The seat of Mallee in Victoria has traditionally been a walk-in for the Nationals, but the race could be one to watch at this year’s federal election.
- The federal division of Mallee has been held by the Nationals for 70 years and enjoyed a swing of 23.7 per cent at the last election
- Nine candidates have nominated at this stage, including three independents
- Lecturer Nick Economou says the Nationals’ nomination of Anne Webster could bode well as the party’s selection of women was paying off
Six months after an independent won the state seat of Mildura from the Nationals, analysts are suggesting there could be an appetite for change.
Sitting Nationals MP Andrew Broad is not recontesting his seat, leaving parliament after an online dating scandal late last year, and a number of high profile independents are making their voices heard.
Ray Kingston farms 40 minutes from Horsham in Victoria’s west and is mounting a challenge for the seat.
He served as mayor of the Yarriambiack Council, home to the state’s now-famous tourist attraction the Silo Art Trail.
“Country people aren’t silly, they know we don’t get looked after,” he said.
It is a long way from Canberra, but the sheep farmer is hoping to be elected as the federal division of Mallee’s first independent.
“In the past [voters] didn’t have a credible alternative, rarely a candidate has run who people look at and think they can do a good job for us,” he said.
“I’m proposing I’m that credible alternative.”
Two other independents have also put their hat in the ring — Mildura’s Deputy Mayor Jason Modica and former Victorian Rural Woman of the Year Cecilia Moar.
The Nationals has held the seat for more than 70 years. Andrew Broad won the seat in 2016 with more than 70 per cent of the vote after preferences.
Jason Modica said it was a tough ask to unseat the Nationals, which won Mallee with a swing of 23.7 per cent.
“The Mallee may well have been a one-party region, but I don’t think it’s like that anymore,” Mr Modica said.
He said it could come down to preference deals between the independents.
“Everything would have to fall into place for an independent to win. Preferences have come up in discussion and it’ll come into play,” he said.
“People over 60 are saying they might have voted for Gough Whitlam, but have otherwise always voted Nationals.
“Now they are really considering their vote, and that is the dynamic change.”
Nationals losing ground in regional areas
Dr Anne Webster, Andrew Broad’s successor for the Nationals, will be seeking to hold onto the seat.
She said the recent New South Wales election — where just across the river from Mildura the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party won the seat of Murray from the Nationals with a 27 per cent swing — suggested some voters are turning away from her party.
“People don’t want to hear about politicians’ personal lives, they want to hear about them fighting for them and that’s what I intend to do,” Dr Webster said.
“I’m not a career politician, I’m too old for that. I am committed to seeing better outcomes for our regions.”
Nine candidates have nominated at this stage.
The Liberal Party has preselected a Melbourne barrister for the seat, and Labor has put forward a Maryborough social worker.
In 2016, there were five names on the ballot paper.
Nick Economou, a senior political lecturer for Monash University, said last year’s Victorian election also suggested there was a willingness for voters to turn to someone different.
“The Nationals lost ground and they were unable to regain Shepparton and they lost Mildura to an independent,” he said.
“The interesting thing was there were some very good results garnered by sitting Nationals MPs, and the common denominator is they were female members.
“It may be significant they have selected a female for the Mallee.
“It becomes an interesting contest.”
Joyce calls on a move to the right
Former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has called on the party to move further to the right to keep traditional voters from looking for alternative options such as the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers.
But Nick Economou said this might backfire in Victoria.
“I think he is part of the National Party’s problem and he seems to have a very inflated sense of his appeal,” Mr Economou said.
“I’m not sure a move to the right will resonate with Victorians, as well as in other areas of Australia.
“The tendency in the past, in Victorian elections, is if voters in regional areas aren’t happy with the Nationals or Liberals they are more likely to align themselves with a high-profile independent.”
‘Nationals will lose votes’: Kingston
Ray Kingston said he had no doubt voters would leave the Nationals in the upcoming election.
“There’s a lot of people out there, beyond me, who are very frustrated by the standard of representation we get in this part of the world,” the Victorian sheep farmer said.
“You have to look at the Nationals — they’re the ones who have held this seat for 70 years and I think there’s a lot of appetite for something new.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt voters will leave. It’s just a matter of ‘in what numbers’.”
Anne Webster said she believed voters were fed up with leadership talk, but believed there was power in electing a party like the Nationals.
“I think there’s definitely angst towards my party because there’s been too much ‘me’ talk,” she said.
“I think that the power of a party is that you can bring change.”
Mr Modica said he believed in a new era of politics in the Mallee.
“Only four people have held it and people are wondering what they get back,” he said.
“People are wondering if the Nationals have become disengaged with their heartland.
“It gives everyone who is running an opportunity.”
Topics: government-and-politics, nationals, federal-parliament, federal-election, federal-elections, elections, horsham-3400, mildura-3500, canberra-2600
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