A lack of high-profile candidates to challenge the Labor stranglehold on both state seats in Bendigo is behind the relative inactivity ahead of the November election, a political commentator believes.
Five months out from the state election, Bendigo West – a seat held by Labor member Maree Edwards – is the only regional Victorian seat to not have a Coalition candidate, although the Victorian Greens and Liberals have indicated their intention to field a challenger.
Honorary associate in politics at La Trobe University Bendigo Ian Tulloch said a combination of Bendigo West being considered a ‘safe seat’ – Ms Edwards holds it by a margin of 12 per cent – and Liberal Party finances were behind the dawdling.
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“Only the Liberals can win in Bendigo West, but a paucity of funding at a state administrative level and in my view the paucity of well-know high-profile candidates is holding them back,” he said.
“In order to win that seat with such a margin, which is almost impossible in my view, they need an outstanding candidate and if there was such a candidate, they’d already be known.”
Bendigo West has been a Labor seat since 1996, while transport minister Jacinta Allan has held the Bendigo East electorate since 1999.
Mr Tulloch said the changing demographic of the region had cemented Labor’s grip on power.
“You get a lot of people shifting from parts of Melbourne into this area, and those people are mobile, educated, middle class and most likely to vote Labor or Greens,” he said.
He referenced Castlemaine, located in the Bendigo West electorate, where the Greens vote was higher.
And he believed the Greens would field candidates in both seats in order to maximise the amount of upper house votes it received through how to vote cards.
Single issues like the proposed Marong Business Park and transport links were unlikely to change a person’s vote, but more likely to entrench views of Liberal and National party voters, Mr Tulloch said.
It would be “enormously expensive” for either party in the Coalition to mount a serious challenge in Bendigo West, he said.
Bendigo East candidate Gaelle Broad described her campaign as “grassroots”.
“I think that choice is really important for voters and I've had people say to me ‘this is a long shot that you're standing’ but I feel it’s worth the risk,” she said.
“It is disappointing if we’re heading towards a system in Australia where budgets play a big part in the decision to run.”
The Victorian Greens confirmed it would run candidates in both Bendigo seats and would look to make an announcement shortly, while a Liberal spokesperson said the party expects to finalise candidate selection for Bendigo West “in the near future”.
The Nationals state director Matthew Harris said the party was undecided on whether it would field a candidate in Bendigo West.
Incumbent Bendigo West MP Maree Edwards said she was sure the Liberals would “get their act together” and find a challenger, but the delay was indicative the party “don’t take Bendigo seriously”.
“They (Liberals) have been absent (in Bendigo West) for three and a half years. Their lack of interest in the electorate impacts on their credibility in terms of how they purport to be supportive of regional Victoria yet they can’t find a candidate,” she said.
“All those things to me indicate they have vacated the space because they just don’t care.”
Despite the apparent opposition vacuum, Ms Edwards said she didn’t take her position for granted and would fight “tooth and nail” to deliver the projects, programs and services that Bendigo West needs.