17 March 2023

Who ya gonna call? Ghost candidates haunt the Riverina ahead of NSW Election

| Chris Roe
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Graphic of ghost being placed in ballot box

Anybody seen a ghost? Photo: Chris Roe.

There’s just over a week to go until the NSW election and ballot cards across the Riverina appear to have become haunted by a surprising number of ‘ghost candidates’.

A ghost candidate is one whose name is on the ballot but little else. While they are usually real people, they have almost no presence in the electorate and do not actively campaign, attend forums or speak to local media and often live outside the area.

While the reasons for fielding an invisible candidate can vary, it is generally done to grow the party’s profile, to harvest preferences by proxy for another party, or to increase the chances for an upper house candidate to claim a seat in the Legislative Council.

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Region’s interest was piqued earlier this month with the surprise arrival of two late entries in the race for Wagga Wagga including Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Chris Smith, and the highly mysterious Raymond Gentles.

While Mr Smith was able to personally confirm his existence, if not yet his presence, Mr Gentles remains a phantom.

The parameters for our ghost hunt are simple and based on the idea that a candidate who is vying to represent us in parliament has a social contract with the region’s voters. Learning who they are, which town or city they live in and what they represent should not be difficult. They should also intend to manifest a presence in the electorate before the poll.

With this low bar for a candidate to clear, we decided to take a look into this apparent paranormal activity in Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra and Murray electorates.

Our list of suspected ghosts includes:

Wagga Wagga: Christopher Smith – Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Raymond Gentles – Public Education Party.

Murray: Adrian Carle – Legalise Cannabis Party, Amelia King – Greens, Desiree Gregory – Shooters, Fishers and Farmers, Michael Florence – Sustainable Australia Party – Stop Overdevelopment/Corruption.

Cootamundra: Chris O’Rourke – Sustainable Australia Party – Stop Overdevelopment/Corruption.

With our spectral targets set, we strapped on a proton pack to do some ghost-busting!

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Starting in Wagga Wagga, we have confirmed that Chris Smith moved to the area about a year ago. He sounds like a decent bloke who does indeed like to shoot and fish, but he was unable to attend Friday’s candidate forum and has yet to actively campaign or establish a digital presence. He has confirmed his intention to campaign locally.

Verdict: Under Surveillance.

Chris Smith

Chris Smith assures us he is not a ghost. Photo: Supplied.

Raymond Gentles was far more suspicious. When Region attempted to contact him through the Public Education Party, we were told that he was having a medical procedure and was unavailable, but we were assured he was a “lovely man”. When we asked where he resided, party convener Cheryl McBride replied vaguely that he lived in the “Wollongong area”.

When Region reached out a second time to request the candidate’s contact details, we were told by Ms McBride that she contacts him “through his wife” and could not put us in touch.

A final call to Ms McBride requesting “proof-of-life” prompted her to confirm that he lives in Breakfast Point in Sydney and she emailed through a bio with the rebuttal, “Pls be aware that Ray’s identity and eligibility are checked by the NSW Electoral Commission prior to registering as a candidate in the NSW election on 25/03/2023”.

According to the bio, he is a retired school principal who does indeed live in Sydney’s Inner West.

Verdict: GHOST

Linkedin profile

Raymond Gentles has almost no digital presence. Photo: LinkedIn.

Moving on to Murray where we have a long list lining up against incumbent Helen Dalton, we began with the Legalise Cannabis Party’s Adrian Carle who secured the coveted top spot on the ballot.

Mr Carle is not listed on the party’s website but a quick google turned up a sales manager by that name who also coaches junior AFL in Sawtell near Coffs Harbour. He was surprised to receive a call from Region but confirmed that he was the Murray candidate and that he does indeed live in Sawtell. He said he does not have a campaign page and asked us to refer all inquiries through the party.

Verdict: GHOST

Legalise Cannabis Party's Adrian Carle

Legalise Cannabis Party’s Adrian Carle from Sawtell. Photo: Letterbox Media.

Amelia King does not have a candidate profile on the Greens NSW website, although a media contact passed on her details. Ms King’s social media accounts describe her as a freelance social media and marketing manager and locates her in Sydney. The Greens’ media advisor confirmed that this is likely and that “it is not unusual to field candidates from outside the electorate”. Ms King answered Region’s call but was unable to talk. We are waiting on a callback.

Verdict: GHOST

Greens candidate Amelia King

Greens candidate Amelia King lives in Sydney. Photo: LinkedIn.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Desiree Gregory is a curious one. With current member Helen Dalton defecting from the party and triggering an exodus that has left them with no lower house representation, one would presume they would be keen to make a strong showing to contest the seat, however, their candidate is not easy to find. While she does not seem to have any sort of campaign page, her LinkedIn profile features a Sydney skyline and proclaims her the “Current candidate for the Murray 2023 NSW state election” and “former Senate candidate in [the] 2022 federal election”. She has posted a campaign graphic and there is also a how to vote card circulating. Surprisingly, it suggests numbering the Nationals second. SFF has not replied to Region’s inquiries.

Verdict: GHOST

Desiree Gregory

SFF’s Murray candidate Desiree Gregory has proved elusive but is producing campaign material. Photo: Supplied.

Last on our list of Murray ghosts is Sustainable Australia Party’s Michael Florence. The party’s website includes a photo and a bio that locates him in the river town of Barooga in the southern Riverina where he works with a family-owned wholesale nursery business. After a quick call to Barooga Nursery, Region was informed that Mr Florence is on holiday in Melbourne and unlikely to be available anytime soon.

Verdict: GHOST

Michael Florance

Michael Florance is on holiday. Photo: Supplied.

In Cootamundra another Sustainable Australia Party candidate left us scratching our heads. Like Mr Florence, Chris O’Rourke has a bio and photo on the party site describing him as a recently retired teacher who “spent his formative years on a farm on the edge of the Liverpool Plains and has lived most of his life in the country”, but offers few details on his connections to the area.

Sustainable Australia Party is yet to respond to our inquiries about either Mr O’Rourke or Mr Florence.

Verdict: GHOST

Chris O'Rourke

Cootamundra candidate Chris O’Rourke has lived “in the country”. Photo: Supplied.

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Great piece of investigative reporting. Thanks.

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