Shocking graph exposes Aussie ‘disgrace’
It's not every day you meet a vegetarian cattle farmer.
But that's just one of the oddities that makes Roy Butler one of the more fascinating political candidates in the March 23 NSW election.
He's running for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in the electorate of Barwon - a giant seat roughly the size of Germany that takes up 44 per cent of the state's geography.
Since putting his hand up last year, he's clocked up about 10,000km in his car each month, zigzagging across the west to meet as many people as he can.
And polling reported by The Daily Telegraph this month shows Mr Butler, a political novice who really never imagined running for office, is about to cause a major upset for the incumbent National Party. It is on track to lose Barwon for the first time in 69 years.
Mr Butler is a public servant for the NSW Police Force, with a long background in mental health work and disability services, and has several postgraduate degrees to his name. He joined the Australian Army after high school and served with the 6th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (6 RAR) at Brisbane's Enoggera Barracks.
He's also managed community offender services and disability care, while juggling the operation of the family's cattle property in Mendoran.
"I've been pretty fortunate in my life and not long ago I started to feel like I wanted to offer myself back to the people of NSW," Mr Butler said.
"I can't look away from the problems in the west and the things I've seen, which are towns in decline, communities losing health services, jobs pulled out, people packing up and moving, quality of life collapsing, without trying to do something."
His part of the state is in the grips of a devastating drought. But Mr Butler said it's just the tip of a very worrying iceberg.
"I'm kept up at night thinking about hospital services," he said.
"We have hospitals that can't deliver basic services, like setting a fracture of performing minor surgeries. And so we put people in ambulances and send them to hospitals hours away. Then when they're discharged, they're often expected to find their own way back again."
Twenty years ago, the average life expectancy of someone living in far western NSW was 80.2 years, compared to 78.2 in Sydney at the time.
Data released in 2016 shows the scenario has now totally flipped, with people in Sydney likely to live to 85.3 while life expectancy for those in communities in Barwon has slumped to 78.8.
"That didn't just happen out of nowhere," Mr Butler said.
"It's in line with what the government has done in totally ripping out regional health services. It's a disgrace."
In the past decade, the population of his electorate has also dropped by 6.2 per cent as long-time locals give up and move closer to the city.
A lack of investment in service delivery and infrastructure, and a more centralised public service that's stripped jobs out of towns, was to blame, he said.
"And that population decline is up to 2017, before we got into the pointy end of the drought. How do we get those people back? The only way is by making our towns good places to live. We've got to put jobs back, services back," Mr Butler said.
In a region known for its farming, being a farmer is harder than ever thanks to the drought and what Mr Butler describes as the "shameful mismanagement" of water, particularly in the Murry-Darling basin.
The Murray-Darling has been in the news recently due to mass fish kills at Menindee Lakes, which the state and federal governments insist are entirely caused by drought.
Mr Butler points to the small town of Wilcannia, about 200km east of Broken Hill, as an example of why that claim is wrong.
"The Murray-Darling Basin management plan relies on a lot of assumptions that are totally flawed. It assumes that in Wilcannia, every single day, rain, hail or shine, there will be 90 megalitres of water flowing under the bridge. That's 90 million litres of water daily," he said.
"There hasn't been a drop of water in Wilcannia for years. The problem is that the plan's assumption is connected to other assumptions up and down stream."
A big part of the reason for voters abandoning the National Party is drought and the mismanagement of water.
But a general sense of disillusion with the major political parties among locals is also to blame, Mr Butler said.
"We've got hospitals where you can't get services, towns without water, low employment prospects, and we hear about the government wanting to spend $810 million rearranging the seats at ANZ Stadium in Sydney. That is just nuts," he said.
"People in the west feel forgotten and ignored. But it's not just a feeling - it's backed up by evidence. We can show that people are begging for things, they've raised concerns with government, and no one has listened."
Mr Butler doesn't embody the type of candidate one might typically expect to run for the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party.
It's something he's heard a few times, he admits.
"I'm a primary producer though - I raise cattle. I'm a vegetarian, which people think is hilarious," he said.
But he lives on the land, enjoys fishing, and he does love his guns. He's a former army soldier who received extensive arms training, is now a licensed firearm holder and likes shooting clay targets.
"Look, if I was to run as a Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate in the middle of Sydney, I'd probably struggle," Mr Butler said.
"But in the west of the state, where people live and work on the land, it's not unusual or exciting for people to have a gun."
He says his party is passionate about the people he hopes to represent and the issues that matter to them.
"If I'm elected, I'll work very hard to implement the will of the electorate. I want to see proper representation. If we strike that balance of power situation in the lower house and upper house, I fully intend to use that to right some of the wrongs in Barwon."
It seems his political opponents have seen the polling that shows he's on track for a stunning electoral victory.
"I've noticed a few of my corflute signs being defaced around the place," Mr Butler laughs.
"A bloke came along and drew on one recently, making me look like Groucho Marx. I liked it. I put it up on social media."
His Facebook followers began sending him snapshots of his signs going with them on holidays, to the speedway and out for a night at the pub.
"Here I am with a young fella doing his puzzle," he says, showing off a picture of boy clutching his corflute. "People are having fun with it."
The next picture to swipe up on his phone is of his wedding to Jenny last year in one of those drop-in marriage chapels on the strip in Las Vegas.
They've been together for 19 years but never really got around to tying the knot. Life was too busy.
"We were in Vegas on holiday and out for dinner with friends and they asked why we never got married. So, we went off to the Little White Wedding Chapel in Vegas and did it."
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