She said the party wanted to give guns to 10-year-olds, which SFFP MP Robert Borsak said was not part of party policy.
A potentially vulnerable seat is that of Monaro, held by a 2.5 per cent margin by Deputy Premier and state Nationals leader John Barilaro. The seat will be contested by Mick Holton, president of the Volunteer Fire Fighters Association, well known in the community.
Mr Holton, who runs a risk management business, said that, in his capacity with the firefighters, he had worked with Mr Borsak’s upper house inquiry into bullying and harassment in certain emergency services agencies and other inquiries with the party.
“I was quite impressed with their balanced view. If you look at their policies, they are quite balanced, and they line up with my thoughts on how people can be helped in my electorate,” he said.
Of Mr Barilaro, he added: “I think people are now feeling that, since he took on the role of Deputy Premier, it has impacted on his ability to look after local issues. As far as the Liberal National Coalition, the voters here are quite upset about the merger of the three councils in this area and I would suggest that is going to be a big issue.”
Robert Brown, another Shooters MP in Legislative Council, writing in the current edition of the firefighters’ magazine, said that Mr Donato’s success in Orange showed that, when a seat fell to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, hundreds of millions of dollars of funding and investment followed from state and federal coffers.
“Since his byelection alone, more than $320 million of election promises were made by the National Party for just one electorate, and Mr Donato has held them to account for every cent,” he said.
“No matter which major party is elected into government in March (and there’s a strong chance
that there will be a change of government or a hung parliament) the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party can deliver for rural people.”
Filip Despotoski, state director of the SFFP, said there was no longer any such thing as a safe seat.
“After Orange and Wagga any seat is up for grabs,” he said. “As with anything in life, as soon as you become complacent, and that’s exactly what happened whether they want to admit it or not, in Orange with the National Party.
In September, the Liberals lost the safe Riverina seat of Wagga Wagga, Liberal-held since the 1950s, to an independent, Joe McGirr, on a massive 22 per cent swing away from the government.
“As soon as you start getting some healthy competition around the place, that’s when people start to take notice,” Mr Despotoski said.
“In Monaro the Deputy Premier is only sitting on [a 2 or 3 per cent margin]. There’s Country Labor, ourselves, maybe some independents; there’s a lot of competition there. A lot of stuff to make him [Mr Barilaro] get busy.”
Speaking before Ms Berejiklin’s recent comments on preference deals, he added: “We don’t hold the torch or curry favour for either major party. We want to be in the position of balance of power in both houses.”
In the running
These SFFP candidates will be put up in at least 16 seats held by the Liberal, National and Labor parties at the NSW election.
- Philip Donato, Orange (Won by SFFP at 2016 byelection)
- Roy Butler, Barwon (Nationals)
- Matthew Stadtmiller, Cootamundra (Nationals)
- Helen Dalton, Murray (Nationals)
- Jason Bolwell, Wollondilly (Liberal)
- Mick Holton, Monaro (Nationals)
- Jeff Bacon, Tamworth (Nationals)
- Rayne Single, Northern Tablelands (Nationals)
- Brenden May, Bathurst (Nationals)
- Steve Cansdell, Clarence (Nationals)
- Sebastian McDonagh, Wagga Wagga (Liberal)
- Lara Quealy, Dubbo (Nationals)
- Josh Turnbull, Coogee (Liberal)
- Lee Watts, Upper Hunter (Nationals)
- Stuart Davidson, Coffs Harbour (Nationals)
- Larry Freeman, Gosford (Labor)
- SFFP candidates for Goulburn and Hawkesbury, both held by the Nationals, are to be announced
Tim Barlass is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald