The Nationals hope Steve Martin (centre) will help bolster party membership in Tasmania. (ABC News: Laura Beavis)
The National Party hopes its first ever Tasmanian conference could help it gain a stronghold in the state, as well as boosting the re-election chances of its only Tasmanian representative.
Nationals politicians, including Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Deputy Nationals Leader Bridget McKenzie and former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce have joined Tasmanian Senator Steve Martin and other delegates in Launceston for today’s inaugural conference.
Mr McCormack said the conference would help support Senator Martin’s bid for re-election.
“We want to make sure he returns after the next election so that he can continue that great advocacy for not just regional Tasmanians but all Tasmanians,” he said.
“[We’ve come] to spend a bit of money, to have a look around, and to make sure that the people here know that we’re in there fighting on their behalf, making sure that they know that just like Steve Martin, we want to take up their issues and fight for them.”
Senator Martin said the conference would also raise the profile of the National Party among Tasmanian voters.
“It’s about introducing to Tasmania the National Party,” he said.
“We’re getting out amongst the community and we’re hearing and listening to people and we’re going to take it to the next March, May election.”
Senator Martin joined the National Party in May after sitting first as a Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN) senator, then as an independent after Ms Lambie expelled him from her party.
He was an unsuccessful candidate for the JLN at the 2016 federal election but was elected to the upper house on a recount after
Bid to grow membership, harvest candidates
Barnaby Joyce talks to colleagues before the conference in Launceston. (ABC News: Laura Beavis)
Mr McCormack indicated the National Party might seek to field other candidates for the House of Representatives and Senate at next year’s election.
He had discussed the possibility with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
“Scott Morrison knows that Steve Martin is playing a vital role here in Tasmania and he knows also that Tasmania has welcomed the National Party and that we’ve put a foot down here in Tasmania and we want to make it more than just a foothold, we want to make it a stronghold,” he said.
“It’s the start of something that is going to be very, very big. From little things, big things grow and that’s what the National Party are bringing.”
The National Party is registered as a political party in Tasmania and while Mr McCormack was unsure of the number of Tasmanian party members, he said it was growing.
“There are a lot of people who want to join the National party, who want to join the crusade and campaign that Steve Martin has started.”
Delegates from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia are taking part in the Tasmanian conference.
Tasmania not fertile ground for Nationals
Senator Martin is the first Tasmanian Nationals representative in the Federal Parliament in nearly a century.
Tasmanian William McWilliams became the first leader of the party’s predecessor, the Country Party, in 1921.
Steve Martin faces a fight at the next election with former colleague Jacqui Lambie who wants to win back her seat. (ABC News: Jed Cooper)
Professor Richard Herr from the University of Tasmania said the Nationals had always struggled to break into the state’s crowded political landscape.
“They’ve always been frustrated by, in part the small size of the state, and the fact that very early on the Labor Party captured a lot of the rural vote,” Professor Herr said.
Professor Herr said the Liberal Party would likely be annoyed by the prospect of more Nationals candidates standing at the next federal election.
“They’ll probably be competing in the Liberal heartland of the north and north-west, which won’t thrill the Liberal Party,” he said.
“It also raises the problems of splitting the vote and I’m sure there’s going to be some words said on that score.”
Martin faces tough fight to retain Senate seat
Former Senator Jacqui Lambie previously declared “the gloves are off” as she prepared to try to win back the Senate seat.
Professor Herr warned a split vote could also weigh down both Mr Martin and Ms Lambie’s chances of winning re-election.
“Steve Martin is in the Senate because of Jacqui Lambie votes, so if both are contesting you would assume they’re really trying to go to the same well and there can’t be all that much water in the well,” he said.
“So that could create the sort of division between the two that would make both of them unelectable because they would split the vote.”