FEDERAL ELECTION: The seat of Charlton

CHARLTON: Meet the candidates

CHARLTON: Seat profile & history

FED UP: Ronnie Oehme, of Ronnie’s Flowers at Cardiff, says red tape for small business and aged care are two of the big issues for voters in Cardiff. Picture: Phil Hearne

IN the growing town of Morisset, talk of the federal election quickly leads to one point.

‘‘Can we just get it over with?’’ Southlakes Business Chamber and Community Alliance president Robert Kemmis said yesterday.

‘‘People are dead-set fed up.’’

Not only has the election loomed for the best part of the year, but the shock withdrawal of Liberal candidate Kevin Baker last week has left voters in the electorate of Charlton in a distinct malaise, he said.

‘‘We were going to organise a candidates’ forum, but now we’ve lost the Liberal bloke I don’t think we’ll go ahead with it,’’ Mr Kemmis said.

‘‘It’s frustrating. It’s bad news for voters. Now there’s no real choice.’’

Mr Baker was forced to quit after reports of racist and sexist jokes posted on an online car enthusiasts’ forum that he set up.

His withdrawal effectively returns the safe Labor seat to its traditional owner, although the face is new.

As Labor candidate, Pat Conroy is almost certain to inherit the seat from his former boss, ex-climate change minister Greg Combet, who quit politics to spend more time with his family following the axing of Julia Gillard as prime minister.

The electorate takes in most of Lake Macquarie, the growing suburbs of Minmi and Fletcher and the blue-collar area around Cardiff.

Palmer United Party candidate Bronwyn Reid said Mr Conroy was another outsider the Labor Party had served up to voters because of factional alliances and a lack of local talent.

‘‘If you’re serious about being our representative you should live here,’’ she said.

But Mr Conroy, former deputy chief of staff to Mr Combet, resisted criticisms that he was another outsider parachuted in.

‘‘I’ve lived in the area for the past six years, and grew up on the Central Coast,’’ he said, before clarifying he moved within the electorate’s boundaries earlier this year.

Mr Combet, who moved from Melbourne to contest Charlton in 2007, didn’t live in his seat – a fact residents who expressed disappointment to the Newcastle Herald at his departure didn’t seem to mind.

‘‘When we were flooded [in 2007], Greg walked up and down around here checking on us all,’’ Ronnie Oehme said.

‘‘No politician had ever done that before. We don’t want him to go.’’

The owner of Ronnie’s Flowers, a store at Cardiff that is just a few blocks away from where Mr Combet set up his first campaign office, said a lot of locals were ‘‘sick of the election’’.

‘‘Most people want it over with so we can get on with things,’’ she said.

Mr Kemmis named cutting red tape for small businesses and aged care as two of the big issues for voters in Morisset.

Mr Conroy said more schools funding, ‘‘general wariness about what an Abbott government would cut’’ and the construction of the Glendale interchange were the main concerns he had heard from voters.

Unlike his boss, who was initially imposed as the candidate by the ALP’s national executive, Mr Conroy was pre-selected by rank and file members, albeit it after plenty of political manoeuvrings. And he’s not tripped up when asked the name of the main street of Toronto – a question that famously stumped his boss when new to the area.

But exactly how the vote plays out could yet prove interesting, with Mr Baker’s name remaining on the ballot paper because all candidates had already been officially declared prior to his resignation.

Voters must still number all boxes on their lower house ballot paper for their vote to count.

Even the remaining Charlton candidates aren’t sure how it will unfold.

‘‘Don’t ask me, I’m confused about it too,’’ Christian Democratic Party candidate Steven Camilleri said.

Ms Reid said she believed the Liberal Party was now backing her.

However, the Liberal Party’s how-to-vote card directed preferences to Mr Camilleri, then Ms Reid, and its website yesterday was still advocating people vote 1 for Mr Baker and 2 for Mr Camilleri.

A NSW Liberal Party spokeswoman said: ‘‘It is up to each voter in Charlton how they choose to cast their vote for the House of Representatives.

‘‘However, we would encourage voters to choose the Liberal Party when they cast their vote for the Senate.’’