Chester’s return is probable

GIPPSLAND’S voters will cast their vote on Saturday to select the region’s member of the House of Representatives for the next three years.

Voters will also play their part in selecting six candidates from 97 to join Victoria’s other six senators elected in 2010, Labor’s Kim Carr and Stephen Conroy, Liberal Michael Ronaldson, National Bridget McKenzie, Greens Richard Di Natale and DLP Senator John Madigan.

Gippsland has 11 candidates, five of whom don’t live in the electorate, including one who doesn’t even live in Victoria.

Nationals incumbent, Gippsland MHR Darren Chester, has been campaigning to retain the seat he has held since 2008.

The Nationals hold the seat with a margin of 11.5 per cent, making it one of the safer seats in the country.

Mr Chester’s main rival is Labor candidate and East Gippsland Shire councillor Jeff McNeill.

Other candidates include Ben Buckley from Benambra for the Liberal Democratic Party and Scott Campbell-Smith from Cabbage Tree Creek for the Greens.

Independent Peter Gardner from Bairnsdale is campaigning on an environment platform, and Traralgon resident Mark Guerin will be the candidate for the Australian Secular Party, which is campaigning to end religious interference in society.

The socially conservative Rise Up Australia Party will be presented by Peter Dorian, from Moe.

Angie Foster from Melbourne is the candidate for socially conservative party Family First, while Melton resident Sav Magnion will run for the Country Alliance.

Douglas Leitch from Northcote will run for the Australian Sex Party and Debbie Gravenall, a Gold Coast resident, will be the Palmer United Party candidate.

Polling stations will open at 8am on Saturday and close at 6pm.

Labor candidate for Gippsland Jeff McNeill has voiced his concerns the election of a Tony Abbot-led Coalition government at Saturday’s poll would spell financial disaster for Gippsland, and Bairnsdale in particular.

Mr McNeill said the $3.01 million in the Regional Development Australia Fund for the East Bairnsdale Enabling Infrastructure Improvement Project, already included in Labor’s budget, would secure the $6 million Patties Foods expansion.

However he noted there was no commitment from the Coalition to support the project; in fact Nationals leader Warren Truss had stated no RDAF project would continue unless contracts had already been signed, despite incumbent Darren Chester’s assertion he personally supported it.

Mr McNeill said the infrastructure, including two wetlands, drainage and flood mitigation systems, would expand land availability, creating land for future residential and industrial growth.

He said the project would create 857 new jobs and generate $14 million for the region, but a failure too deliver on the project would not only put the new jobs at risk but also endanger the current 600 jobs at Patties Pies if the firm was not able to expand its current site and relocated to one of its other manufacturing centres.

“To lose those 600 jobs on top of the GSI collapse would risk the region spiralling into recession,” he said.

Mr Chester said during the past 12 months he had supported the project and worked with East Gippsland Shire, the state government and the federal government to secure funding.

He said he doubted Labor would deliver on its budgeted promise.

“It’s one thing to make a promise but it’s an entirely different matter to actually deliver the funding and construct the project in a timely and efficient manner,” Mr Chester said.

“The investment is important for our region, but I would question the ability of a Labor government to deliver it when we are still waiting on the promised trade training centres, National Broadband Network and GP super clinics,” he said.

“If I’m elected on September 7 I will continue to promote this project and others to help secure jobs in our region.”

Mr Chester has campaigned on his track record of promoting local small business and also promised the Coalition would improve road safety through greater investment in roads, targeted training to learner drivers and parents, closer co-operation with state and territory governments and through undertaking a major study into road trauma.

“While Australia’s road toll has steadily fallen from nearly 2900 deaths in 1982 to 1300 in 2012, the Coalition is concerned that the rate of progress has slowed in recent years,” Mr Chester stated.

“Despite the progress, there is still too much trauma on our roads — and too much of that occurs in regional areas.

“Nearly one third of all fatalities on the roads are young people aged 16 to 25.

“This is despite the fact that they only represent 15 per cent of the population.

“The best thing we can do is improve the skills of young drivers.”

Despite Mr Chester’s 11.5 per cent margin, Mr McNeill is confident he will make inroads in the polls.

“People are tired of career politicians who have trained in law or media, gone on to be political advisers and never had a job outside politics, and are then parachuted into safe seats,” Mr McNeill said.

“It’s a problem on both sides of politics.

“I’m finding rusted-on Nationals voters, particularly women, are telling me they are reconsidering their vote.

“I am saying to them think of a better Gippsland, vote for a more dynamic society in Gippsland.”