NSW election 2019: Labor lines up Cessnock deputy mayor Melanie Dagg to replace Martin Rush as Upper Hunter candidate

Melanie Dagg with husband Josh and children Amelia and Eliza.
Melanie Dagg with husband Josh and children Amelia and Eliza.

Labor is poised to throw young Cessnock deputy mayor Melanie Dagg into the fray of the Hunter’s most marginal seat.

The Newcastle Herald has been told Labor will endorse Cr Dagg, a 34-year-old law student and mother of two from Branxton, as its candidate for Upper Hunter in the March 23 state election. 

The first-term councillor would not confirm her candidacy on Friday but said she was “interested” in contesting the seat held by Nationals MP Michael Johnsen. 

She would replace Martin Rush, who pulled out this week over an anonymous complaint alleging he was involved in an altercation with a female flatmate.

Mr Rush, Muswellbrook’s mayor, has denied the allegation, Labor’s candidate review committee dismissed the complaint, and police investigated the incident and will take no further action.

Mr Johnsen holds the seat by a margin of 2.2 per cent after surviving a strong challenge by Mr Rush in 2015.

Deputy premier John Barilaro was in Muswellbrook on Thursday to boost Mr Johnsen’s campaign, visiting the Hunter Pilot Biorefinery construction site and handing a $1 million grant to the local golf club.

Upper Hunter is one of four seats the Nationals fear they could lose to Labor or the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party, along with Lismore, Tweed and Barwon.



Held by: Tim Crakanthorp (ALP)

Margin: 7.4%

History: Libs’ Tim Owen resigned in 2014 over ICAC scandal

Liberal candidate: ?


Held by: Jodie Harrison (ALP)

Margin: 12.9%

History: Libs’ Andrew Cornwell resigned in 2014 over ICAC scandal

Liberal candidate: ?


Held by: Sonia Hornery (ALP)

Margin: 20.8%

History: Always Labor since seat was reformed in 1968

Liberal candidate: ?


Held by: Yasmin Catley (ALP)

Margin: 13%

History: Ms Catley won marginal Liberal seat in a landslide in 2015 after incumbent Garry Edwards was disendorsed over ICAC scandal

Liberal candidate: ?


Held by: Greg Piper (Ind)

Margin: 10.7%

History: Held by Mr Piper since 2007

Liberal candidate: ?

Labor candidate: Jo Smith


Held by: Kate Washington (ALP)

Margin: 4.7%

History: Two-term Libs incumbent Craig Baumann withdrew endorsement in 2015 over ICAC scandal

Liberal candidate: Jaimie Abbott


Held by: Jenny Aitchison (ALP)

Margin: 13.8%

History: Ms Aitchison won in a landslide in 2015 after retirement of Liberal incumbent Robyn Parker

Liberal candidate: ?


Incumbent: Clayton Barr (ALP)

Margin: 22%

History: Labor since 1991, but was marginal before Mr Barr’s big win in 2015

Liberal/National candidate: ?


Held by: Michael Johnsen (Nat)

Margin: 2.2%

History: Has never voted Labor but came close with Mr Rush last time

Labor candidate: ?

This story Rush’s possible ‘replacement’ unveiled first appeared on Hunter Valley News.