Scomo’s deputy Big Mac, Michael McCormack, Deputy Leader of the Government, found time to be at Green Village Retirement Centre and Aged Care Facility in Port Macquarie last week in an astute nod to a Cowper demographic reality. Cowper (particularly its seaside communities) is to Sydney and Melbourne what Florida is to New York and Boston, a retiree mecca. On the whole though, things are subdued federally this week as we head to the state election this Saturday.
Here on the Mid North Coast only a political novice would see no connection between Saturday and the Federal election due in May. At State level the Nationals are defending Port Macquarie, Oxley and Coffs Harbour, and a setback in any of them would be like surrendering your gun emplacements on the perimeter of one sector of your defensive position, if you’re trying to hold Cowper.
What would have been expected to be the safest of the three state sectors is probably the weakest due to the retirement of Coffs Harbour’s twenty-eight-year veteran Andrew Fraser. As formidable a local politician as they get, his replacement on the Nationals’ ticket is local blueberry farmer Gurmesh Singh. As with any changing of the guard, the goodwill of the current incumbent only takes the new challenger so far; Singh like all political replacements is on a steep learning curve, particularly in regard to building political armour, as there is a significant political assault directed his way.
While Singh and the party have campaigned diligently since Australia Day, the opposition Labor, Greens, Shooters and Green cum Independent Sally Townley have all preferenced away from him. To add to this political isolation, Townley and others are hammering away at the local blueberry industry’s environmental public reputation, of which Singh is the Co-Op chairman. The Murdoch-owned Coffs Advocate has given this attack extensive coverage, with a certain reporter reported to be very close friends with Townley. The NBN TV channel went further yesterday giving coverage to one protest in town estimated at approximately forty regulars and inflating it to one-hundred and fifty for their news watchers. Hearnes Lake near Sandy Beach just south of Woolgoolga, while not in Cowper, is the ground where Townley and the Greens hope to inflict on Singh an irrecoverable political injury.
Less generous observers might see the blueberry environmental protests getting greater salience than they might normally on account of darker elements in the wider community. While being a third generation Australian, graduate of Woolgoolga High with an impeccable Australian accent, Singh’s Indian heritage is plain as day, as are many of the blueberry farmers, drawing poorly veiled malignant antipathy in some parts. Labor, Greens, Independents and the Shooters and Fishers Party are strange bedfellows on any ordinary day – political opportunism is never owned by any one side – whether these unusual allies secure the high ground in this farming battle is yet to be seen.
The Coffs Harbour electorate council of the Nationals, who preselected Singh, might liken their position to the Third Battalion, Royal Australia Regiment’s precarious defensive position in the Korean War Battle of Kapyong in late April 1951. If the Nationals can withstand these swarming forces in the blueberry farms north of town, they will have achieved a significant political blocking action in defence of Cowper’s Seoul.
As the results come in Saturday evening the Federal candidates and informed observers alike will look to see if Coffs Harbour’s blueberry battlefields register the first pivotal loss in the Nationals’ defence of their Cowper stronghold.