Reports that Federal member for Lyne, Dr David Gillespie, suggested people in his electorate did not bring up the issue of climate change have been met with disbelief and condemnation.
The Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review and The Guardian all reported that Dr Gillespie and Barnaby Joyce claimed constituents in their electorates did not want more action on climate change at a Nationals party room meeting, following Joyce's failed bid to replace Michael McCormack as leader.
SMH political and international editor, Peter Hartcher, wrote: "(Barnaby) Joyce and David Gillespie said people in their electorates didn't bring up climate change, 'so we shouldn't be misled by the media and the Green left into thinking this is a bigger issue than it really is.'"
He is either misinformed or not listening to the voters.John Watts, Groundswell Gloucester
Bonny Hills resident, Catherine Potts, was shocked when she read the report in the February 8 edition of the SMH.
"It made me sit up in bed and spill my tea," she said.
"I was flabbergasted and angry."
In response, Ms Potts wrote to both Dr Gillespie and a number of Australian Community Media publications across the region.
"If you feel this does not reflect your views on climate change or you think that your local member could be being misrepresented and falsely accused of denying the concerns constituents of Lyne have concerning climate change in his electorate, then I encourage you to contact the Member for Lyne to express your views," she wrote to the Great Lakes Advocate and Manning River Times.
The Manning River Times has since received numerous letters in response, the majority of which condemned Dr Gillespie's alleged comments.
Dr Gillespie was contacted about the reports but declined to respond beyond saying: "The report is inaccurate."
Ms Potts believed this was an evasive response.
"I think he's dodging the issue," she said.
Member of the MidCoast Knitting Nannas, Linda Gill, said it was highly disappointing to read that Dr Gillespie had allegedly misrepresented the sentiments of a significant proportion of his electorate.
The group hold climate protests outside Dr Gillespie's office in Taree every Friday.
Groundswell Gloucester, the community group who helped stop the contentious Rocky Hill coalmine from going ahead in Gloucester, also responded to the reports.
"It is difficult to understand how Dr Gillespie could possibly suggest that voters in the electorate of Lyne are not very concerned about climate change, particularly when the communities within the seat of Lyne were recently so badly hit by drought and bushfires," Groundswell spokesperson John Watts said.
"He is either misinformed or not listening to the voters."
Ms Gill called on Dr Gillespie to clarify his position.
"Whether the reports were inaccurate or not, he needs to comment," she said.
"He needs to tell the electorate where he stands on climate change and what he's going to do about it."
But she also believed there was a positive side to the controversy Dr Gillespie's alleged comments had caused.
"The positive thing is more people are becoming more aware in this electorate," Ms Gill said.
"It brings more attention to it."
A nation-wide ABC survey of 54,000 people in 2019 found that 72 per cent of those surveyed believed climate change was a problem for them personally.
It emerged as the leading cause for concern among the survey's participants, rating higher than both saving for retirement and health.
In October 2019, the MidCoast Council declared a climate emergency, calling on other levels of government to take clear steps to avert a climate crisis.