Gurmesh Singh, Labor candidate Tony Judge, Greens candidate Jonathan Cassell and independent Sally Townley at the ballot draw prior to Mr Singh's election.
Gurmesh Singh, Labor candidate Tony Judge, Greens candidate Jonathan Cassell and independent Sally Townley at the ballot draw prior to Mr Singh's election. TREVOR VEALE

Andrew Fraser refers branch claims to lawyers

A Coffs Harbour candidate in the March 2019 State Election has called on The Nationals to come clean on the situation surrounding a small rural branch which has been in limbo for over a year.

Jonathan Cassell, who ran against Gurmesh Singh as a Greens candidate, is also calling on Coffs Harbour Nationals MP Gurmesh Singh to reveal more details of his party membership prior to his December 2018 preselection.

Jonathan Cassell.
Jonathan Cassell. TREVOR VEALE

The Orara Valley Nationals has been in limbo ever since a chaotic Annual General Meeting had to be disbanded in July 27 last year.

Long-term Orara Valley Nationals members, including Barry Lee, were surprised to see approximately 11 new faces at the AGM including former Coffs Harbour Nationals MP Andrew Fraser and his wife Kerrie and high profile party member Paul Shoker, who is also Director of the NSW Farmers association.

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Barry fears the move could be an attempt to silence members who have expressed concerns about the rapid expansion of the blueberry industry.

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In addition to concerns about the 2019 AGM, questions have emerged in relation to Mr Singh's preselection on December 6, 2018.

Mr Singh and Andrew Fraser, who is currently the chair of the NSW Nationals, both insist his nomination was in accordance with the party's constitution.

However they have both declined to say how long Mr Singh was a member of the party prior to his preselection.

"I can confirm at the time of preselection for the seat of Coffs Harbour all candidates, including me, had a nomination that was in accordance with the Party's constitution," Mr Singh said.

"Any statement, comment, or implication that I was somehow ineligible to stand, or that the process was flawed in any way is mischievous and wrong," Mr Singh said.

Andrew Fraser.
Andrew Fraser.

Mr Fraser says each of the members up for preselection passed the party's "rigorous filtering system".

"There's about 20 pages of questions, it gets down to asking if you've ever had a speeding ticket basically. It's the most onerous filter that any political party goes through."

But Jonathan Cassell has called on Mr Singh to set the record straight in relation to how long he was a member prior to the preselection and if any waiver was made in relation to this.

"The best thing for politics is transparency and political parties require high standards to be in government," Mr Cassell said

"As a community, we need to be able to trust the Nationals while in government.

"If he wasn't a member long enough to be eligible then what is the party's response and who will accept responsibility for this breach of trust of the Coffs Harbour Nationals."

A Sydney newspaper ran a report on the Orara Valley Branch July AGM but described it as a 'preselection stoush' mixing up the order of events. Andrew Fraser says he is considering legal proceedings against the Sydney newspaper over their article published on Sunday.

The story was shared to a Coffs Harbour Facebook 'news and views' page but was later removed with a comment from Andrew Fraser posted by way of explanation. It read:

'The preselection was held in November 2018, months prior to the AGM of the Orara Valley Branch, therefore the headline is not factual.'

Fraser says he has reported the matter to his solicitor.

"It's not true in any way, shape or form. I have referred it to my solicitor."



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