Top NSW Nat a fighter but not a brawler

Liv CasbenAAP
Paul Toole, right, is known among colleagues for being "all smiles".
Camera IconPaul Toole, right, is known among colleagues for being "all smiles". Credit: AAP

Parliamentary colleagues describe him as one of the good guys of NSW politics and a straight shooter.

New Nationals leader Paul Toole hails from the central west and says he's more comfortable in a pair of chinos without a tie. He enjoys a beer with mates and wasabi on top of a sandwich.

The father of three is speaking to AAP at his parliamentary office early Thursday morning, business suit on.

And despite the hour, it's all smiles.

"I've already found my mornings start a lot earlier and my days finish a lot later than they used to," he says.

Despite clocking on at 6am, the new deputy premier won't wrap things up till 10pm but he's hopeful the workload will soon return to something 'normal'.

"I'm far from a lone ranger on this," he says.

"Plenty of people are doing big hours at the moment as businesses re-open and harvest gets underway in the bush."

The commitment, he says, is worth it to help bring stability - something the NSW government desperately needs.

As of Saturday, the state is facing by-elections in the seats of Willoughby, Bega, Holsworthy and Monaro. The latter was left vacant by the high-profile departure of former Nationals leader John Barilaro.

While not enjoying the same colourful profile as his predecessor, there's little doubt Toole was a popular choice among Liberals and Nationals to succeed him.

One coalition minister, who didn't want to be named, told AAP that while both Barilaro and Toole were strong fighters for the bush, "Tooley is less driven by ego and emotion".

Being a fighter is something Toole says he's known for but he admits he has a very different style to that of Barilaro who is more of a "brawler".

"I'm more of a negotiator to try and get the outcome but again there is no stepping backwards; there's plenty of people that will tell you I'm like a dog to a bone when it comes to fighting for an important issue."

The man widely praised for helping settle the 'koala wars', which threatened to split the coalition, admits he would have taken a different approach to his then boss.

The issue also pitted farmers against developers and conservationists in what was essentially a conflict over land use.

"I will still stand up ... for those things that matter to our communities," he says.

"But I will try and actually ensure that they are resolved behind closed doors; trying to strike a balance ... that is needed for our communities."

Labor says Toole can be "too soft at times". One opposition MP told AAP the city Liberals will be happy with his appointment because he'll try to appease them.

It's a criticism Toole rejects. "I think if you ask some of the Libs they'll tell you I'm not that easy to get along with at times," he counters.

One Nats insider says, unlike Barilaro, they were never worried about a Paul Toole problem during his three years as party deputy.

The former teacher's spare time, which is currently in short stock, is usually taken up with soccer and listening to Bon Jovi.

He says he's motivated to help regional NSW in part because of his teenage children Rhayne, 20, Keely, 18, and Scout, 13, who he thanked during his acceptance speech.

"I get up every day and out of bed because I want to fight for a better regional NSW. I want to make sure that they have opportunities," he said at the time.

"I want to make sure they have a future."

Yet some in opposition reckon Toole's decision to push through forced council amalgamations when local government minister sold out regional NSW and people are still furious.

Perhaps in a demonstration of his conciliatory manner he says of the issue: "Sometimes decisions are not going to be popular but they're done for the right reasons ... in politics you need to learn if you make mistakes, own up and actually try and change the settings."

One of the first things the Bathurst MP is looking forward to doing, he says, is taking newly-appointed Premier Dominic Perrottet on a regional tour of the state.

He knows the job ahead is no easy task and there's plenty of conflicting interests for the Nationals, particularly around land use.

"We know the importance of mining but we also know the importance of agricultural lands," Toole notes.

"There will be some places that completely rule themselves out for future mining there'll be some areas that may need work and consideration before they're even given a green light to go and explore."

NSW Farmers President James Jackson believes Toole has the opportunity to secure a better deal for agriculture.

"Land use conflict and the proposed property tax reforms are two big issues that need to be addressed," he says.

But is Paul Toole the right man for the job? One farmer AAP spoke to replied: "Paul who?"

Even so, he certainly has the right support within the party ranks.

State Nationals chair Andrew Fraser says he's very satisfied Toole was chosen and describes him as "very solid".

One of nine kids, Toole grew up on a sheep property at Peel, just outside Bathurst.

He went on to become a primary school teacher focusing on PE and IT, and served for 18 years on council.

The former mayor was elected as member for Bathurst in 2011 and has held several government portfolios including regional roads and transport minister.

It was during that time he says he developed a "good working relationship" with federal Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce.

And he's encouraged Mr Joyce, who is locked in talks with liberal colleagues over national emissions targets, to step up to the challenge.

"What I want him to do is embrace the opportunity for that investment, for the high tech solutions we can see in our communities, and embrace the change and embrace the opportunity to be able to go forward as well."

But acknowledging the broad church the Nationals represent, Toole says "there is also the critical need of protecting the coal jobs in our communities".

"This is about making sure when those mines close and the resources have run out ... (miners) can transition across into another industry."

Toole recognises climate is changing and supports the government's pledge to halve NSW emissions by 2030. He says there is something to be gained by it even for coal towns like Lithgow, in his electorate.

"Fossil fuels are important - they're critical - but we also know they're on a decline and we need to be thinking about the future not just the next four or five years," he says.

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