LONG regarded as a party of conservative old farmers, the NSW Nationals knew they needed someone like Andrew Gee to prove they were moving with the times.
Forty-one years old and married with four young children, Mr Gee has become the poster boy for a party keen to reinvent itself.
The barrister will almost certainly become the next member for Orange after he was picked as the party’s candidate for next year’s state election.
Of the 173 votes cast at a weekend preselection contest, Mr Gee won 138.
Tourism promoter Kim Currie secured 24 votes, councillor Fiona Rossiter received seven and former Orange mayor John Miller got four.
“I think the demographics of the seat are changing so I don’t think people will mind having a younger face around. I think they’ll actually be quite open to it really,” Mr Gee said yesterday.
“Orange has never really been a closed shop, it’s very open to new people and new ideas.”
Mr Gee, who moved to Orange in 2005, is largely unknown to the electorate but has 10 months to expand his profile ahead of the March 2011 election.
The popularity of outgoing MP Russell Turner means the NSW Nationals enter the election with a 17.2 per cent margin.
In that position, Mr Gee will be almost unbeatable.
He’s not so convinced.
“I don’t think there are any guarantees in politics, it’s a very unpredictable game,” he said.
“During the preselection campaign I tried to be very open and approachable, I made hundreds of calls, travelled hundreds of kilometres and, at some point, spoke to almost every party member. I want to carry over that approach to when I run the general campaign, which for me begins right now.
“I don’t think its good enough to coast along just thinking I will automatically win because the seat is in good shape or that the Coalition will automatically win government because Labor is unpopular.”
Mr Gee, wife Tina and their children, aged 10, eight, six and two, spent yesterday morning in Cook Park soaking up the victory.
If elected next year, family life will change.
“That definitely does weigh on your mind and I think that’s the biggest challenge with politics, trying to find that work and life balance,” Mr Gee said.
Andrew Gee 138 (79.76%)
Kim Currie 24 (13.87%)
Fiona Rossiter 7 (4.04%)
John Miller 4 (2.31%)
Results from 173 National
Party preselection votes
Who do you think The Nationals should select to replace Russell Turner as the candidate for the seat of Orange?
Fiona Rossiter 40%
Kim Currie 30%
Andrew Gee 27%
John Miller 3%
Margin surprises beaten brigade:
EVEN the unsuccessful Nationals candidates admit their defeat wasn’t entirely unexpected.
For months, Kim Currie, Fiona Rossiter and John Miller knew beating Andrew Gee to become the NSW Nationals candidate for the seat of Orange would be a hard ask.
On Saturday, they found out just how hard.
“I think everyone was surprised by just how clear the result was,” said Kim Currie, who secured 24 votes to Mr Gee’s 138.
“I just hope this sort of thing is not discouraging for people who do have a broad base and for women in particular.
“It reinforced how difficult it is for people who might have an alternative view.
“But at the end of the day, the party has made the decision.
“Personally, I stood because I believed this region deserves really good representation.”
When asked if Mr Gee would provide good representation, Ms Currie declined to comment.
“The members have made a very clear choice and I wish them all well,” she said.
It’s the third time John Miller, a NSW Nationals member for two decades, has contested a preselection and lost.
“It’s obvious the members have spoken,” Mr Miller said yesterday.
“I’m disappointed, whenever you put your heart and soul into something and come up short you’re naturally disappointed.
“For me, one door closes and I’m sure another will open somewhere in the future.
“But I’m not going to change my spots, I never have and never will.
“I’ll continue to support the party, but I think it shows I was so far behind because I didn’t have any branch backing.”
Even the Wellington branch’s endorsement of Fiona Rossiter and Mudgee branch’s endorsement of Ms Currie failed to produce sizeable support for either candidate.
Mrs Rossiter was unavailable for comment yesterday.