O’Brien to seek Nationals pre-selection

EASTERN Victoria MLC Danny O’Brien has admitted he could be taking a risk if he becomes the Nationals candidate for the Gippsland South by-election.

Mr O’Brien has confirmed he will seek Nationals pre-selection for the by-election, sparked by this week’s resignation of Gippsland South MLA Peter Ryan.

“I’m keen to more closely represent the area I live in,” Mr O’Brien told the Gippsland Times.

If successful in gaining the candidacy, Mr O’Brien said he would step down from his seat in the upper house, with the Nationals to select his replacement.

“It is a risk contesting the by-election,” he said.

Mr O’Brien entered state parliament 12 months ago, replacing the retiring Peter Hall. 

Since then he has been seen at many public events and announcements with Mr Ryan.

Mr O’Brien recently opened an office at the other end of the Gippsland South electorate in Leongatha.

Candidates from the Liberals and Greens are likely to battle against the Nationals to succeed Mr Ryan, while there are questions over whether Labor will enter the race for the safe conservative seat.

As of the publication deadline, a date for the by-election had not been announced. 

The vote must take place within nine weeks of an MP’s resignation.

Gippsland South MLA since 1992, Peter Ryan was re-elected in November on primary votes, having received a 57.26 per cent share.

Despite the Nationals’ primary vote dropping by 6.6 percentage points from 2010, Gippsland South remains a safe conservative seat.

The resignation of a sitting Nationals MP opens up the opportunity for their Coalition partner, the Liberals, to contest the by-election.

Opposition leader Matthew Guy said it was “highly probable” the Liberals would field a candidate.

Wellington Shire councillor Scott Rossetti, chairman of the Liberals’ Eastern Victoria region electorate council, is seen as a possible candidate.

The Liberals last ran in Gippsland South in 2006 when there was not a Coalition agreement with the Nationals. 

The party received 18.3 per cent of the vote, with those preferences helping re-elect Mr Ryan.

Confirming his party would also enter the race, Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber said the by-election would give locals a chance to voice their concerns about onshore gas drilling and new coal mines.

“Much of the electorate is covered with licences to explore for coal and gas,” he said.

“Farms, and the whole agricultural future of the region are under threat.

“Labor are in charge now, but we have no idea what their attitude is to new gas and coal,” Mr Barber said. 

“The best they’ve offered is a parliamentary inquiry, when locals want a permanent ban on gas drilling in the region.

“We saw at the last election that wherever gas drilling was an issue, the Green vote went up at the expense of Labor, Liberal and the Nationals.”

However at the last election in Gippsland South, the Greens’ primary vote fell by 0.3 of a percentage point from the 2010 poll.

Candidate Ian Onley received 9.61 per cent of the primary vote.

A decision on whether Labor will contest the by-election will be made by the party’s state secretary Noah Carroll, who did not provide comment before deadline.

Despite a limited campaign, with its Melbourne-based candidate not even seen or heard publicly in the electorate, Labor’s primary vote increased by three percentage points to 21.87 per cent.

On the two party preferred vote, there was a swing away from the Nationals of 6.9 per cent to Labor.