INDEPENDENT state Member for the Northern Tablelands Richard Torbay is now a paid-up member of the National Party and is putting his hand up for pre-selection for the federal seat of New England.
If successful he will then go up against incumbent independent Tony Windsor who has held the seat since 2001 after wresting it from the Nationals’ 82-year-long grasp.
“It’s important not to be sidelined in the next parliament,” Mr Torbay told The Tenterfield Star yesterday.
“I feel recent actions have hurt the independent brand, and I don’t want to see New England punished or sidelined or both.”
Mr Torbay said he never took voters for granted. He sent letters to all his supporters to gauge their reaction to his plans and, while some were against the move from state to federal politics and from independency to the National Party, he received overwhelming encouragement to make the move.
“It’s important to be upfront before the election. I can do no more than put everything on the table,” he said.
He doesn’t feel he will be hampered by the party system, saying he made it clear in talks with National’s federal leader Warren Truss that he will continue to speak up and speak out for his electorate.
“Since 1996, 17 members of the National Party have crossed the floor (to vote against party lines). I made it clear how I operate, and (party leaders) were very encouraging, saying that’s exactly what they want from their members.”
Mr Torbay said he will continue to be committed to delivering outcomes, with health and regional infrastructure at the top of his to-do list.
“There are some massive opportunities for New England, and that includes Tenterfield.”
Mr Torbay said there was still pressure for funding to be directed to metropolitan centres.
“They are hungry and speak with a loud voice, but we are hungry too and our voice has to be just as loud.
“We need upgrades of hospitals, more funding for roads, upgrades of the rail network, improvements to air services, investment in regional infrastructure. We also need zonal taxation and other financial incentives to direct investment into the regions to create jobs and build population.
“One of the ongoing problems is the paradoxical situation that so many battlers in metropolitan centres want to move out but still there are not sufficient jobs or services in the regions to attract them in the numbers required.”
If he gains pre-selection, possibly by the end of this year, Mr Torbay said he would continue to serve in state parliament as an independent until the federal election is called.