Nats good showing in Victoria bodes well for party

The National Party holds its Federal line, despite challenges


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Mallee Nationals MP Dr Anne Webster

Mallee Nationals MP Dr Anne Webster

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National Party can be proud of its Victorian election results: commentator.

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The National Party's good showing in Victoria - retaining all its seats with only a slight dip in its two-party preferred vote - was a great result for the organisation, according to one of Australia's top political scientists.

The Nationals managed to keep the two-party preferred swing against them in three seats, Mallee, Gippsland and Nicholls, to less than three per cent.

And Monash University School of Political and Social Inquiry senior lecturer Dr Nick Economou said the party should be "absolutely rapt" by the result, in the context of what he said was a horror three years.

"The National Party was inflicted with the same internal torment as the Liberals; they had huge arguments over social policy and a leadership crisis, persistent white-anting of the leader and a sense there was a Queensland, versus the rest, divide," Dr Economou said.

"You would have thought the Nats would have lost seats.

"But, once again, the forecast of the demise of the National Party - which is as old as Australian political science itself - has not come to pass."

Monash University School of Political and Social Inquiry senior lecturer Dr Nick Economou

Monash University School of Political and Social Inquiry senior lecturer Dr Nick Economou

Read more: Independent's day poll

Another positive aspect was that the election saw what Dr Economou said were coalition "troublemakers", such as the former member for Warringah Tony Abbott, lose their seats.

"All the troublemakers have gone, except for Barnaby (Joyce) and perhaps he ought to think about his future, as well," Dr Economou said.

"I don't think there is much sympathy of Barnaby left in the joint party room."

"I think it's a great result for the coalition, against all expectations, and all that does is reinforce that strong leadership team, including (the Nationals) Michael McCormack."

He said the Nationals had addressed the issue of gender balance, in choosing Ms Webster, without making 'a big song and dance".

Bold statement

He said the National Party had to make a bold statement for the seat of Mallee, following Mr Broad's resignation over the Sugar Baby scandal, with a strong preselection.

But that needed to be followed up with strong voter endorsement.

The seat was won by Dr Anne Webster, although she suffered a 2.92 per cent swing against her, on a two-party preferred basis.

"You had the three independents, and each of them was popular in their own little area, so for them to work to get a big anti-government swing was hard," Dr Economou said.

"The anti-government swing was very small, they didn't get anywhere, and now she stands on the edge of a really long parliamentary career," Dr Economou said.

In the lead up to the election, Dr Economou said he felt the formerly safe National seat was vulnerable, particularly to a high profile local independent.

The state district of Mildura in Victoria's rural far north-west, previously held by the National Party, was won by independent Ali Cupper in last year's State election.

"Mildura comprises about half of the federal seat of Mallee, whose sitting member, Andrew Broad, has since resigned over an internet sex scandal," Dr Economou said at the time..

Read more: Mallee MP withdraws his nomination for next year's Federal election

Ms Webster has expressed her gratitude to Wimmera residents who voted for her.

She won the seat against Labor candidate Carole Hart, one of a field of 13 candidates, including three high profile independents.

The National Party representative is the first woman to hold the seat.

Dr Webster said she was humbled and optimistic, though did not directly acknowledge the swing against her.

"I look forward to continuing the strong Nationals tradition of delivering and fighting for Mallee," Dr Webster said.

"I look forward to delivering the election promises made over the last month, and continuing what I've started in terms of listening to people."

Dr Webster, of Mildura, is the founder of Zoe Support, a not-for-profit assisting young mothers through pregnancy, parenting, and re-engagement with education.

Close call

But Deakin University School of Humanities and Social Sciences senior lecturer Geoffrey Robinson said he believed the vote could have gone against Ms Webster.

He said the vote was fragmented by three independents, who received between three and 10 pc of the ballot.

The seat also saw one of the highest informal votes in the country, at more than 10pc.

"Her primary vote was way down, and I thought if there had been one strong independent, it would have been run a lot closer," Dr Robinson said.

"I was a bit surprised by the Liberal Party getting nearly 18pc of the vote, with a very low profile candidate.

"It was a good performance by her but there are some danger signs - she was a strong chance, and the party made a good choice in picking her, but she was lucky, I think."

While the party's 71-year old stranglehold on the seat remained unbroken, Dr Robinson said he was surprised by the strength of the vote for the Liberal candidate, Serge Petrovich from Portarlington.

Mr Petrovich took 17.64pc cent of the primary vote, with a 10.55pc swing towards him.

Dr Robinson was one of several commentators who said the party did well in choosing Ms Webster as a candidate.

"They are sometimes smarter at picking candidates than the Liberals, and promoting women," Dr Robinson said.

"Mallee is like an inside track for Victorian Farmers Federation officials, similar to unions in the Labor Party," Dr Robinson said.

Independent commentator Kevin Bonham agreed the result had been skewed by the number of candidates and a three-cornered contest.

"You do get this problem where there are multiple independents, using up resources on multiple campaigns," he said.

"It seems like it (choosing Ms Webster) was the right thing to do, there is a bit of discontent, and a meaningful swing away, but it's not as big, under the circumstances."

He said he didn't think the scandal involving Mr Broad had any significant bearing on the result.

"All things considered, quite often voters don't respond to scandals involving a previous member," Dr Bonham said.

"The Nationals responded to that by choosing a completely different candidate, which I said at the time was a good decision."

Corangamite falls

Commentators agreed the Labor Party only won Corangamite on the back of a redistribution.

Traditional Labor voting boots to the west of the seat were transferred to Liberal MP Wannon's Dan Tehan.

AEC figures showed a swing of 1.78pc towards the Labor candidate, Libby Coker, tipping out Liberal incumbent Sarah Henderson.

"From what I can gather, the redistribution caused the only Labor gains in Victoria, and Corangamite was one of them," Dr Economou said.

"In a situation like that, she shouldn't take it personally, that's how it is.

"She was cruelled by the redistribution when they hived off the western part of the electorate and put it in Wannon; she was going to struggle."

The Bellarine Peninsula and areas around Geelong had also taken Corangamite from being a rural seat to a peri-urban one.

In Wannon, sitting Liberal MP Dan Tehan increased his two-party preferred lead, over Labor's Maurice Billi, by 1.48pc, with nearly 60pc of votes cast.

Gippsland Nationals MP Darren Chester

Gippsland Nationals MP Darren Chester

In Gippsland, sitting member Darren Chester saw a slight two-party preferred swing away from him, taking the seat with 68.21pc of the vote, against Labor candidate Antoinette Holm, who was on 31.79pc.

Of the minor parties, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate David Sterling claimed 6.9pc of the vote, while Kerri Jane Brewer, United Australia Party, picked up 4.37pc.

Mr Chester said he hoped to work with other levels of government and the community to make "huge progress" in the new term of government.

"I will remain focussed on supporting jobs in our traditional industries and creating new opportunities, particularly for young people," Mr Chester said.

"We need to invest in the education and training opportunities for Gippslanders to allow our youth to achieve their full potential in our communities, without always being forced to relocate to big cities.

Mr Chester said he wanted to see more government investment in new and emerging industries, particularly tourism.

"I will be calling on the State Government to show more interest in the Gippsland electorate and inviting the Premier (Dan Andrews) and his senior ministers to work with us on positive plans to grow our region, starting with budget funding for the Princes Highway duplication and the Macalister Irrigation District."

In Nicholls, Nationals MP Damian Drum saw a swing against him, towards the Labor Party candidate Bill Lodwick, of 1.51pc.

Indi bucks trend

The result in Indi reflected the upset win by the coalition, according to Monash University Associate Professor Paul Strangio.

Independent Helen Haines won the set, formerly held by Cathy McGowan, but the margin was reduced by nearly 4pc, with the votes leaking to Liberal candidate Steve Martin.

But by contrast, the Nationals Mark Byatt saw the party's first preference vote drop by nearly eight per cent.

Assoc Prof Strangio.said the Liberal Party targeted Indi and thought they had a strong possibility of winning it back..

"It goes to the pattern of things we expected, but that didn't transpire generally," Assoc Prof Strangio said.

"There was always the complication of the coalition having a three-cornered contest, that was always a challenge for them."

The result defied popular understanding, in that independents usually developed relationships with electors and had a large personal following, so were hard to replace.

"Where you have a transition from one independent to another and the newcomer has held the seat is an interesting phenomenon," Assoc Prof Strangio said.

"The loss of that personal incumbency factor would loosen the independent's grip on the election, but that hasn't happened.

"I imagine it's a grassroots kind of thing, Voices for Indi would still seem to be a powerful mobilising factor there.

"Helen Haines campaigned pretty powerfully around climate change, which was a bit counter-intuitive, to some of the broader picture, coming out of what was lead in the saddlebags for the Labor Party."

Dr Economou said he wasn't surprised by the Nationals showing in Indi.

The electorate was more urban than a seat like Mallee, with tree-changers and livestock producers more likely to support the major coalition party.

"Voters there tend to be strong supporters of the Liberals, in the same way that farmers in Tasmania are supporters of the Liberals, not the Nationals," he said.

Dr Bonham said the fight for Indi seemed to have been well organised and the fact Ms Haines was the only independent helped her.

Over the border, in Farrer, there was evidence sitting MP Sussan Ley had benefited from incumbency.

Commentators said concerns over the NSW National Party, which had translated into the loss of two seats in this year's state poll, had not flowed into the Federal sphere.

"In the NSW election, there was clear evidence of dissatisfaction with the state National Party, but I suspect that was to do with state issues," Dr Economou said.

Ms Ley took 61pc of the two-party preferred vote, against 39pc, for independent, Albury Mayor Kevin Mack.

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