Independent candidate for the state seat of Coffs Harbour Sally Townley meets with Independent candidate for Cowper Rob Oakeshott.
Independent candidate for the state seat of Coffs Harbour Sally Townley meets with Independent candidate for Cowper Rob Oakeshott.

Standing united in their independence

POLITICALLY speaking, independent candidates Rob Oakeshott and Sally Townley share the same goal, that of unhinging The Nationals' iron grip on the Coffs Harbour political landscape.

Just weeks ago, they stood as potential rivals in the Federal Election, but today they met as independent partisans, after Sally Townley's recent decision to hand back her pre-selection in Cowper with The Greens along with her party membership, to enable her to contest the State seat of Coffs Harbour as an independent.

Chatting casually over coffee today in Coffs, they discussed the local political issues that are set to decide the State Election on Saturday, March 23 and the yet to be called Federal Election, which must be held before November.

"Dr Sally and I met today to discuss common ground on the many issues facing Coffs Harbour and the hinterland," Mr Oakeshott said.

"Dr Sally has considered and detailed views on the Jetty foreshore precinct, the Coffs Bypass, as well as many other issues such as Coffs youth unemployment and the environment.

Mr Oakeshott said he and Dr Townley, who has been a Coffs Harbour City councillor for six years, shared a lot in common.

"We have agreed to stay in touch on these issues and we've agreed to work together wherever possible to advance the best interests of Coffs Harbour," he said.

After a whirlwind three-week campaign for the Federal seat in Cowper in 2016, Mr Oakeshott went to the polls, with the electorate virtually split on whether to elect him or reinstate incumbent and now retiring Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker.

Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker annouces retirement.. 06 AUG 2018
Member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker is retiring from politics this year. Trevor Veale

While Mr Hartsuyker retained the seat, Mr Oakeshott reduced the Nationals majority from a comfortably safe 13.1 percent to a marginal 4.5 percent.

Even though Cowper is still a comfortably safe Nationals seat on a "traditional" two-party basis, Mr Oakeshott came as close as anyone in more than half a century to breaking the Nationals' hold on a seat they have held for all but one term since 1919.

Patrick and Ilona Conaghan wtih Samuel Johnson at Harbour Club, November 2018.
Patrick and Ilona Conaghan. Rachel Vercoe

This time around he faces fellow Port Macquarie local Patrick Conaghan, the accomplished solicitor and former Kempsey police officer, who is campaigning to retain the seat for The Nationals.

Standing for Labor is Andrew Woodward, based in Bellingen, the first candidate to win pre-selection to contest the Federal seat, who stood against former Prime Minister Tony Abbott as an ALP candidate in Warringah four years ago.

Labour candidate for COWPER Andrew Woodward.. 08 AUG 2018
Labor candidate for Cowper Andrew Woodward. Trevor Veale

In the State Election, Sally Townley faces the prospect of trying to become the first female MP in Coffs Harbour.

The seat is The Nationals to lose with longstanding incumbent Andrew Fraser handing over the party reigns to former Oz Group blueberry chairman Gurmesh Singh - a third generation local Sikh farmer and businessman, who holds a background in marketing.

Gurmesh Singh .National Party candidate for seat of Coffs Harbour. 23 JAN 2019
Nationals candidate for Coffs Harbour Gurmesh Singh. TREVOR VEALE

Since it's inception in 1981, the Nationals have held the seat of Coffs Harbour through Mr Fraser and prior to that Matt Singleton.

Mr Fraser retained the seat in 2015 winning 54.6% of the primary and 64.3 of the two-party preferred.

Member for Coffs Harbour Andrew Fraser this morning release the draft plan that's will guide the State Government in developing the Jetty Foreshores.
Member for Coffs Harbour Andrew Fraser is retiring from politics in March. TREVOR VEALE

Also standing for the seat of Coffs Harbour is Labor candidate Tony Judge, the former Canberra-based public servant from Woolgoolga who is mounting a community focussed campaign.

Endorsed Labor candidate for the state seat of Coffs Harbour, Tony Judge, with wife Dianne.
Endorsed Labor candidate for the state seat of Coffs Harbour, Tony Judge, with wife Dianne. Charis Brownlie

The Greens have preselected local school teacher Jonathan Cassell, a former party colleague of Sally Townley's, who honourably has committed to share half of his wage with the youth of Coffs Harbour if elected.

Greens candidate for seat of Coffs Hrabour Jonathan Cassell.. 21 JAN 2019
Greens candidate for Coffs Harbour Jonathan Cassell. TREVOR VEALE

Standing for the state seat for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers is public servant and gun club member Stuart Davidson.

He lives in the Orara Valley hailing from Tenterfield and has made the an urgent upgrade of the Coffs Harbour boat ramp a major campaign issue.

Shooters, fishers, farmers ,  candiate for state seat of Coffs Harbour. Stuart Davidson.08 NOV 2018
Shooters, Fishers, Farmers candidate for Coffs Harbour Stuart Davidson. Trevor Veale