construction manager Layzell

The NSW National Party has selected their candidate to contest the May 22 by-election in the regional seat of the Upper Hunter.

A 45-year-old Clarence Town construction manager has been selected as the NSW Nationals candidate for a crucial by-election triggered by former MP Michael Johnsen's resignation.

David Layzell carries the hopes of the coalition government, as a loss in the regional Upper Hunter seat would leave the government in minority until an election in 2023.

Longstanding Singleton mayor and cattle farmer Sue Moore had been touted as the leading candidate in the preselection race for the seat on Wednesday night.

Upper Hunter shire councillor James Burns, who lost out to Mr Johnsen last time, was also tipped to provide stiff competition.

However, the local branch members instead backed Mr Layzell from Clarence Town, an hour east of Singleton.

Gladys Berejiklian's government was elected with a two-seat majority in 2019, but Liberal MP John Sidoti has since moved to the cross-bench amid an ICAC investigation.

The by-election was sparked by Mr Johnsen's resignation on March 31 after he was accused of raping a woman in 2019 - which he denies.

Text message exchanges with the woman published by the ABC revealed he sought to pay her for sex at NSW parliament and sent her a lewd video filmed inside the building.

Mr Johnsen's conduct is likely to sway voters, as could the uncertain future of the coal industry, with the electorate being home to a significant population of miners.

The closure of the Scone TAFE may also affect votes.

Mr Layzell said he looked forward to fighting the election on local issues.

"Central to that is strong mining and agriculture industries so people continue to have secure jobs."

The May 22 by-election race is expected to be tight despite the Nationals and its predecessor party holding the electorate for nearly a century.

The seat was whittled away to a margin of just 2.6 per cent at the 2019 election, when Mr Johnsen scooped up 34 per cent of first preferences.

Labor trailed on 28.6 per cent and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate on 22 per cent.

Pauline Hanson's One Nation will also contest the upcoming by-election. In the corresponding federal seat of Hunter in the 2019 election, One Nation polled over 20 per cent in the primary vote.

Last week Ms Berejiklian said it would take a miracle for the Nationals to win the seat, though she backed away from that prediction on Wednesday.

Labor has yet to preselect a candidate and the SFF Party expects to announce its candidate next week. 

SFF member for Murray Helen Dalton has taken umbrage at a Sydney Morning-Herald editorial opposing the seat falling out of government hands. Mrs Dalton tweeted on Tuesday:

"Why reward the Nationals in Upper Hunter? What have they done to deserve holding on to this seat?
"Haven't minority govts in Australia been just as effective as majority ones, with more accountability?"

-- with AAP


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