Explaining his reason for attempting to re-enter parliament, Oakeshott cited poor local representation and lack of progress on tax reform and constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians.
Oakeshott said in the “unlikely” event of a hung parliament he would give the incumbent, Malcolm Turnbull, the first shot at forming a workable majority.
Oakeshott explained he had retired in 2013 because the hung parliament was “exhausting” and the difficulty of avoiding a chaotic double dissolution had “risked my health and reputation”.
“In 2013, I didn’t think I would ever want to see politics again. I was hoping the local MPs for the area would continue building on the community work around education and health, and that they would continue to focus on the many disadvantaged communities of our region.”
But Oakeshott said pre-election promises of comprehensive tax reform and constitutional recognition of first Australians had “sadly, both … failed or ‘flat-lined’ over the past three years”.
“And I haven’t heard a peep out of the local MPs about this failure to reform, which is all the more disappointing.”
Oakeshott said: “Over time, I realised I had more to give, and the politics was still in my blood. I believe the representation of the mid-north coast is currently poor, and I strongly believe I can do better for all of us.”
“Because of this, I feel an obligation to stand, and to allow voters the choice to either agree or disagree. Ultimately, I am hoping this decision creates a referendum on representation in Cowper, and whether the community deserves better. I think we do.”
Cowper is held by the National party’s Luke Hartsuyker, who won 53% of the primary vote and 59% in two-party preferred terms at the 2013 election. Oakeshott’s old seat of Lyne is held by David Gillespie for the Nationals.
Oakeshott denied his nomination was a last-minute decision.
“I have nominated as per the normal rules of the Australian Electoral Commission. In an unusually long 10-week campaign, it is understandable why some people may think this is a ‘last-minute’ decision. It is not,” he said.
“Having been through six elections, announcements are normally made in line with the AEC rules.”
Explaining why he chose to stand for Cowper, Oakeshott said: “I felt it appropriate to stand in the seat I live in. I haven’t moved, my home hasn’t moved, the boundaries of electorates have.”
In addition to Port Macquarie, Cowper takes in Coffs Harbour, Bellingen, Nambucca, Kempsey and the Macleay valley.
Oakeshott said he had learned a lot and “reflected deeply” on the “extraordinary events of 2010”. Along with independents Tony Windsor, Andrew Wilkie and the Greens, Oakeshott made a deal with Julia Gillard to guarantee confidence votes and supply in the hung parliament after the 2010 election.
“Every election is different, and the numbers and personalities always change. Lightning never strikes twice,” he said.
Oakeshott said in 17 years in state and federal parliament he had never supported a no-confidence motion or blocked supply. “It would be up to party leaders to reach out if they felt the need to formalise arrangements with a piece of paper to help form government.
“This is therefore a matter for Malcolm Turnbull. As prime minister, he would have ‘first go’ in this process of forming government in the House of Representatives. I would not block his efforts to do so, and would accept his phone call if he wanted to formalise something in more detail.”
He reminded voters the prime minister remained in office during and after an election, so “they therefore have the responsibility to lead on any process of negotiation, in the unlikely event that it may occur”.
Speaking on Sky after the announcement, Oakeshott took aim at Turnbull’s criticism of minor parties and refusal to deal with them in a hung parliament.
“It’s sad to hear the leader of our nation saying he will only talk to people in his party and nobody else. That is a problem for reform in the future,” Oakeshott said.
“The Coalition should talk to others in Senate and the House of Representatives to get things done. [Turnbull] isn’t going to control Senate – so the Coalition has got to stop pretending they can only talk to themselves and themselves alone.”
Asked about the possibility of Oakeshott running before the announcement on Friday, Labor’s Anthony Albanese said: “I think that Rob Oakeshott is a very decent man and I am certainly prepared to say that. But that is a decision for him. I frankly would be very surprised.”
Innovation minister Christopher Pyne said: “Time to hang up the boots, I think.”