Northern Tablelands is a 30,546 km² rural electorate, covering the uplands of northern New South Wales. It is centred on the university city of Armidale; other towns included in the electorate are Inverell, Glen Innes, Tenterfield and Uralla. The northern boundary of the electorate is the Queensland border. At the 2003 election, there were 42,886 enrolled voters.
In 2007, the low level of population growth in the electorate led to Northern Tablelands being expanded, both to the west to take in Warialda and Bingara and to the south to take in Walcha and Nowendoc, increasing its area to 44,674 km². According to the report for the 2004 redistribution of electoral districts, it was estimated that the electoral district would have 48,942 electors on 29 April 2007.
The first member after its recreation in 1981 was Bill McCarthy, a Labor member, who had previously been the member for the abolished electorate of Armidale. McCarthy was a popular member, and held the seat for Labor as the region trended increasingly conservative. McCarthy had developed serious health problems by the 1984 state election, but was persuaded to recontest to maintain Labor control of the seat; he subsequently died in office in 1987. Labor endorsed McCarthy's widow, Thelma, at the subsequent by-election, but she was narrowly defeated by National Party candidate Ray Chappell after a heavily-publicised campaign. Chappell was re-elected with little difficulty three times, but in the 1999 election faced a challenge from the popular ex-mayor of Armidale, Richard Torbay, standing as an independent. In a shock result Torbay won the seat with a comfortable margin, continuing a trend in NSW country areas for National Party candidates to be rejected in favour of local independents. In 2007, he was appointed Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, the first independent to fulfill the role since 1917.