'It's 2023': NSW Nationals leader to modernise party
The NSW Nationals need to move with the times and update their messaging after finding themselves behind the eight ball as technology advanced around them, the party's new leader says.
"The way people engage with politics and news has changed completely in even the past two to four years, to be honest," Dugald Saunders told AAP.
Mr Saunders ousted former leader Paul Toole last week, defeating him in a party room ballot after an internal blow-up over Nationals MP Ben Franklin's successful campaign to become upper house president.
While the Nationals remained the best party to fight for regional people's rights in the parliament, its messaging and ability to connect with voters had failed in a battle for votes in the bush, the new deputy opposition leader said.
"We need to become the modern Nats we know we are, but other people don't know we are," he said.
"Part of that is around how do we re-engage with the digital age, and how do we re-engage with people that have never engaged with news or politics of any kind before, and tell them our story?"
Mr Saunders' electorate of Dubbo faced unique challenges, including people in regional centres enjoying much greater resources than those in rural outposts.
"You can't always fix everything at one point in time, but if you don't keep listening and trying to connect with those people and ask them for their solution, then you're not probably doing enough," he said.
The former radio broadcaster and journalist spent 27 years in the media before being entering parliament in 2019.
His meteoric rise to the top of the NSW Nationals came down to him being a "fairly normal bloke" who is good at listening, he says.
"Being a leader, you need to be able to enable people around you, and make sure that you're actually helping others function in the best way they can," he says.
"I'm a fairly normal sort of bloke. I don't have any airs and graces."
Last year he became minister for agriculture and western NSW before Labor was swept to power at the March poll.
The Nationals lost the bellwether seat of Monaro to high profile Labor candidate Steve Whan, and despite an enthusiastic campaign, failed to take regional seats in Murray and Barwon from independent MPs.
The election results were disappointing, Mr Saunders said.
Attitudes across regional NSW were continuing to shift, with more people choosing to to work from home, he said.
"Different people do feel like they have more ability to live their lives in the way they want," he said.
"If you're not listening in the right way, you're probably missing part of the message that they're trying to provide to you."
"Everything is slightly nuanced. It's 2023," he said.
As for engaging with the government, the new deputy opposition leader says he believes he hopes to work with his Labor colleagues wherever possible.
"I don't want to be obstructionist for the sake of it," he said.
However, Mr Saunders said the party will be focused on any cuts affecting people in the bush.
"That's what I'm most worried about, is the impact on our regional centres," he said.
"We'll certainly be watching that with some with a fairly keen focus."