RETIRING member for Cowper Luke Hartsuyker has come out swinging at independent candidate Rob Oakeshott labelling him a "sham".
Mr Hartsuyker is retiring from politics at the May federal election and has used the opportunity to tactically throw his weight behind the campaign for Nationals candidate Patrick Conaghan.
The seat has been held by the Nationals, and Mr Hartsuyker, since 2001.
A redistribution shifted the seat south to encompass Port Macquarie at the 2016 election, and former independent MP Rob Oakeshott, who previously represented Lyne, contested Cowper and came within five per cent of defeating Mr Hartsuyker.
We all know on the North Coast that he is Labor - Labor in Independent's clothing.- Luke Hartsuyker, retiring member for Cowper
In federal parliament Mr Hartsuyker said the former Member for Lyne's claim to be an independent was "a masquerade", defaulting back to Mr Oakeshott's vote in 2010 to install Julia Gillard as prime minister and supporting Labor throughout its final term.
Mr Hartsuyker previously labelled Mr Oakeshott a "Labor stooge" before parliament in February over franking credits and border security.
"We all know on the North Coast that he is Labor - Labor in Independent's clothing," Mr Hartsuyker said.
When I put my hand up again I was going into it with eyes wide open. I hear what everyone else hears at the pub and on the street.- Rob Oakeshott, independent candidate
Mr Oakeshott has brushed off the name calling saying he has heard it all before. Now is the time to get on with the business of doing what's best for the electorate, he said.
"They are going to call me everything under the sun, and being called a "sham" is the least of my worries to what is probably coming. But one thing they can't say is that I haven't delivered," Mr Oakeshott said.
"Hopefully people can now reflect on the value of that work. We've had a Royal Commission into child sex abuse as a result of that work. We've been through that whole process and are now seeing the implications of those recommendations.
"If people want a local member who delivers and gets results, then you only have to look at returning Port Macquarie hospital back to the public network so we can have an $110 million expansion and a mental health unit. We have a medical school shared by the University of NSW, Newcastle University and TAFE - that would not be here unless we went through that whole process in 2010.
"We've got Charles Sturt University to town and all the business opportunities that come with it.
"All the Pacific Highway works were done on my watch. People can buy into it, or see through it."
The final stretch of the Pacific Highway works, in what was widely regarded as a horror stretch, from Port Macquarie to Kundabung was officially opened in 2017.
"When I put my hand up again I was going into it with eyes wide open. I hear what everyone else hears at the pub and on the street.
"I hear all the 17 minute speech palaver and that I went along with a red-headed woman in 2010. I hear I sold out because I left the Nats in the mid-1990s, and I hear I'm only in politics for the money. I hear all of that.
These comments are being used to divide our community for the political benefit of one political party to stay in office and continue doing nothing.- Rob Oakeshott, independent candidate for Cowper
"My challenge is to keep focused on the importance of the many issues our community faces.
"Once you hear these comments over and over again, I would hope most people start to wonder why are they being repeated to death and who is using them as political ammunition.
"These comments are being used to divide our community for the political benefit of one political party to stay in office and continue doing nothing.
"People can swim through the gossip and innuendo to get results for our community, or swallow the gossip and innuendo and continue to get bugger-all done.
"All the sticks and stones names I expect, but in the end I will not drop my focus which is very much on working with individuals and the community to build a better place."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.