Bell tolls for disengaged politicians

Troy Grant suffered a humiliating defeat in Orange. Source: Daily Telegraph/Jonathon Ng
Troy Grant suffered a humiliating defeat in Orange. Source: Daily Telegraph/Jonathon Ng

In the wake of a humiliating defeat for NSW Nationals leader Troy Grant at the Orange by-election, convenience industry spokesman Jeff Rogut has stuck the boot in, warning other MPs to heed the “perils of not listening to the electorate”.

The Australasian Association of Convenience Stores CEO told C&I Week that he was very disappointed with the outgoing deputy premier, who had been unwilling to discuss the issue of fuel theft.

“We wrote to him as minister of police about petrol theft. Obviously it’s a big issue nationally, but the gist of his response was ‘I’m too busy to meet with you, not interested’,” Mr Rogut said.

“I thought [his defeat] was a very salutary lesson for a politician who was totally divorced from what’s happening, and not wanting to engage on a really important issue for small business and also law and order.

“It was just ridiculous, and that was only a couple of weeks ago.

“Certainly from the perspective of the retailers and suppliers in our industry, the willingness by the NSW Government to engage on issues of significant importance to us have fallen on deaf ears.”

The Nationals leader was defeated in a landslide 35 per cent swing against the party in the electorate of Orange, with the Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party taking the popular lead.

On Monday NSW premier Mike Baird admitted that he should be held responsible for what was a disastrous result for the Coalition.

Media speculation suggested voters in Orange rebelled against botched state government decisions relating to greyhound racing and council amalgamations.

Mr Rogut said he did not presume to speak for everyone in New South Wales, but clarified that the convenience industry should be recognised for contributing significantly to the state’s economy, including as a major employer.

“Failing to recognise the role we play, and the role of small businesses generally, may well see the Orange result played out on a larger, state-wide scale,” he said.

“Obviously the electorate generally, given what’s been happening with the Baird government, and a number of things such as forcing service stations to sell ethanol, which customers don’t want to buy, not listening to industry about our ability to sell e-cigarettes, not interested in engaging on selling beer and wine in convenience stores, there’s absolutely no engagement.

“It’s not surprising that politicians are now starting to feel the brunt of the electorate and what people are feeling.”

“I mean while I don’t live in NSW, our members are constituents right around the country, and it’s crazy that we can’t get that engagement.”

C&I Week approached the former deputy premier for comment, however a spokesperson from his office said he was not willing to engage further with the media.

Mr Rogut said he anticipated a better relationship with Grant’s successor as leader of the Nationals, John Barilaro, who is the NSW minister for small business.

“John attended a number of meetings we had with the small business commissioner in NSW and I found him very good in terms of listening, engaging and responding,” Mr Rogut said.

“He spoke at our summit in Sydney a couple of years back, so I think john is a different individual from that point of view, he was prepared to engage, and certainly in the meetings, we’ve always been very happy to openly engage and discuss issues.”

Mr Barilaro was elected unopposed as the leader of the Nationals Party NSW branch, and has become the state’s 18th deputy premier.

C&I Week has approached Mr Barilaro’s office for comment.

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