The Nationals have set the stage for a showdown with the two federal independent MPs who helped prop up the federal government at the last national election.
NSW independent MP representing the Northern Tablelands, Richard Torbay, is seeking pre-selection for the New England seat now held by independent Tony Windsor.
Nationals Leader Warren Truss welcomed the decision of the NSW state MP, saying he is making a stand in the interests of his “local community and his country”.
“That’s what The Nationals are all about,” Mr Truss said in a statement on Friday.
Mr Windsor responded with a brief statement but thanked the media for its interest in the matter.
“I am not making any public comment and am focused on the opportunities that exist in the current parliament,” Mr Windsor said.
Earlier this week, the Nationals opened nominations for the NSW federal seat of Lyne, held by independent Rob Oakeshott.
Former Nationals candidate Dr David Gillespie is favoured to win preselection, having already campaigned in the seat this year with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
Both Mr Windsor and Mr Oakeshott have faced fierce criticism from the coalition over their siding with Labor leader Julia Gillard after the 2010 election to form minority government.
NSW deputy premier and Nationals leader Andrew Stoner said residents of regional NSW had had enough of “divisive” MPs.
“Richard has an important role ahead to restore good government to New England and to Australia – The Nationals team will be right alongside him,” he said in a statement.
Mr Torbay will join the Nationals once the preselection is announced but could continue to sit as an independent in the state parliament until writs are issued for the federal election.
But NSW Opposition leader John Robertson said Mr Torbay had to explain how he could still represent his state seat as an independent.
“He’s going to run as a National Party candidate, and pretend he’s sitting here still as an independent,” Mr Robertson told reporters in Sydney.
“They voted for an independent to represent them in the parliament, and now in fact what they’ve got is a National Party member.”
Senior NSW minister and Nationals MP Duncan Gay said Mr Torbay should be welcomed to sit in the NSW Nationals party room if he is preselected for New England.
Premier Barry O’Farrell said Mr Torbay had been one of the state’s best parliamentary speakers when he held the post under the former Labor government.
“I’ll be sorry to see Richard Torbay leave the parliament,” he told reporters.