Independent Hume candidate James Harker-Mortlock faces National Party expulsion if he refuses to resign from the party while campaigning against Coalition candidate Angus Taylor.
Harker-Mortlock announced his decision to run as an independent in the federal election on Monday.
His defiant move has attracted the consternation of Nationals officials and outgoing Liberal Hume MP Alby Schultz is reportedly furious.
Schultz believes if Harker-Mortlock does not resign as president of the Burrinjuck Nationals while running against new Liberal candidate Angus Taylor, he’d be in contravention of a “legally binding agreement” between the two parties.
The Nationals agreed not to endorse a candidate in Hume or Eden-Monaro while the Liberals won't endorse anyone for the seats of New England or Lyne.
National Party state director Ben Franklin was unaware party member Harker-Mortlock intended to run when contacted by the Tribune on Tuesday.
He said the Nationals were standing by the Coalition agreement and supported Taylor.
Harker-Mortlock’s candidacy would not change that.
“The National Party won’t be contesting the seat. It would be utterly inappropriate for a member of the party to run against a Liberal Party candidate,” he told the Tribune.
“If any party member determines they want to run… we’d treat that with great concern.”
He said Harker-Mortlock was obviously disappointed the Nationals weren’t endorsing a candidate in Hume “and that’s absolutely understandable”.
"When in coalition, of course there are going to be people disappointed if we don't contest a seat.
Support for Taylor
“What James Harker-Mortlock does is entirely up to him. But the party has now made its decision and we are supporting the Coalition for Hume, and that’s Angus Taylor.
“If any party member wants to run as an independent they would be expected to resign from party membership." He said the situation was “untenable” and expulsion would be considered if necessary.
In the meantime, he disagreed with his party colleague's assessment of Taylor's ability in the seat (reported in the Tribune on Wednesday).
"I don't agree with [the comments]. Angus has a deep history in regional NSW and I think he'll make a fine member."
Taylor also took exception to some of Harker-Mortlock’s comments in Wednesday’s Tribune.
“I’m not going to respond to a lecture on privilege from a bloke who drives an Aston Martin.”
Taylor said he was basing his campaign on hard work, not trying to grab media headlines.
“My focus has been on working hard on the issues that matter to people in Yass and elsewhere.”
Harker-Mortlock not backing down
Harker-Mortlock is confident there are no grounds for his expulsion.
He felt he would only be breaking the constitution if he stood against an endorsed National Party candidate.
"The state director doesn't determine who will or will not be expelled from the party, nor does he determine the basis of an expulsion.
"The state director is a professional employee engaged by the party. The governing body, as set out in the constitution, is the central council - of which I am a member."
He felt there was too much interference from the party hierarchy, and continued his attack on Taylor.
"It's about local people having local involvement making decisions for locals.
"And why does Angus need so much protection? Why are they going to such lengths to make it easy for this guy? What's the deal?"
He said his decision to run had attracted a positive reaction from locals and his friends in the party. He’d found the Liberal Party’s reaction was “arrogant” and “predictable”.