Federal election 2016: John Howard the latest political heavyweight to enter the Cowper fray

Luke Hartsuyker, incumbent Cowper MP; challenger Rob Oakeshott and former Prime Minister John Howard.
Luke Hartsuyker, incumbent Cowper MP; challenger Rob Oakeshott and former Prime Minister John Howard.

FIRST it was Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Then it was former PM John Howard endorsing incumbent Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker.

Rob Oakeshott. Photo: James Brickwood

Rob Oakeshott. Photo: James Brickwood

It all adds up to a panic attack, said the man they rarely acknowledge, Cowper hopeful, independent candidate Rob Oakeshott.

In between, there also was a whistle-stop visit to the electorate from NSW Premier Mike Baird.

The Coalition’s interest in the seat of Cowper has piqued since Mr Oakeshott announced his intention to return to the political fray and contest the Cowper with its newly-drawn boundaries.

Mr Howard spoke to the Port News on Thursday in support of Mr Hartsuyker’s re-election bid.

High profile supporter: Former Prime Minister John Howard has spoken out in support of Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker.

High profile supporter: Former Prime Minister John Howard has spoken out in support of Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker.

That followed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s radio interview on Tuesday with ABC Mid North Coast and a visit from Premier Mike Baird on Thursday.

“I think at this time in Australia’s economic history, particularly, we do need to have a clear majority government,” he said.

But he thought, naturally, that majority should be the Coalition and he did not think there was any mind in Australia to go back to the Labor Party.

The former PM believes neither Lyne MP David Gillespie nor Cowper MP Luke Hartsuyker take the election for granted and, when asked specifically, described Mr Hartsuyker’s re-election chances as very good.

“They ought to be beyond argument,” he said. “I think he (Mr Hartsuyker) is a very conscientious and sincere person.”

The pair worked in parliament together for six years.

“I found him the sort of person like a dog with a bone when he wanted something for his area,” he said.

“That was one of the things that always impressed me about him.”

The continued intervention of political heavyweights and a campaign relentless in its negatively is, unsurprisingly, viewed differently by Mr Oakeshott.

“We are all witnessing a panic attack by the National Party that is seeing insults like I have never seen before and it really does push the voter to make a very simple choice on Saturday,” he said.

Mr Oakeshott said voters could back results or back insults.

“Having lived through several of these before, my skin is thickened,” he said. “It doesn’t disrupt my focus like it might have before.”

Mr Oakeshott said he offered an alternative and worked hard on results.

Those results included funding to bring forward Pacific Highway works between Port Macquarie and Kempsey and $190 million for Port Macquarie and Kempsey hospitals.

He was pivotal in the establishment of Charles Sturt University Port Macquarie Campus and the Shared Health Research and Education Campus.

Mr Oakeshott said in terms of the 2016 campaign, they had done the best they could with what they had.

“I think people can, on reflection, see why certain decisions were made about timing of announcements and choices around where and when to spend money,” he said.

He said there was “the-before-and-after” contrast which was the story of political competition for the whole community to see.

Mr Oakeshott said if people voted for The Nationals, nothing changed.

“If you don’t make change at the ballot box, nothing will change as far as opportunities being missed for growing the community and better representation within parliament,” he said.

Port Macquarie forms part of the Cowper electorate after an electoral boundary redistribution.

 Wauchope and the Camden Haven remain in Lyne.