Gippsland deserves a fair go from our new government

COMMENT

THE people of Victoria have spoken, they wanted a Labor government.

Disunity, issues with emergency services and perhaps the performance of its federal counterpart were factors in the Liberal-National Coalition being ousted from government after just one term. However, could the people of Gippsland be the real losers from the election?

If Labor’s campaigning locally is anything to go by, I fear the people in Gippsland should get ready to be ignored by the new government.

Little or no effort was made by Labor to win votes outside the Latrobe Valley.

The party’s candidate for Gippsland South, a seat safely held by the Nationals, couldn’t even be bothered showing up.

Melbourne-based Lynn Psaila and west Gippslander Kate Maxfield, who did visit the Gippsland East electorate, were only named as candidates a day before the nomination deadline.

The only contact detail provided to the media by Labor for Ms Psaila, the Gippsland South candidate, was an email address.

Despite numerous attempts, no-one heard a word from her. I was beginning to think Ms Psaila was a fake person.

It wasn’t until late print-outs of Labor how-to-vote cards were done that we even got to see what she looked like.

Not that many people got a Labor how-to-vote card in Gippsland South, seeing a party volunteer at booths was like trying to find Greens leader Christine Milne at a mining industry convention.

The apparent lack of local candidates and volunteers is surely a concern for the party of the working class.

Last week, a woman in her 70s, who had voted Labor all her life, phoned the Times office to make sure the party was running a candidate locally. She was dismayed Labor had gone outside the electorate for its candidate and the lack of promotion.

Despite the lack of policies and attention for the region, there was a swing away from the sitting members. In fact the swings from Gippsland South MLA Peter Ryan was greater than the statewide one against the Coalition parties.

To be fair, both members were re-elected on primary votes, without the need to use preferences to determine the winner, but there could be a message from voters for both MPs to work harder for their constituents.

The Nationals did have fairly good policies for these two electorates, such as $15 million to complete the new Sale Specialist School, increased train services, $8 million for the health of the Gippsland Lakes and $10 million to upgrade the Macalister Irrigation District.

Despite its candidate failing to show up, Labor did earn some cash from the Victorian Electoral Commission.

Parties earning at least four per cent of the primary vote receive $1.60 for every vote. That means Labor will receive at least $20,000 from Gippsland South and Gippsland East.

Imagine how well Labor would have done if it had tried to win votes.

Labor didn’t completely ignore Gippsland, it had nominated a candidate in Morwell, Jadon Mintern, since March.

But Labor’s television advertisement for Gippsland has new premier Daniel Andrews only referring to “the Valley”, and didn’t even mention who the party’s candidates were.

The Hazelwood mine fire gave Labor an open door to attack Morwell MLA Russell Northe and the Coalition government.

Labor’s visits to the region were limited to the Latrobe Valley, as were, to a large extent, its promises.

For nearly two months Wellington Shire Council waited for Labor’s transport spokesperson Jill Hennessy, to respond to a straight-forward question regarding concerns that Gippsland rail services would terminate at Pakenham, forcing commuters to go on Metro services to head to the city.

How promptly would a response have been provided if that question had come from Latrobe City Council?

While this was happening, millions of dollars in promises were made for Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat.

What do they have in common? These cities lie in marginal seats.

The truth is Gippsland South and Gippsland East are safe Nationals seats, meaning there is little reason for either side to throw money at them.

No other party or candidate provided a valid reason for the region to change.

With the Liberals also retaining Bass and Narracan, Gippsland remains a stronghold for the conservative side of politics.

With Mr Northe appearing to have narrowly retained Morwell, this close result could provide leverage for the rest of Gippsland get some attention from Labor, particularly in terms of transport and education.

There should also be an onus on Mr Ryan and Tim Bull, as well as Nationals upper house member Danny O’Brien, to work hard to keep the Labor government accountable and remind it the region exists.

Local councils and Gippsland MHR Darren Chester, a member of the federal government, also have this role to play.

One of the slogans used by Labor was “Under the Liberals, you’re on your own”, I just hope under Labor, Gippsland is not on its own.