Talk of the honeymoon being over for the Rudd Government after the Nationals comprehensive flogging of the ALP in the Gippsland by election is just pure twaddle.

The Gippsland electorate never engaged with Kevin Rudd remaining staunchly wedded to the conservative cause and to talk of Darren Chester as the Messiah heralding the reinvigoration of the National Party around Australia is equally misleading.

The new MHR for Gippsland is a hack by profession and a party hack by nature having worked for the former member Peter McGauran and for the State National leader, Peter Ryan.

An undistinguished public speaker, he is not regarded highly for his political acumen being seen as a dutiful if deadly dull performer lacking the personal and communication skills of Peter McGauran.

The real story from this by election is the parlous state of the ALP in Gippsland. For the past decade now the bitter in-fighting amongst Gippsland ALP branches particularly in the Latrobe Valley, the unhealthy influence of former ALP state parliamentarians, and the changing demographics of the electorate have all hastened the demise of the ALP.

In the last Federal election Gippsland defied the national trend with a miniscule swing to the ALP and the previous state election saw the Nationals take the state seat of Morwell from the ALP.

If you analyse the two party preferred votes in the Latrobe Valley there were massive swings against the ALP particularly in Traralgon/Churchill and the apparatchiks in the state office must be shaking their heads in disbelief at how the ALP keeps losing support in what used to be regarded as its traditional heartland.

The Nationals are crowing about how the Traralgon Post Office issue hit home, and Darren Chester stayed on song, banging on about more for pensioners, better roads, and relief from higher petrol taxes and grocery prices echoing the same messages delivered by the Liberal’s Rohan Fitzgerald whose debut on the political stage attracted 20% of the primary vote for the Liberals.

Significantly the truly misguided and pathetic ALP television campaign; unhelpful comments from the former ALP state member for Morwell, Keith Hamilton, seized upon and highlighted by the Nats; and the conservative television ad blitz helped to inspire fear and loathing in the electorate.

The mainstream media has made much of the eleventh hour endorsement of the Liberals’ Rohan Fitzgerald, by former local ALP luminary and community activist Harvey Pynt, but rather than demonstrating the potency of the Traralgon Post Office issue, it painfully pointed out the ineptitude of the ALP in addressing that “red herring” and many others.

The ALP campaign was crippled from the start and Darren McCubbin had to do the best he could with a flawed campaign strategy and vituperation directed at him as a Johnny come lately ALP member and candidate from within his own party.

No one would predict a stellar political career for Chester instead he looks forward to a long incumbency as a parliamentary seat warmer and the electors of Gippsland have just consigned themselves to more of the same from the Nationals who cried neglect by the Rudd Government while blithely ignoring the years of inactivity by the Howard government.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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