Margin: Liberal 9.0%
Location: Northern Regional, Victoria
ROBERT DENIS MURPHY
Bordered to the north by the Murray River, Indi covers an area of northern Victoria including Wangaratta, Benalla and the border town of Wodonga. The redistribution sees it gain Murrindindi Shire and its 10,000 voters from McEwen in the south and lose Strathbogie Shire and its 7,500 voters to Murray in the west, which cuts the Liberal margin against Labor from 9.9% to 9.0%. The electorate has existed since federation and was won narrowly by Labor when they came to office in 1910, 1914 and 1929, before shifting decisively to the conservatives. The seat then went back and forth between the Country Party and the Liberal Party (together with its predecessor the United Australia Party), the member from 1937 to 1949 being Country Party titan John “Black Jack” McEwen, who moved to the new seat of Murray with the expansion of parliament in 1949.
The Liberals have held the seat without interruption since 1977, when National Country Party incumbent Mac Holten was defeated by Ewen Cameron on Labor preferences. The Nationals contested in 2001 when Liberal member Lou Lieberman retired, but managed only 12.3% against 40.1% for Liberal candidate Sophie Panopoulos, a barrister and Australians for Constititutional Monarchy activist. Panopoulos married in 2006 and assumed her husband’s surname of Mirabella. After the 2007 election defeat Mirabella was promoted to parliamentary secretary, and rose again to the junior ministry when Malcolm Turnbull became leader in September 2008. She assumed the early childhood education and childcare portfolios before moving to innovation, industry, science and research when Tony Abbott became leader in December 2009.
Mirabella appears to be facing a threat at the coming election from independent candidate Cathy McGowan, a rural consultant and former regional councillor for the Victorian Farmers Federation, whose challenge emerged out of a local activist group called Voice for Indi. McGowan’s profile was lifted when retiring New England independent Tony Windsor told the ABC’s Insiders program that Mirabella was the person he would least miss in politics, and that McGowan was an “excellent independent” whose campaign he might lend support. Labor’s candidate is Robyn Walsh, a cattle farmer and bed and breakfast operator from Yarck in the Shire of Murrindindi.
The Wangaratta Chronicle reported that Mirabella was sufficiently concerned about the threat posed by Cathy McGowan to be planning on a “six figure” campaign to defend the seat, although she responded that the figure had been “plucked out of the air”. A ReachTEL automated phone poll of 611 respondents conducted during the second week of the campaign had Mirabella leading McGowan 47% to 25% after distribution of the undecided.
Analysis written by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.