The Poll Bludger
Margin: Nationals 23.7%
Region: North-Western Regional, Victoria
In a nutshell: For as long as there has been a federal parliament, there has been a seat of Gippsland, and for as long as there has been a National/Country Party, the seat has been theirs.
Candidates in ballot paper order
The electorate of Mallee covers the north-western corner of Victoria, including the southern bank of the Murray River from Mildura and Swan Hall, and further territory south to Horsham. It is one of two seats in Victoria remaining to the Nationals, together with Gippsland. Andrew Broad retained the seat for the party in 2013 upon the retirement of John Forrest, the member since 1993, in the face of a determined challenge from the Liberals.
Mallee was created as an electorate with the expansion of parliament in 1949, prior to which the north-western corner of Victoria was accommodated by the electorate of Wimmera. Wimmera continued as an electorate immediately to the south of Mallee, encompassing Horsham and Stawell, but such was rural population decline that it was abolished in 1977, at which point Horsham was absorbed by Mallee and its territory further to the east was accommodated by a radical redrawing of Bendigo. Mallee has since been required to expand further, gaining 6000 voters in and around Stawell at the redistribution before the 2013 election.
The National/Country Party has held Mallee throughout the seat’s history, although Wimmera had a somewhat more complex time of it, being held by the Liberal Party from 1949 to 1958, and several varieties of conservative at other points since federation. When Mallee was vacated by Peter Fisher in 1993, his successor, John Forrest, was only narrowly successful in accounting for Liberal challenger Adrian Kidd, overcoming a 59-41 flow of Labor preferences in favour of the Liberals to prevail by 0.5% at the final count.
With Forrest’s retirement in 2013, the election developed into a contest between Nationals candidate Andrew Broad, a former president of the Victorian Farmers Federation, and Liberal candidate Chris Crewther, a 29-year-old lawyer and adviser to Senator Michael Ronaldson. The state Liberals’ determination to field a candidate caused considerable friction between the coalition parties, and was in defiance of the wishes of Tony Abbott. Broad declared that any opponent the Liberals might field against him would be “another Liberal Party muppet run out of Melbourne”, causing Liberal state director Damien Mantach to accuse him of a “shrill outburst”. The dispute reportedly motivated some Nationals to assist independent Cathy McGowan in her successful run against Liberal member Sophie Mirabella in the neighbouring seat of Indi.
In the event, Broad prevailed by a comfortable 6.2% after preferences, his dominance in the rural parts of the electorate overwhelming modest Liberal majorities in the Mildura and Stawell booths. Labor had sought to stir the point by directing preferences to the Liberals, but their vote in fact split evenly between the two candidates. Katter’s Australian Party and Palmer United Party preferences favoured Crewther, but were well short of what he needed to wear down Broad’s 11.5% lead on the primary vote. Crewther has since won Liberal preselection to contest the Melbourne seat of Dunkley at the coming election.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.