Strange bedfellows in Gippsland South by-election

The Greens have been spruiked as potential ‘kingmakers’ this Saturday at the Gippsland South by-election, with predictions pointing to another Nationals win through candidate Danny O’Brien.

With the Greens directing preferences to the Nationals, and the Labor party absent from the electoral race, Monash University political scientist Nick Economou has tipped electoral victory for the incumbent conservatives.

“By-elections can be notoriously difficult to predict, which will be all the more difficult when a major party (Labor) doesn’t participate,” Dr Economou said.

“In theory, given the Labor vote last time in the general election, about 20 per cent of the vote will be floating around for the taking.

“From this you have to presume the Greens primary vote is going to be inflated, which in this case will make them kingmakers in terms of who they preference.”

The Greens announced last week it would direct preferences to the Nationals after it declared support for an extended moratorium on coal seam gas exploration, and increased landholder rights to veto mining operations.

Greens candidate Andrea Millsom said she believed it was the second time in Australian political history the Greens had directed preferences to the Nationals.

“It was a difficult decision but obviously we had to have a very, very good reason for doing that. But it was clear the wishes of the electorate was to be fully represented in CSG interests so that was the reason why we chose that,” Ms Millsom said.

She said with a “notable silence” from Liberal candidate Scott Rossetti on the CSG issue, she said there was a “clear differentiation between the two conservative parties”.

Dr Economou said he saw the move as an attempt by the Greens to have “ownership” over the electoral result.

“Greens strategists are in position to claim some of the outcome here, and if the Nationals win the Greens then have a bargaining chip which they can use given their influence in (parliament’s) upper house,” he said.

The Greens preference deal is not the only case of strange political bedfellows this by-election, with former Labor candidate Darren McCubbin throwing his public support behind the Liberal candidate last fortnight.

“It’s a really serious game here for the Liberals because if they maintain the current Coalition agreement rules – which dictate they can only run a candidate against the Nationals in a by-election – they could win and stay there as long as they want,” Dr Economou said.

“This isn’t about shoring up the conservative vote, the Liberals see a real gold opportunity here and are playing for keeps.”

Saturday’s by-election was brought on through the sudden resignation of long-standing Nationals incumbent Peter Ryan in February, only two months after he was returned to power at the November state election with 65.67 of the two-party preferred vote.

The by-election will see eight candidates, including four independents and a Liberal Democrat member, vie for the seat which stretches from Korumburra to Sale, taking in Mirboo North and Rosedale.