Russell Northe, Victorian Nationals MP, to leave party over mental illness and gambling

Russell Northe, Victorian Nationals MP, to leave party over mental illness and gambling

Russell Northe, Victorian Nationals MP, to leave party over mental illness and gambling

Updated 28 August 2017, 12:05 AEST

Victorian Nationals MP Russell Northe will see out his term as an independent, as he battles mental illness and gambling issues, and owes substantial debts to a number of people in his electorate.

Victorian Nationals MP Russell Northe has resigned from the party but will remain in Parliament, as he works to recover from depression and gambling issues.

The MP for Morwell has been on paid leave since June, after announcing he was taking a break to deal with mental health issues.

Mr Northe said he would see out the rest of his term in Parliament as an independent MP, to relieve himself of his broader responsibilities to the Nationals, giving him more time to serve the electorate and continue to work through his personal challenges.

Mr Northe told the ABC he had been struggling for a number of recent years without realising.

He said he didn't understand the emotional toll events like the Black Saturday fires, the Morwell mine fire, and the closure of the Hazelwood power station and the Carter Holt Harvey sawmill had taken on him.

"People's lives are thrown into turmoil and they come to you for assistance and help, and in many respects you can't find the solution or answers for them, and whilst you try your best to help them, it does add to that emotional toll," he said.

"To be fair, I didn't pick up on the signs that I was suffering from some form of mental illness, or depression, and there's a few things that have probably happened in my life, and my family's life, in the last three to four years that probably escalated that."

The ABC understands the Morwell MP, who has been on paid leave since June, has racked up significant personal debts, partly linked to gambling.

The ABC is aware of at least four Gippsland businesspeople who were approached by Mr Northe, 51, and asked to lend him money.

They are now owed a substantial amount, but it is not known how much Mr Northe owes in total, nor how many people he owes.

"He said he desperately needed the money because he was in financial stress," one source said.

Mr Northe promised at least one of the creditors he would repay them as soon as he could liquidate some assets. The debts remain outstanding.

The ABC has been told the money trail extends to "mum and dad" National Party members who were also approached by Mr Northe.

'I was very close to not being here': Northe

An emotional Mr Northe said a number of people had been trying to support him over the years but he had pushed them away.

"It got to the point where I literally couldn't get out of bed. I'm lucky to be here, there's probably a few times I was very, very close to not being here," he said.

"But you have to fight, and that's what I've been trying to do — and I've only been able to do that with the support of my family and close friends."

He said he lost a close friend but didn't allow himself to grieve, had some difficult financial and business situations, and a family member had been caught up in the drug scene, which he said was "harrowing".

"I think as part of all those things that were happening in my life, both workwise and my personal life, you try to find outlets that bring you some joy or make you feel better," he said.

"That outlet that I looked at at times was an overindulgence in alcohol and gambling."

Nationals supporting Northe for 12 months

Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh said the party had been supporting Mr Northe for the last 12 months.

"He announced to the partyroom back in June he was going on mental health leave, at that time we were very relieved that he had finally accepted professional help," he said.

"We are very supportive of the fact he needs to look after his own personal health, and the health of his family."

Mr Walsh said he was aware Mr Northe had debts to others, but did not know the full details of the amount or the number of people involved.

He said he understood Mr Northe had been encouraged to get back to work to maintain some normality in his life.

"Russell has been getting professional mental health counselling, I'm sure he would not be returning if his advice was that he shouldn't be doing that," he said.

"My understanding is he hasn't done anything illegal and he hasn't broken any rules."

Mr Northe served as the Opposition's spokesman for liquor and gaming regulation for two years from December 2014 until December 2016.

At the time, he said he was standing down from his shadow portfolio to focus on his electorate, following the news the Hazelwood power station was closing down.

Premier Daniel Andrews said he wished Mr Northe and his family all the best.

"I hope he's getting the support that he needs in what is a very difficult time for him," he said.

"There are days to be about the politics, and then there are days to reflect on the fact that these are not easy roles to perform."

Russell Northe remains on paid leave

The revelations have left the Gippsland branch of the National Party searching for a replacement.

With 15 months until the state election, the ABC understands the party is struggling to identify a suitable local candidate.

The Nationals won the seat of Morwell by a margin of just 1.8 per cent at the 2014 election.

In June, Mr Northe took a leave of absence on full pay, to focus on his mental health.

It is not clear when he will return to work.

Mr Northe said he implored anyone experiencing mental health issues to seek help.

"My mistake was to not seek help and I hope people can learn from my error of judgement," he said.

Mr Northe, a life member of the Gippsland Football League and the Traralgon Football Netball Club, was first elected to the Victorian Parliament in November 2006.

He was re-elected in 2010 with a 14.1 per cent boost in his margin, the largest swing against Labor in Victoria.

In 2014, he defeated ALP candidate Jadon Mintern, who polled 48.2 per cent of the vote after preferences.