GIPPSLAND South, the time has come to choose.
The by-election to select Peter Ryan’s successor for the seat in state parliament will be held on Saturday.
Eight candidates are vying for the vote of people in the Gippsland South electorate, which stretches from Sale, under the Latrobe Valley to Korumburra in the west.
A common theme throughout the campaign, mentioned in media statements and press conferences, has been voters having a “choice”.
For the first time since the 2006 election, the Liberal Party has entered a candidate for Gippsland South.
Since then the Coalition agreement between the Liberals and Nationals was renewed, preventing the parties from contesting a seat held by a member of the other party.
The Nationals have entered Danny O’Brien, who resigned his place in the upper house of state parliament to contest the by-election; the Liberals’ candidate is Wellington Shire councillor Scott Rossetti.
The extent of choice does not include Labor, which elected not to field a candidate for the traditionally safe conservative seat.
At November’s state election, Mr Ryan retained Gippsland South for the Nationals with 57.3 per cent of the primary vote, a drop of 6.5 percentage points from 2010.
Following the distribution of preferences, Mr Ryan had 65.7 per cent of the two party vote ahead of Labor with 34.3.
Without a Labor candidate, the by-election campaign has been more about who would best advocate for the electorate in parliament.
Andrea Millsom is the Greens candidate, Jim McDonald is running for the Liberal Democrats, while Warren Sanders, Deb Meester, Viv Pepper and Gerard Donohue are standing as independent candidates.
Preferences from these candidates are likely to determine the winner.
During the campaign, the Nationals and Liberals in particular have been busy promoting their candidates with politicians, including Liberal leader Matthew Guy and Nationals counterpart Peter Walsh, visiting the electorate.
This week the previous leaders of the Coalition partners backed their party’s candidate.
Former Gippsland South MLA Peter Ryan said Nationals candidate Mr O’Brien was the best candidate to represent the region.
“He will get the job done for us and not only provide a strong voice in parliament; he will actually deliver results for our community,” he said.
Former premier Denis Napthine was in Sale this week to support Mr Rossetti.
“He’s a person who’s got a great track record of fighting for the local community and delivering for the local community,” he said.
However environmental pressure group Gippsland 2020 has called on the Gippsland South community to vote for an independent candidate.
Group founder Morgan Knoesen said the major parties were too close to mining and corporate interests, which was hurting Gippsland’s health, economy, environment and agriculture.
An issue during the campaign has been onshore gas exploration and extraction.
This has provided a point of difference between the Liberals and Nationals.
While both parties support the continuation of the moratorium on the industry, the Nationals want to give landholders the right of veto approaches from mining companies.
Gasfield Free Seaspray has helped to research the candidates’ positions on onshore gas.
Group spokesperson Kerrin Schelfhout said independents Mr Pepper, Mr Sanders and Ms Meester, and the Greens’ Ms Millsom supported a permanent ban on onshore gas mining.
“This places them above the Liberal Democrats and the Nationals candidates, both of whom support a right of veto for farmers, but not for whole communities,” she said.
“The Liberals have the lowest rating and as they will not commit to any kind of permanent ban.”
Gasfield Free Seaspray and Coal and CSG Free Mirboo North will hand out how-to-vote cards on Saturday.
The cards have placed the Nationals ahead of the Liberals.
Onshore gas hasn’t been the only issue during the campaign, and candidates have committed to improving roads.
Motoring group the RACV this week urged residents to know where the candidates stood on the issue before voting.
For those who fancy a flutter, an online bookmaker is accepting bets on the outcome of the by-election.
Mr O’Brien is a $1.40 favourite with Mr Rossetti $3.
The next best is Mr Pepper on $15, with Mr Donohue the outsider at $51.
Early voting has been underway since March 2.
Voting on Saturday opens at 8am and closes at 6pm.