‘‘I don’t need Deniliquin’’.
These are the words allegedly spoken by Member for Murray Austin Evans during discussions on improving health services.
It was explained to him by local health advocates that substantial funding for Deniliquin Hospital would be a big boost to his re-election chances, after his narrow win in the October 2017 by-election.
But Shirlee Burge, sitting opposite Mr Evans, was shocked when his response was, ‘‘I don’t need Deniliquin’’, which she took to mean he did not need votes in Deniliquin to be re-elected next month.
Mrs Burge said she would ‘‘go to court’’ to defend her recollection of the comment.
‘‘We were shocked,’’ Mrs Burge said.
‘‘It was one of a number of meetings that Joy Allan and I had with Mr Evans, trying to get decent funding for Deniliquin Hospital.
‘‘He told us he would get enough votes in Griffith; we took it to mean the Government’s funding of the Griffith Hospital would be enough to get him re-elected.
‘‘It is not the sort of comment you would expect from your local Member.
‘‘Joy and I have been extremely disappointed with the effort from Mr Evans to support Deniliquin Hospital.
‘‘We prepared a 40 page document outlining issues at the hospital and sent it to Mr Evans, (Deputy Premier) John Barilaro, and the Health Minister (Brad Hazzard) before Christmas.
‘‘Austin hasn’t even bothered to reply.
‘‘We’re at our wit’s end trying to get him to acknowledge the dire condition of Deniliquin Hospital. He just doesn’t seem to care,’’ a frustrated Mrs Burge said.
The Nationals reacted swiftly to the comment after being made aware of it by the Pastoral Times.
The office of Leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro became aware of the comment early this week, and yesterday morning he announced $5 million in funding for Deniliquin projects (see page 5).
When asked about the alleged ‘‘I don’t need Deniliquin’’ comment, Mr Evans said he was ‘‘dramatically misquoted’’.
‘‘I had said that if you look at the last election, I lost in all of the Deni booths,’’ Mr Evans said.
‘‘So I highlighted that you don’t need to win all the Deni booths to be elected.’’
Deniliquin and district constituents have also expressed concern that there is a heavy Griffith and Leeton focus from Mr Evans when it comes to funding commitments.
Both towns have received a glut of funding commitments from the NSW Government as they head in to the election — $3 million for the Leeton Swimming Pool Complex, $3.65 million for the Griffith Youth and Community Centre and an additional $189 million to build a $224 million Griffith Base Hospital.
Mr Evans said it does not mean Deniliquin is any less of a priority.
‘‘Those ones (projects announced for Leeton and Griffith) are ones we (the NSW Government) have been working on for a long while.
‘‘We are working to try and do stuff for Deni.
‘‘We expect the truck stop (as highlighted in Edward River Council’s advocacy strategy) to be funded before the election, and some of the others (in the strategy) will fall in to the election commitment sphere.
‘‘Other than the truck stop, there is nothing else definite yet (for Deni and district), certainly none of a similar nature to the announcements in Griffith and Leeton.’’
As chair of The Nationals Deniliquin branch, Perin Davey said she had not been made aware of the comments allegedly made by Mr Evans in his Deniliquin meetings.
She said any suggestions the alleged comments are proof that Deniliquin is a low priority for the local member are unfounded.
‘‘I think the context (of the alleged comment) is the key, and Austin is right in saying he did not win a single Deniliquin booth at the by-election.
‘‘But the votes he did get in Deni counted to get him across the line.
‘‘As a party we do not take any vote for granted.
‘‘I would also argue that Deniliquin is not a low priority. Austin has not ignored Deniliquin, and has spent a lot of time in this region.
‘‘We got chemo chairs for Deniliquin, the renal chairs and the police station upgrade, and we’re still working hard.
‘‘And it was no easy task for Austin to get his Privater Members Bill on the red gum forests up.
‘‘Austin came out swinging against the dreadful South Australia Royal Commission on the Basin Plan, while a Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidate in Orange supports it, which also means supporting buybacks.
‘‘Industry around Deniliquin is important, and we won’t let Austin forget that.
‘‘Membership of the Deniliquin Nationals are in contact with Austin on a regular basis and Austin is also speaking directly with the grassroots community members — that’s the great thing about Austin, he does not have to go through the branch to know what this community needs.’’