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Country voters the key to Lismore election

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The Lismore electorate, currently held by Nationals MP Thomas George.
The Lismore electorate, currently held by Nationals MP Thomas George.

The Lismore electorate has a long-standing tradition of conservative politicians representing their largely country-based constituents.

It also has a rather interesting early history of appearing, then disappearing again, according to the whims of those drawing the electoral boundaries.

New South Wales was still a colony when the Lismore electorate was first created in 1894, only to disappear ten years later.

When it was first created, it was split from the colonial seat of Richmond, which was subdivided into the (then) three seats of Lismore, Ballina and Richmond.

Just three years after Federation in 1901, Lismore was abolished in 1904 with the reduction in size of the Legislative Assembly, only to be recreated again in 1913 when it replaced Richmond.

The electorate disappeared once more in 1920 when Lismore and Clarence were absorbed into Byron, however both Lismore and Clarence were recreated seven years later with the end of proportional representation.

Sir Thomas Ewing, Lismore's first elected MP.
Sir Thomas Ewing, Lismore’s first elected MP.

In its first incarnation, Lismore’s first MP was Thomas Ewing, a member of the Protectionist party, which had strong support in rural New South Wales, and the sheep farming districts of Victoria.

Australia’s first two PMs, Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin, were members of the Protectionists.

Ewing held the seat from 1894 until Federation in 1901, when Independent Liberal John Coleman, who served three years before the electorate was abolished, replaced him.

During its second incarnation, George Nesbitt won the seat for the Liberal Reform Party in 1913, which drew much of its support from conservative Protestant and temperance groups.

Nesbitt joined the pro-conscription Nationalist Party in 1917, holding the Lismore seat until it was abolished again in 1920.

Recreated once again in 1927, Country Party member William Missingham won and held the seat until his death in 1933.

For the next 26 years, the Country Party held the seat easily, firstly with former Lismore mayor William Firth and then with former Ballina mayor Jack Easter.

But in a shock to the conservatives, Easter lost in a by-election to Labor’s Keith Compton in 1959.

Compton’s landslide victory followed a bitter dispute between Independent candidate Clyde Campbell, who had missed out on Country Party endorsement to Easter (but at least ended up with a car park in his name).

As it was considered a safe Country Party seat, Labor had not bothered to run a candidate and Easter won by two votes. But the Court of Disputed Returns overturned the result and ordered a by-election.

Sensing its chance, Labor quickly endorsed Compton, a former shire engineer and director at Lismore Base Hospital, and directed plenty of resources into the campaign.

As the Country Party slugged it out, Compton won the seat easily, and was appointed to the ministry as Minister for Lands in 1961.

He oversaw large amounts of infrastructure construction in the Lismore area, including new schools and a new hospital, and was easily re-elected in 1962.

But Labor’s grip on Lismore slipped when he lost to Country Party candidate Bruce Duncan in 1965, when high unemployment and a struggling local economy saw growing disillusionment with Labor.

Duncan held the seat for 23 years, during which time the Country Party changed its name to the National Country Party in 1975 as part of a strategy to expand into urban areas.

He ended his final term as an Independent after resigning from the National Country Party, when it dropped the ‘Country’ from its name its name in 1982.

After winning as an Independent the popular Duncan resigned in 1988, leaving former Kyogle teacher Bill Rixon to win as the National Party member, until passing the baton to current National Party MP Thomas George, who won the seat in 1999.

But while the seat has remained a stronghold for conservative parties throughout its early and more recent history, the issue of coal seam gas (CSG) has many traditional voters questioning the Nationals’ track record of looking out for country voters.

Both Labor and Greens have promised to ban CSG from the region, while the Nationals have failed to do so.

And while Labor was George’s major rival when he took the seat in 1999, the political landscape shifted somewhat in the 2011 election, when it was the Greens who polled the second most votes.

Greens candidate Susan Stock managed 12,307 votes to George’s 28,993, with Labor just 5,092 votes.

In the upcoming election, the Greens are hoping to increase that vote with their candidate, staunch-anti CSG advocate Adam Guise, while Labor is pinning its hopes on Lismore councilor Isaac Smith.

Reverend Fred Nile’s Christian Democrat Party has also entered the fray, fielding Lismore councilor Gianpierro Battista, who has also spoken out against CSG, but whose family values platform is unlikely to sway the necessary majority, with the party polling just 801 votes at the last election.

Thomas George, Nationals candidate for Lismore.
Thomas George, Nationals candidate for Lismore.

Mr George will be hoping that while many rural voters are firmly against the National Party’s approach to CSG, they will still support a conservative country member.

This coming election will show whether a majority of the electorate’s conservative voters do indeed remember their history.

* The Lismore electorate covers all of the City of Lismore, including Lismore, Nimbin, Dunoon and Clunes, much of inland Tweed shire, including Murwillumbah, Tyalgum and Uki, all of Kyogle Council, including Kyogle, Bonalbo, Tabulam and Woodenbong, and all of Tenterfield shire.

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