The National Party candidate for the crucial NSW seat of Upper Hunter has taken a swing at former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and pledged diehard support for the coal industry.
David Layzell dismissed Mr Turnbull’s concerns over the environmental impact of coal mining in the district, where voters will choose a new local member on May 22.
Mr Turnbull said last week no more mines should be approved in the area, comments that contributed to the NSW government’s decision to sack him from a top position on a climate change board to which he had been appointed only days earlier.
Asked about Mr Turnbull’s comments, Mr Layzell said they were “obsolete” and indicative of the former PM’s Sydney-centric views.
“Under the NSW Nationals, the mining sector has the full support of the NSW government and Mr Turnbull’s comments are obsolete,” Mr Layzell said.
“It’s easy for people in Sydney to talk about coal as an abstract thing, but those of us who live here know that every train full of Hunter Valley coal means food on the table and shoes on children’s feet.”
Mr Layzell was announced as the party’s candidate on Thursday at an event near an open-cut coal mine, alongside party leader John Barilaro and Liberal state Treasurer Dominic Perrottet.
He’s likely to face a four-way battle alongside candidates from Labor, One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers. None of the other parties have announced their candidates, but SFF leader Robert Borsak said on Friday his party’s nominee would be a woman from Singleton.
The seat is up for grabs after the former representative, Nationals member Michael Johnsen, resigned in the wake of an allegation he raped a sex worker.
Mr Johnsen, who denies the allegation, was first elected in 2015. The Nationals have held the seat since the 1950s.
The seat is a must-win for the National and Liberal Coalition government, which was recently plunged into minority after a series of scandals forced several MPs to move to the crossbench.
The area had the state’s highest proportion employed in mining as of the 2016 census.
The comments that lost Mr Turnbull his position as chair of the NSW Net Zero Emissions and Clean Economy Board came after a report by the left-wing think tank Australia Institute that said coal exports were in decline and new mining applications in the Upper Hunter should be denied.
“In the Aberdeen-Muswellbrook postcode, that has got the worst air quality in NSW,” Mr Turnbull told ABC radio.
“That means kids are getting sick, adults are getting sick, people are getting asthma, people’s life expectancy will be less than it otherwise would be because of coal mining.”
Mr Layzell didn’t directly respond to a question about Mr Turnbull’s comments on the health impact of the mines. But he said people who don’t live in the area would struggle to understand the importance of mining.
“There is not a family in the Upper Hunter who doesn’t either work in the mines or work in one of the great support industries,” he said.
“I think there are always going to people who criticise mining but unless you live here you don’t understand the importance of working in places like this where you can work, your daughters can work, your sons can work.”