Came and meet the amn who could be Victoria’s fourth independent MP on the hustings.
On Sunday 19 March, the Battle for Benalla begins when Independent candidate Bill Hill leads his inaugural Wine Tour through this delightful rural electorate.

This is your chance to meet the man who looks set to share the balance of power in Victoria’s Parliament – and enjoy the renowned fruits of Benalla’s vines.

Bill is mounting a strong challenge for Benalla and we believe he can win the seat – based on the 16% he secured when he stood against Pat McNamara in ’96, and the growing groundswell of support for Independents in Victoria.

A gourmet Bush BBQ will be provided by Mike Reid at his Auldstone Winery at Glenrowan, and Bill will share his country wisdom along the way, as we travel to some of the electorate’s top wineries, including Delatite, near Mansfield.

A bus will leave Melbourne for the two hour trip to Benalla on Sunday at 10.00am. If you want to be aboard, email us crikey.com.au. For people in the electorate, Bill has arranged a mini bus. Contact us or Bill, through his website: www.billhill.com.au

Meantime, as the preselection battle hots up, Bill has filed his latest Benalla Bulletin:

A View From The Hill By Bill Hill

The dearth of talent within the National Party has led to the conscription of two cleanskins to contest preselection for this once safe seat.

Both Bill Sykes from Benalla and Debra Netherway of Locksley have joined the National Party since the September state election, which precipitated the sitting member’s fall from grace. They are presently locked in battle for preselection , which will be decided early in March.

Bill Sykes has already seen off John Tanner, heir apparent to Pat McNamara for many years. Mr Tanner says he has ambitions to be President of the Victorian National Party. Perhaps his loyalty to the party machine may yet be acknowledged. An apparent lack of any real succession planning in Benalla is in stark contrast to the coalition’s federal partners. On Friday, Lou Lieberman, Liberal member for Indi, confirmed he would not seek re-election at the next federal election, to be held any time after October.

He says that by making his decision public now, it will ensure a thorough preselection process. This will allow the preferred Liberal candidate to have a good chance in retaining the seat. The former Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the federal National party, Tim Fischer, has already started a similar process in his seat of Farrer. Smooth, well planned transitions can mean the difference between success and failure.

If Benalla falls from the Nationals grasp, it may well start a domino effect that could see the state National Party relegated to the political wilderness.

The political paradigm has been changing in the bush, perhaps irrevocably – only time will tell. The signs have been there, for those who wanted to see.

The fact that the Labor candidate, Denise Allen made significant inroads into the Nationals majority in a polarised two horse race in September indicates that support for the Nationals is at an all time low in Benalla.

When the by-election is announced and the present phoney campaign turns into the real thing it will be interesting to see who the electorate chooses to represent them. We are now in uncharted waters, with many voters looking for a new home for their votes. With a likely Melbourne Cup field including National, Labor, several Independents and perhaps a Liberal, there will certainly be a choice. With little more than three years to the next state election it may be well time to trial and performance test one of a new breed – an Independent.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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