Nationals candidate denies claims of 'cronyism'

THE newly endorsed Nationals candidate for the State seat of Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh should return the millions of dollars granted to the company he chairs.

This is the call being made today by Federal Labor candidate for Cowper Andrew Woodward.

Oz Group chairman Gurmesh Singh won pre-selection for the seat on Saturday and today Mr Woodward issued a statement detailing a number of government grants to the co-op.

"You simply can't accept over $3 million from a Liberal-National government and nine months later put your hand up and be named as a candidate for the National Party in coalition with the Liberal Party at a state level," Mr Woodward said.

"It wreaks of cronyism, which the National Party has turned into an art-form in regional Australia.

"Time and time again, we hear complaints from the public that the National Party only looks after its mates. The three grants to Oz Group simply reinforce this long-standing view."

Mr Singh says he was initially surprised the claims came from the Federal Labor candidate and not the State Labor candidate Tony Judge.

"I was a little surprised initially but we haven't heard much from Tony Judge so far in this campaign," mr Singh said.

"It just shows you how different the two candidates are.

"My six year old son has lived in this electorate longer than Andrew Woodward", Mr Singh said.

"I'm really glad he is bringing some of this to light because it really shows the type of campaign we can expect from Labor, I want to run a positive campaign, about all the great things the Nationals can do for Coffs Harbour".

He said he has no intention of returning the $3,205,000 as detailed in Mr Woodward's press release and he questions these figures saying the same grant has been counted three times.

Regardless of the exact figures he says the funds were provided to the farmer owned co-operative and tied specifically to job creation.

"The funds are contingent on meeting hurdles along the way and creating a certain number of new fulltime positions."

Mr Woodward has also called on the Federal Minister for Agriculture, David Littleproud to indicate what assistance has been provided to Oz Group under a $51.3 million program announced in May 2018 to receive greater access to export markets.

"Mr Littleproud was in Coffs Harbour in May 2018 and was photographed with Mr Singh under the headline 'Blueberry exports primed to expand under $50 million fund'. Again, it doesn't pass the pub test."

Mr Singh admits he has big shoes to fill taking on the baton from long-serving member Andrew Fraser who will retire at the March 23 election.

"Andrew has served this electorate for almost three decades and he knows the area very well. His style is very consultative and I also plan to get out and pound the footpath and meet as many people as possible."