BRANCH STACKING FEARS: Orara Valley Nationals Bob Burton and Barry Lee have aired their concerns.
BRANCH STACKING FEARS: Orara Valley Nationals Bob Burton and Barry Lee have aired their concerns.

Allegations rock National Party faithful

A small Nationals branch is in limbo, months on from a chaotic Annual General Meeting that had to be disbanded.

It's almost 12 months since the meeting and members of the Orara Valley Nationals Branch have yet to resolve the matter with head office.

Out of frustration they've gone public with their concerns.

"The reality is they've tried to stack our branch with a total of 11 new members since the AGM without any chance to consider their applications as per the appropriate section of the constitution," Orara Valley Branch Secretary Bob Burton said.

Long-term Orara Valley Nationals members, including Barry Lee, were surprised to see a number of new faces attend the branch AGM on July 27, 2019.  At the time he estimates the branch had less than 15 active members.

He 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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Among the new faces at the July AGM were 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.

"Andrew Fraser told us that he and his wife Kerrie had transferred their membership the week before," Mr Lee said.

Mr Fraser says he transferred his membership because the Orara Valley branch is closer to his Bucca home than the Coffs Harbour branch.

"And I live on rural property and the Orara branch is a rural branch.  I am a constitutional member of the branch."  

Then candidate and current Coffs Harbour Nationals MP Gurmesh Singh, previous Nationals Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser and Deputy Premier John Barilaro visited Paul Shoker’s banana farm prior to the March State Election.
Then candidate and current Coffs Harbour Nationals MP Gurmesh Singh, previous Nationals Coffs Harbour MP Andrew Fraser and Deputy Premier John Barilaro visited Paul Shoker’s banana farm prior to the March State Election.

Nationals State Director at the time Ross Cadell responded to Mr Burton's concerns in an email confirming the transfer of five new members just prior to the AGM on July 11, but also said they were unable to vote as the 30-day pending period had not elapsed.

Paul Shoker was contacted in relation to the matter but declined to comment.

Coffs Harbour Labor spokesperson and Coffs Harbour City Council candidate, Tony Judge, says he is "incredibly disturbed" to hear the allegations.

"There is no place in politics for the sort of behaviour that has been alleged. However, I am even more concerned that the Nationals are unwilling to come clean about why they chose to intervene in a small local branch," Mr Judge said.

Secretary Mr Burton said he hadn't seen a single application from any of the intending members.

With existing members angered by the intrusion, the meeting rapidly escalated into chaos and Federal Nationals Member for Page Kevin Hogan, who had been acting as returning officer, closed the meeting.

Mr Burton subsequently wrote to the State office asking for a membership list.

"According to the list provided, the membership of our small branch had doubled, without us seeing any correspondence at all. Existing members are very concerned at this situation," Mr Burton said.

NSW Nationals State Director Joe Lundy says the party's constitution ensures decisions on membership stay in the hands of local branches.

"The Nationals are a grassroots organisation where members make their own decisions," Mr Lundy said.



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