Gippsland is one of safest seats in the country for the Nationals and the LNP coalition and after Nichols is the second safest coalition electorate in Victoria. The electorate of Monash is another matter, although generally it is considered safe Liberal on a seven percent margin.
Since its inception in 1949 the seat of Monash – then McMillan – has been variously held by Liberals, Nationals, Labor and an Independent. Between 1980 and 2004 the seat was marginal, swapping between Liberal and Labor members, but since 2004 has been held by the current LNP incumbent Russell Broadbent. Broadbent benefited from the realignment of electorate boundaries to exclude the then solid labour area of most of the Latrobe Valley. Jessica O’Donnell, who stood for the ALP in 2019, is their candidate again. Mat Morgan is a keen young Greens candidate.
But the big difference this time around is the Voices for Monash candidacy of Phillip Island solicitor Deb Leonard. She joins a group of more than 20 other “Voices” candidates around the country, some of whom have been attracting a substantial amount of attention. It is difficult to assess whether any of this will ‘spin-off’ for Deb in the Monash electorate – perhaps in attracting more media attention than usual. The main policies of Deb, and most of the other ‘voices’ candidates, are threefold – science based climate action, integrity in politics, and gender equality.
The task before Deb Leonard in Monash is formidable. She needs to be in the top three in the ballot and to take about 10% of the vote from both Labor and the Libs. Whilst the chances of winning from third place are slim, Monash/McMillan provides an interesting example of this. Wikipedia noted that in 1972 Henry Arthur Hewson “was elected to the Australian House of Representatives as the Country Party member for McMillan, despite receiving only 16.6% of the primary vote. This was one of the lowest primary votes achieved by a successful candidate, elected in a single seat electorate, in the history of Australian elections.”
In Debs’ favour there are at least three active climate groups in the electorate and opinion polls have indicated for some time that a substantial majority of the population want climate action. Also the incumbent is lumbered with his extraordinary position on covid and vaccinations but how this will play out at the poll remains unknown. Then there are the ‘unknown unknowns’ – such as preference flows, the role of the Murdoch media and the Palmer advertising. Their blatant campaigning may backfire on them.
Deb Leonard needs to poll at least 20% of the primary vote in Monash and to have taken a substantial amount of that from the incumbent. She also needs to draw primaries from all the other candidates, including the greens and for there to be a strong flow of preferences to her. At the moment none of the election gurus consider that the seat of Monash is in play. One twist may be for the flow of preferences to favour the ALP. Of the two Gippsland seats Monash is the one to watch.