Gippsland, McMillan not on leaders’ radars

WHILE Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott spend most of the election campaign wooing voters with big spending promises in strategically targeted areas across the country, neither has signalled the intention that they, their ministers or shadow ministers will visit the electorates of McMillan and Gippsland.

The election still has several weeks to go but the absence to date of senior federal leaders in the area suggests the Coalition is at least quietly confident of retaining both local seats.

The Liberal Party’s Russell Broadbent holds McMillan by a margin of 4.2 per cent which, according to most definitions, remains relatively marginal – it comes in at 21 on the Tally Room’s pendulum of the Coalition’s 72 seats in an order of most marginal to least.

However national political scientist Nick Economou told The Express last week he believed, in a “government-changing election”, current Coalition MPs were likely to win “comfortably”, securing bigger swings in the process.

Meanwhile Gippsland is held by National Party member of parliament Darren Chester by 11.5 per cent, a swing that sees him listed at 50 on the pendulum. Given Gippsland has only ever been in conservative hands, history shows Mr Chester would be very hard to beat.

The Express asked federal candidates across McMillan and Gippsland for their thoughts on this issue.

While Mr Chester said there was “no such thing as a safe seat” and he was “working as hard today as I did when I was first elected in 2008,” numerous other candidates agreed residents benefited when margins were narrower.

DLP Democratic Labour candidate for McMillan Andrew Kis-Rigo said it would be “better if the current MPs had more competition” and claimed his party offered a genuine alternative “to challenge the sitting MPs” while The Greens candidate for McMillan Malcolm McKelvie said a “closely held seat” was better for the community and called for a “contest between parties that care about people more than profits”.

Independent climate change candidate for Gippsland Peter Gardner said if enough votes were “cast away from the sitting members, the seats may become more marginal and perhaps even go to preferences”, adding “this can only be a good thing”.

McMillan independent Leigh Gatt said it would be “a lot better if the seats were harder to hold on to”, claiming that would compel elected MPs to “make more of an effort to get things done in their electorates to impress their constituents.”

Palmer United Party candidate for Gippsland Debbie Gravenell said she believed when MPs had “been in power for a long time they tend to become complacent in their role to serve the community and if a representative or party is not doing the job we expect of them they should be replaced.”

Senator Online candidate for McMillan Gary Patton said he believed McMillan voters had become increasingly “savvy” and a candidate’s ability to obtain or retain a seat was “dependent upon their individual performance and, if applicable, that of their political party”.

“Do the healthy margins still exist? Let’s wait until 7 September to find out what the people think… if the people think it’s time for a change then no margin, healthy or otherwise, will stop the change from occurring,” he said.

Meanwhile Mr Chester said while “so-called marginal seats may get the media attention”, he and colleague Mr Broadbent were “continually striving to deliver results”.