Rob Oakeshott is considering running for the seat of Cowper in the next federal election.
Rob Oakeshott is considering running for the seat of Cowper in the next federal election. JOEL CARRETT

Bypass an election defining issue says Oakeshott

IF THERE is one issue that would inspire an independent to stand for Cowper in the upcoming federal election it is the bypass, according to a high-profile ex-politician considering re-entering the fray.

Former Nationals member turned independent MP Rob Oakeshott famously helped Julia Gillard form government after the hung parliament of 2010.

While he hasn't confirmed if he will run for Cowper in the upcoming federal election, he has given some strong indications it could be on the cards.

"If I was going to do it again, it would be to win it and to win it I need to do a lot of planning and have a lot of conversations with key people and these conservations are taking place right now," he said.

"There will most likely be a pre-Christmas announcement."

He retired from federal politics in 2013 and in 2016 ran a last-minute campaign against Luke Hartsuyker for Cowper (which by then covered Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour).

He recorded 45.44 per cent of the vote to Mr Hartsuyker's 54.56 per cent after just a three-week campaign. That saw a 9 per cent swing against the Nationals.

Mr Hartsuyker will retire at the next election and Port Macquarie solicitor Patrick Conaghan has been preselected to run for the Nationals.

As Mr Oakeshott considers his position, he sees the bypass as a stand-out issue for Coffs Harbour and the entire region.

"If a single issue stands out as one that would inspire an independent to run, then the bypass is it," he said.

"It doesn't just affect Coffs Harbour but the whole region.

"The Coffs bypass is symbolic of what you get with mono party representation for so long and it's basically nothing. It's seen as the crowning glory of 17 years of Luke's representation but there's nothing on the ground and it's looking like the least-best option. We can do better than the least-cost, second-rate option.

"I will say it very strongly that this election is about getting the best-possible option for the bypass. Look at the Tweed - they got tunnels so the excuse of the dangerous goods has been exposed."


Artist impressions of the Coffs Harbour Pacific Highway Bypass.
DRIVING FORCE: Artist's impression of the Coffs Harbour Pacific Highway Bypass. Inset: Rob Oakeshott. RMS

He described the incorporation of Port and Coffs Harbour into the one electorate as "still a live issue" and one that Mr Hartsuyker was not able to properly address.

"He didn't crack Port," Mr Oakeshott said.

"It's a challenge not just for the candidate but it's an issue for business communities and everyone locally. There's naturally inter-town rivalry but we need to look at how we can grow together.

"The Coffs and Port Macquarie issue can be a really challenging one and it's not just Coffs and Port, it's Dorrigo to South West Rocks and everywhere in between. If I was to stand I would place a lot of value on the establishment of precinct committees."

Other candidates in the running for Cowper are Andrew Woodward for Labor and Sally Townley for the Greens.