Parkes MP ready to step up
Saturday, 16th January, 2016
By Andrew Robertson
The election may still be months away but Parkes MP Mark Coulton isn’t wasting any time getting his head around the local issues.
Mr Coulton confirmed he will recontest the newly-expanded seat of Parkes, which will take in Broken Hill, Wilcannia, Menindee and Ivanhoe following a federal boundary redistribution.
The already enormous seat is stretching further east to the SA border, further cementing its status as the state’s largest electorate, but is still only the sixth largest in the country, according to Mr Coulton.
“The difference is this one’s reasonably decentralised,” the Nationals MP told the BDT yesterday.
“Like now, the largest centre will be Dubbo, second largest will be Broken Hill and the third will be Moree or Gunnedah, and they’re all sort of around the edge of it.
“So there’s basically population centres all over it except for a few little patches in the northwest.”
This year’s election will be the fourth contested by Mr Coulton, who increased his margin at the last poll to finish with 63.4 per cent of the primary vote, well ahead of second-placed Labor.
But despite his popularity the former farmer and Gwydir shire mayor is taking nothing for granted.
“I’m contesting the new seat but until we have an election it’s not a done deal that I’ll be the member.
“I don’t want to be presumptuous and just assume it’ll be my seat after the election, I’ve actually got to win first.”
While he was “used to western towns” Mr Coulton also said he doesn’t pretend to know all of the issues facing the Far West, but is keen to find out.
“I do know from talking with my colleagues that the overriding issue probably dominating everything in Broken Hill at the moment is water.
“I’m actually meeting with the NSW government on Friday in Sydney to find out exactly what their proposals are.”
Background briefings might help but Mr Coulton said nothing informs a politician like being on the ground and talking to locals about the issues that matter to them.
He plans to do just that in the coming months and, despite the area that he will need to cover growing, his preferred mode of transport will continue to be the car.
If re-elected the prospect of spending even more time behind the wheel doesn’t daunt this well-travelled MP, who receives an allowance for a plane but doesn’t always use it.
“Last year I spent the equivalent of 20 40-hour weeks behind the steering wheel and it’ll be more this year,” he said.
“My wife travels with me ... so we pack up the car and go off for a week or two weeks at a time and just go town to town to town to town.
“So you couldn’t really do that with a plane because you’re doing different functions and you need a car when you get there.
“The other side of it is you step out of a plane wearing a suit people think you’ve come from Canberra and you’ve got no idea.
“They expect you to drive on their roads and experience their conditions and dodge the roos like they have to.”
Locals will likely get their first chance to meet the Nationals’ chief whip in March, when he plans to attend the city’s famous St Pat’s races.
Along with watching some horse racing, he intends to do plenty of listening.
“Basically what I’ll be doing at Broken Hill is meeting as many people as I can, probably door knocking around, not coming into town saying ‘here I am, I’ve come to fix all your problems’.
“You’ve got to not go in with too many preconceived ideas, just go in with open ears and talk to people.”
Meanwhile, the Member for Farrer greeted confirmation that Broken Hill was leaving her electorate with disappointment.
But Sussan Ley said she would continue to be a backer of the city and far west.
“With the changes announced to the boundaries of Farrer electorate it will be a very sad farewell to Broken Hill, Central Darling and the wide western plains of NSW,” she said.
“My heart will be in it for Broken Hill long after I leave parliament because no one travels to or comes to understand the city without falling in love with it.
“Broken Hill has in me a friend forever and someone who will always bat for the city in whatever forum I find myself.”