The Poll Bludger
Margin: Liberal 20.9%
Region: Rural Northern, Victoria
Outgoing member: Sharman Stone (Liberal)
In a nutshell: The retirement of Sharman Stone has initiated the biggest intra-Coalition contest of the election in her seat of Murray, where Liberal candidate Duncan McGauchie faces state Nationals MP Damian Drum.
Candidates in ballot paper order
ALAN JOHN WILLIAMS
To be vacated at the election by the retirement of Sharman Stone, the northern Victorian seat of Murray looms as a contest between the Liberals and the Nationals, Stone having ended a long period of National/Country Party control when she gained the seat for the Liberals in 1996. The electorate covers an area of central northern Victoria including a 200 kilometre stretch of the river that bears its name, from Gunbower east through Echuca to Yarrawonga and Bundalong. From there it extends southwards into the Goulburn Valley region as far as Inglewood in the west and Nagambie and Euroa in the east. Its largest population centre by a considerable margin is Shepparton, home to about a third of its population, followed by Echuca, accounting for about 10%. The electorate was created with the expansion of parliament in 1949, but an earlier electorate called Echuca had similar boundaries through its existence from federal to 1937, when its territory was divided between Bendigo in the west and Indi in the east. Murray’s dimensions have not substantially changed at any time since 1949, apart from a slight reorientation westwards when the electorate of Wimmera was abolished in 1984.
The area in question was the domain of the Country Party from its formation in 1920 until Sharman Stone’s win for the Liberals upon the retirement of Bruce Lloyd in 1996. John McEwen began his federal parliamentary career as the member for Echuca in 1934 before moving to Indi when it was abolished the following term, then transferred to Murray in 1949 and remained there until his retirement in 1971. McEwen served as leader of the Country Party after 1958 and, for three weeks following Harold Holt’s disappearance at the end of 1967, Prime Minister. McEwen was succeeded on his retirement in 1971 by Bruce Lloyd, who held the seat until 1996. In a sadly typical outcome for the Nationals, the seat fell to the Liberals when Lloyd retired in 1996, Sharman Stone outpolling the Nationals candidate 43.2% to 29.7% and prevailing by 3.7% after the distribution of preferences. The Liberals had intermittently fielded candidates against Lloyd throughout his career, but always finished third behind Labor.
Sharman Stone served as a parliamentary secretary from after the 1998 election until January 2006, when she was promoted to the junior ministry as Workforce Participation Minister. After the 2007 election defeat she assumed environment, heritage, the arts and indigenous affairs, the first of which was shared with Greg Hunt, before being promoted to shadow cabinet in the immigration and citizenship portfolio when Malcolm Turnbull became leader in September 2008. She was demoted to the outer shadow ministry position of early childhood education and childcare when Turnbull was replaced by Tony Abbott in December 2009, having supported Turnbull during Abbott’s leadership challenge, and relegated to the back bench after the 2010 election. In February 2014, Stone accused Abbott and Joe Hockey of lying about union conditions for workers at the SPC Ardmona cannery in Shepparton after the government’s rejection of a bid for $25 million in assistance put the future of its 2700 jobs in doubt. When asked at the time if she intended to remain in the Liberal Party, Stone said only that it was “to be seen how things pan out”.
Stone announced her decision to retire at the election in March, initiating a preselection contest won by Duncan McGauchie, a former policy adviser to the then Victorian premier, Ted Baillieu, from a field of five contenders. McGauchie faces strong opposition from Nationals candidate Damian Drum, a former Fremantle Dockers AFL coach who has represented the region in the state upper house since 2002, who won preselection unopposed.
In the first week of the campaign, a report in The Australian said the Nationals were “increasingly optimistic” about Damian Drum’s chances. However, Labor was said to be dangling a carrot before the Liberals by offering to direct preferences to their candidate ahead of Drum, in exchange for the Liberals dropping plans to preference the Greens ahead of Labor in the inner northern Melbourne seat of Wills.
Analysis by William Bowe. Read William’s blog, The Poll Bludger.