“God, I need a stiff drink,” was probably the best summation heard at a Meet the Candidates forum recently held in Bairnsdale as one of the traditional preliminary bouts before the main stoush for the Gippsland by election on June 26.

Noted local ratbag, Ben Buckley, serial political chameleon (ex ALP and One Nation member), now the candidate for the Liberty and Democracy party, provided the highlight of the evening by shouting down an audience member who obviously disagreed with his weird and wacky opinions.

Word had spread around the electorate that the ALP had done a deal with Ben Buckley to swap second preferences, and ALP pundits believed that the 4% of the vote Buckley might attract could just see their candidate over the line.

The cynics believe the ALP is in la la land. The ALP’s real intention was to make up for the leakage of second preference votes as it was known the Green’s candidate Dr Malcolm McKelvie was running an “open ticket”.

It was the delivery and poise of the candidates that had the audience’s attention at the Forum rather than what they had to say. Stuff the substance, what’s their form like?

The Liberals candidate, Rowan Fitzgerald, deemed to be a “chick magnet” by many women, is a surprisingly dull and robotic speaker who earnestly tries to convey the impression of a world out there called “Liberal land” where everything is always cheaper, especially fuel.

At least the Green’s candidate Dr McKelvie can take heart that everyone in audience, composed mainly of conservative supporters, thought he was “a nice man” and that he does promote the Greens’ policies quite effectively in the conservative heartland.

Probably still smarting from criticism of his campaign photo visage as “demonical”, snappily dressed Nationals candidate, Darren Chester, still finds it hard to lighten up, his jokes fell flat, but his handling of questions was quite adept even if his five minute policy presentation was uninspiring. The more he speaks the more he adopts the carping tones of the state Nationals leader, Peter Ryan, his political mentor.

Nicknamed “Foghorn Leghorn” due to his stentorian voice, the ALP’s Darren McCubbin clearly out performed the other speakers despite predictably boring content.

The exhibitionist McCubbin always exudes confidence and bonhomie.

Even if the conservatives think he’s a bit of a smart arse, he is entertaining and not to be underestimated on the hustings. Such a pity his campaign publicity material is pathetic.

Interestingly enough Jane Rowe, the early favourite to be the ALP candidate, was present enthusiastically supporting McCubbin and showing good old ALP solidarity which is more than some ALP members in the local branches bitter at Rowe’s “forced” withdrawal have shown McCubbin.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.