Eden-Monaro election races have always been tight. Never more so than in the by-election on Saturday, 4 July, when 14 candidates will line up in a seat held by Labor with a wafer-thin margin.
Given that Liberal candidate Fiona Kotvojs came within 1500 votes of taking the seat from well-respected incumbent Mike Kelly in 2019, it’s very likely the contest will go to preferences. Among the minor parties and independents, the Greens; Shooters, Farmers and Fishers; and Nationals will gather up many of the remaining votes.
Reports in The Australian suggest that despite official National Party how-to-vote material preferencing the Liberal Party, Nationals supporters on the ground are asking voters to preference Labor although this has been denied by NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro.
Both Greens candidate Cathy Griff and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Matt Stadtmiller have indicated they will also preference Labor ahead of the Liberals.
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate says he wants to draw a clear line between his party’s stance and that of the Federal Government, which he blames for poor disaster management throughout the fires and a failure to assist people afterwards.
The party’s how-to-vote card gives second spot to the Christian Democratic Party’s Narelle Storey, and third to Jason Potter from the Australian Federation Party. Mr Stadtmiller says those calls have been made by the party on the basis of long-established relationships in the NSW Parliament.
The ALP’s Kristy McBain is at number four, ahead of Fiona Kotvojs for the Liberals.
“We are suggesting to people they should direct their vote away from the Coalition because of their handling of the fires,” says Mr Stadtmiller, also noting what he calls “mixed messaging” about COVID-19 and poor handling of drought assistance and recovery.
“The biggest thing for me is the fires – watching the state burn and there being no plan, no relief fund to get people looked after. The fact there are people who still don’t have a roof over their heads. That’s disgraceful.
“I think it will be a very tight race based on the .09 point gap between two major parties last time. We may swing it and be able to influence the outcome by running a strong campaign as a minor party.”
The Greens’ Cathy Griff is also very conscious that her preferences could swing the vote. They’ll go to Labor ahead of Liberal and she believes Greens votes probably got Mike Kelly over the line at the 2019 federal election.
Ms Griff is critical of people who don’t see the value in preferential voting, which she sees as the key to a strong environmental message from voters.
“Voting one Green and two Labor is like getting two bites of the cherry,” says Griff. “It sends a strong message to the Federal Government about climate change, which is our number one concern. We have seen that grow since the last election, even from the Tathra bushfire [in 2018] when you couldn’t mention climate change.”
That’s not to say she’s endorsing Labor climate policy. Ms Griff says she and the Greens are highly critical of the ALP stance on gas and the Adani mine. She says mining fossil fuels and advocating for renewables at the same time is “like having the heat on and turning on the air-conditioner at the same time”.
However, the Greens believe the ALP is still more likely to be proactive about climate change than the Coalition.
“Both Liberal and Labor candidates say they recognise climate change at least. But we feel we’re decades beyond mere recognition. What we need is urgent action.
“This is a wealthy country. We can afford to spend at the critical juncture with maintaining unemployment services, childcare and the like. This is not a time for austerity, but for significant government investment, especially in an area of NSW where poverty rates are double the state average.”
Region Media has made multiple unsuccessful attempts to contact Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks, whose media profile has been low (although social media reveals he’s spent some time waving at passing motorists throughout the electorate).
About Regional has extended a personal invitation to all Eden-Monaro candidates, including Mr Hicks, to submit a short video. You can see them here.