A SOLICITOR and onetime police officer, Pat Conaghan this morning won the minds and hearts of the Nationals faithful. Now the 47-year-old father-of-two has tasked himself to become better known across the Mid North Coast.
Mr Conaghan won the contested party preselection at the Macksville Ex-Services Club – and will be The Nationals candidate at the looming Federal Election for the seat of Cowper.
As the Nationals chosen one – he will succeed longtime party champion and soon to be retired MP, Luke Hartsuyker.
There were four candidates in the race for preselection, and Mr Conaghan got the nod from 100 voting delegates in a single round preferential count over Chris Genders, Judy Plunkett and Jamie Harrison.
Before the behind closed doors vote, each candidate was allowed a 10-minute presentation, before facing a Q&A from the membership.
Mr Conaghan told the Nambucca Guardian he had “very big shoes to fill” in the wake of Mr Hartsuyker, who along with State Nationals Member for Oxley, Melinda Pavey, was on hand for the determination.
The freshly minted candidate said he aimed to continue “the values and the good work” of the outgoing Member, believing there was “so much more to be done in Cowper” citing particularly aged care and youth employment.
Mr Conaghan said the morning had been a “whirlwind” experience, and that he was “honoured and humbled by the confidence of the members”.
Having served 12 years as a police officer, and 18 as a solicitor, Mr Conaghan is now based at Port Macquarie, and has two sons, aged nine and 11.
But he wears his love for Kempsey loud and proud – “born and bred” – and attended St Joseph’s primary, then St Paul’s College in the town, before finishing his final school years in Sydney at St Joseph’s Hunters Hill.
With a federal election due around May, Mr Conaghan said the next six or so months would be “hectic” as he reached out to people across the electorate which takes in the major regional centres of Coffs Harbour and Port as well as large towns like Nambucca Heads, Kempsey and Macksville.
What wasn’t mentioned at the post preselection press conference was the elephant not in the room, onetime Nationals member turned tormentor, Rob Oakeshott.
The former Member for Lyne stood as an Independent for Cowper at the last election which was won fairly comfortably by Mr Hartsuyker.
Asked by the Guardian if he was ready to face the persistent Mr Oakeshott, Mr Conaghan played a textbook dead bat, before Mr Hartsuyker parried “there will be plenty of Independents to deal with at the election”.
Mr Hartsuyker was asked to reflect on his achievements for the electorate over a marathon stint – including a seat at the highest levels of government.
The Member for Cowper cited representing Australia at a G20, the duplication of the Pacific Highway and the pending bypass of Coffs Harbour as flagstones.
“But just as importantly, it was to be able to help people with their own issues,” Mr Hartsuyker said.
While a mood of Kum ba yah pervaded the Nationals preselection campfire, not all were smitten as half a dozen protestors waved signs outside the club calling for action on climate change and a stop to the Adani mine in Queensland.
The protestors were friendly and orderly – and eventually sensibly retreated to the air-conditioned club rooms as the climate was in an unforgiving mood as the mercury nudged 34 degrees in the shade at Macksville.
This story first appeared in the Guardian News