The numbers faced by community group Latrobe Valley First in their bid to install an independent candidate in the Victorian seat of Morwell bear an eerie resemblance to those that saw federal Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella ousted by Cathy McGowan last year. The seat in the state’s south-east is held by the Nationals’ Russell Northe by 13.3% — safe by almost any measure — except that locals are hoping that a swing towards them could make the seat marginal if they don’t manage a win.
Northe’s primary vote in 2010 was 49.3%, less than the 52.6% Mirabella held Indi by in the same year. For an independent candidate to have a chance at winning the seat or making it marginal they would need to gain more votes than the Labor candidate, who in 2010 had a primary vote of 28.5%. Latrobe Valley First will be playing catch up with the major parties, their pre-selection process won’t finish up until the end of this month, with only two months to the election. Voice for Indi, the group behind the McGowan campaign had been working for 12 months before last year’s federal election.
Contributing to sentiment against the government and local member is a feeling that residents were ignored after the Hazelwood mine fire that blanketed the town of Morwell in smoke and ash for six weeks in February and March this year. Locals now claim that the fire is responsible for an increase in the number of deaths in the area in the last six months. Residents of the Voices of the Valley group presented their findings in a Citizens’ Health Report to Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews yesterday.
At a press conference on the steps of Victorian parliament the group’s spokesperson Wendy Farmer called for the inquiry in to the mine to be re-opened as well as a coronial inquest into deaths in the area in the months since the fire. The figures have been disputed by Health Minister David Davis, who has said that there is no evidence to suggest an increase in deaths. Davis’ views were highly unpopular at the small rally yesterday, and will contribute to the momentum gathering for group Latrobe Valley First, which says that the electorate has been ignored by the major parties.
Pre-selection candidate Tracie Lund was at the rally yesterday, and told Crikey that even Labor and Andrews had shown signs of support, the area couldn’t rely on just backing the opposition. “As we see the two parties and when people stand up in a party platform — and I think this has been evidenced in the Hazelwood mine fire — is that they are often constrained by their party, so community is not well represented. In this particular case the community needed a strong voice advocating for it and I don’t think that happened.”