DARREN Chester has been re-elected to represent the seat of Gippsland for the fifth consecutive time, following the federal election on Saturday.
A sore wrist from shaking so many hands seemed to be the only downside to re-election, as Darren Chester described his reappointment as “an extraordinary honour and a great privilege”.
After a stroll through Sale market on Sunday, Mr Chester spoke of his gratitude for the support of his family, friends, staff and community members who made the win possible, adding he had never taken Gippslanders for granted.
“I am humbled by the support I received from Gippslanders and the many supportive comments which inspired my team over the past month,” he said.
Mr Chester said he knew the result would be close.
“I thought all the way through the last three months that the polls were not really indicating what was happening on the ground, but I also thought it would be very hard for us to get a majority in our own right,” he said.
“Here in Gippsland, I was pretty optimistic from the feedback I was receiving on the ground from people that we were heading in the right direction, that people liked the way we were doing our job, but I thought across the board it was going to be tough for the government to get there – but it seems we have.”
Mr Chester strongly denied rumours of a leadership challenge to National Party leader Michael McCormack.
“There is simply no prospect of a change of leadership in the National Party – there is no case for change,” he said.
“The Nationals have won every seat that we already held during the election, and also transitioned two – it’s a spectacularly good result for Michael McCormack and Bridget McKenzie.
“There are several new women who have come into the party which is going to be great for the Nationals; it’s going to diversify our party room in a way that I think people want to see.
“The National Party is much more than blokes in big hats – the National Party is a party of regional Australia.
“We need to represent all regional Australians, whether they’re in central Queensland, or whether they’re here in Gippsland.
“We need to fight for a fair share of government funding to come to our communities – and that’s not a question of whether you’re left or right – it’s a question of a fair deal for regional communities.
Mr Chester said work would begin immediately to deliver election promises.
“The work starts now on securing the infrastructure investment we need, the work starts now on making sure we’ve got the critical services our communities expect, and the work starts now on building a strong and respectful community where we work together to achieve great things in the whole Gippsland region,” he said.
“The main thing I need to do now is make sure we deliver everything we promised in the campaign – so that’s things like improving road infrastructure in our region, improving telecommunication connectivity, delivering the irrigation infrastructure upgrades we promised, [and] also the active Gippsland plans we’ve talked about.
“I’ve been in my office this morning answering emails, getting some plans in place to get on with the job – that’s what a local member has to do.
“There’s no time to sit around and bask in the glory of this.
“We have a big job to keep making Gippsland an even better place to live, work and raise a family.
“By working together with other levels of government and the community, I believe we can make huge progress in the new term of government.”
Mr Chester said he would remain focussed on supporting jobs in traditional industries and creating new opportunities, particularly for young people.
“We need to invest in the education and training opportunities for Gippslanders to allow our youth to achieve their full potential in our own communities, without always being forced to relocate to big cities,” he said.
“We also need to see more government investment in new and emerging industries, particularly tourism.
“I want state and local governments to put forward decent infrastructure investment plans that the federal government can support to boost the visitor economy across Gippsland.
Mr Chester said Victorian premier Daniel Andrews needed to pay attention to the result, and called on the state government to show more interest in the Gippsland electorate.
“I’m here ready to work with him [Daniel Andrews] – he’s in government for the best part of the next four years; we’re in government for the next three years,” he said.
“One of the things Gippslanders want is that highway duplication – there’s $132 million of federal funding on the table just waiting for Daniel Andrews to find $33 million to finish the job.
“He’s spending billions of dollars on tunnels and infrastructure upgrades in Melbourne – just send a little bit out our way Daniel.
“I don’t know what he’s waiting for; it’s not that hard.”
ALP candidate for Gippsland Antoinette Holm was “really pleased”, saying she had achieved her goals for the campaign and thanked her many supporters.
“We dominated those poll booths -we had everyone there for three long, gruelling weeks,” she told the Latrobe Valley Express.
“My heart is so full for all of those people who have been out doing that.
“We captured every vote we could, and we gave people the confidence to vote Labor, if that’s what they wanted to do.”