IN RUNNING: Rob Oakeshott will run as an independent  at the July 2 election.
IN RUNNING: Rob Oakeshott will run as an independent at the July 2 election. Trevor Veale

Competition heating up in Cowper

ROB Oakeshott's unexpected return to the political fray has expanded the number of candidates in Cowper to a 15-year high.

Mr Oakeshott last week declared he would run as an independent at the July 2 election - a move that has attracted national media coverage and significant movement in the polls.

It also attracted accusations from National Party Leader Barnaby Joyce, who claimed Mr Oakeshott's campaign was "a money grab" for electoral funding.

It was an allegation refuted by Mr Oakeshott.

"When the Nationals suggest that an average man on the mid-north coast should not be running for office, they position themselves as the party of the rich," he said.

"I will be standing for Cowper so that our electorate has a strong, independent voice that isn't influenced by party politics and corporate donations."

Mr Oakeshott, who lives on the southern border of Cowper, said his decision was driven by frustration at the state of current affairs.

"There's a common sentiment the area has been taken for granted," he said.

"I think the National Party is very good at getting re-elected but the question is what do they do in- between?"

Mr Oakeshott said funding for aged care and addressing unemployment would be a focus of his campaign.

He cited figures that showed youth unemployment had increased from 13 to 19% since 2013 on the mid-north coast - among the highest in Australia.

Mr Oakeshott said specific projects he would focus on if elected included the Coffs Harbour bypass, looking at ways to progress the Jetty Foreshore development, and addressing concerns about planning documents in the North Coast Regional Plan.

As pre-polling opened this week, incumbent member and National candidate Luke Hartsuyker was meanwhile busy on the campaign trail between Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie.

Mr Hartsuyker said he had spent significant time in the southern areas of the electorate, reflecting recent federal boundary changes.

"I'm following the same formula in elections gone past - I never take voters for granted," he said.

In response to MrOakeshott's comments, Mr Hartsuyker stuck to familiar lines, citing ongoing construction of the Pacific Hwy upgrade and reduction in unemployment figures as recent achievements.

Mr Hartsuyker responded to criticism that the 300 skilled government jobs at Coffs Harbour's Centrelink Call Centre he promised at the 2013 election had not been delivered.

"The Centrelink Call Centre has expanded by around 40 jobs and I've still got more work to do on that. As a member of parliament you have to be persistent."

Mr Hartsuyker said more announcements on his "vision for Coffs Harbour" would soon be released.

Greens candidate Carol Vernon has meanwhile called on all parties to sign up to renegotiating the National Partnership Agreement on Skills Reform, due to expire next June.

Independent candidate John Arkan also released his campaign platforms, including support for sustainable farming and fishing, fully funded Gonski and Medicare, and investment in renewable energy.

In terms of preferences, the Christian Democrats will place second on Mr Hartsuyker's how-to-vote card, with John Arkan in third position.

Mr Oakeshott said second on his card would be John Arkan.

Polling of 842 Cowper residents by ReachTEL this week showed Mr Hartsuyker remained ahead 39.4% on the primary vote, compared with 24.8% for Oakeshott, 13.2% for Labor and 8.2% for the Greens.



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