Former dairy farmer turned regional journalist Sophie Baldwin has announced her campaign as an Independent for the seat of Mallee in this year's federal election.
At 81,962 square kilometres, Mallee is the largest Division in Victoria, spanning from Maryborough in the south, Cohuna to the east, Edenhope to the west and Mildura to the north.
Contributing an estimated $4.2 billion in agricultural GDP, the seat has historically been one of the safest National seats in Australia, currently held by Nationals MP Anne Webster since 2019.
However, Ms Baldwin says community sentiment is shifting.
"A lot of people we've spoken to are sick of party politics," she said.
"I think there is a real appetite for Independents in the region.
"People don't feel like party politics is serving them anymore, at the end of the day you're elected to serve your community and not the big donors or anyone else."
The former dairy farmer said while her list for community change was long, agricultural concerns were at the forefront of everything she did.
Ms Baldwin is the current executive officer of Southern Riverina Irrigators (SRI), a lobby group representing 1800 Riverina farming families contributing to the local agricultural industry.
The candidate said her expertise and background in water advocacy means she's committed to providing better outcomes for the region's farmers.
"Obviously water is a huge issue," she said.
"The impacts of the Murray Darling Basin Plan have been widely felt across the Mallee region."
The $13 billion basin plan was considered a milestone in water reform, providing a coordinated approach to water usage across the basin's four states and the ACT.
However, Ms Baldwin said the plan had left the Mallee region behind.
"I represent SRI in the water space and we couldn't even get the water minister to respond to a letter," she said.
"While I support the key goal of the basin plan, which is a connected river system, I disagree that the success of the basin plan is based around a rigid numbered target about what's allocated to each region, essentially they've implemented this and nowhere along have they taken a step back to see what's actually happening.
"I also certainly don't support more water leaving the agricultural sector."
Beyond water, Ms Baldwin says her politics will be led by the community.
"I want to see the Mallee have a voice and have their concerns listened to and actioned, it's a good start to actually get out into your community and listen to them," she said.
"Often the community already has the answers for their issues, they just need someone to listen and act."
In 2021, current federal member for Mallee, National's MP Anne Webster said she did not support a net-zero policy.
For Ms Baldwin, the balancing act of agriculture and climate change is a big task - but one she's willing to take on.
"I certainly support reducing emissions. I certainly support what the experts are saying, and provided the technology is there to support it," she said.
"There's no point going for net zero but not having the infrastructure to support it.
"Obviously we have to be mindful of the impacts on agriculture and our communities, but we do need a healthy environment."
Ms Baldwin says she doesn't have big aspirations for political power, only to serve her community honestly - without what she calls "the political nonsense".
When asked why she's the right person for the job, Ms Baldwin hesitated.
"Ha, I'm not even sure I am," she said.
"But if you want change, sometimes you just have to make it happen yourself.
"I've been a dairy farmer for 24 years, been a rural journalist for 14 years. I've been out and about in rural communities all my life so I have a real passion for the rural community and I want to see it thrive."
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