Electoral district of Shepparton up for grabs

By Myles Peterson

The electoral district of Shepparton is one of the most closely watched seats of the Victorian election campaign.

Last election it delivered the only lower-house independent and, in 2018, the Coalition is desperate to take it back.

According to history, polling and the bookies, Labor stands little to no chance of winning in Shepparton. But also, according to all three, Labor has a very strong chance of returning to government.

Second-term governments rarely lose power; and — short of a polling day miracle — the Coalition, led by Matthew Guy, is not showing any form of election-winning momentum.

While it may not take office, the Coalition still stands an unlikely chance of defeating Suzanna Sheed and regaining the local seat.

It should all come down to preference flows.

In 2014, Ms Sheed received 13211 primary votes, about 1000 fewer than the Nationals’ Greg Barr who she went on to defeat.

Thousands of second-preference votes from the Labor candidate Rodney Higgins pushed Ms Sheed across the line with the final two-candidate-preferred result showing a narrow 2.6 per cent in her favour.

In 2018, Ms Sheed faces two Coalition candidates whose preferences favour each other.

Voters who follow National and Liberal how-to-vote cards will effectively be voting for Peter Schwarz and Cheryl Hammer simultaneously.

Whichever of the two receives the greatest number of primary votes will almost certainly benefit from their Coalition partner’s preferences as well.

All Mr Schwarz or Ms Hammer need is about a quarter of the primary vote, and for the other to get almost as much. Combined, the votes will be enough for one or the other to secure victory.

In 2014, Labor received 18 per cent of primary votes, far short of an election-winning result but enough to strongly influence who came out on top.

For 2018, Labor is again preferencing Ms Sheed, indicating the Victorian Government would prefer an independent in Shepparton to a member of the Opposition.

Ms Sheed is not telling her supporters how to vote.

Greens are preferencing Ms Sheed and, predictably, the Shooters, Fishers & Farmers Party last.

Shooters’ how-to-vote cards are yet to surface, throwing another variable into the mix.

Based on past performance, the Greens drew about 1300 primary votes or three per cent, while the Shooters scored a similar percentage in the upper house.

In a very tight race, that potential six per cent of Greens and Shooters supporters could decide the result.

The bookies seem certain of a win to Ms Sheed and if she can match her 2014 primary vote of 32.7 per cent, she probably will win.

But by running two candidates, the Coalition has greatly improved its chances and a Liberal or Nationals victory cannot be ruled out.

Meet your candidates 

The News asked candidates about their priorities leading into the November 24 election.

Suzanna Sheed

Party: Independent

Profession: Lawyer

Priorities: ‘‘If re-elected as your independent representative for Shepparton district, I will maintain my strong advocacy for our community’s needs and ensure we continue to see results.

‘‘My vision for our region includes a completed Goulburn Valley Health, an integrated cancer centre and a mother-baby unit, as well as a fully-funded Shepparton bypass, an ongoing commitment to passenger and freight rail services and a redeveloped sports stadium.

‘‘I will continue to stand up for our farmers’ access to irrigation water to ensure a thriving regional economy and will advocate for appropriate renewable energy development, a state-of-the-art regional education precinct and a completed Shepparton Education Plan.’’

Peter Schwarz

Party: The Nationals

Profession: Farmer, National Party treasurer

Priorities: ‘‘One billion over 10 years for road fix blitz program to ensure producers in the Greater Shepparton area, who put food in the stomach and fibre on the back of every Australian, can safely get their product to market.

‘‘In addition, I’ll be advocating that the bypass project gets funded in its entirety — not in stages — and that the truck route steers clear of Ford Rd.

‘‘I do not support the current education plan and will be looking to reopen the consultation process to ensure the future children of this electorate get a better deal.

‘‘In October alone, we’ve seen serious crimes reported in the Shepparton electorate. We need more cops on the beat to ensure our community’s safety.’’

Murray Willaton

Party: Shooters, Fishers & Farmers

Profession: Farmer, former police officer

Priorities: President of the Barmah Brumby Preservation Group, Mr Willaton is a retired Victorian police officer with 36 years’ experience.

He owns and manages a quarterhorse stud at Nathalia.

Mr Willaton was in the news during the past month campaigning over the plight of a herd of brumbies facing starvation in Barmah National Park.

His candidacy poses the biggest threat to the Nationals’ Peter Schwarz with both parties frequently fighting over a similar constituency.

● (News archive)

Bill Heath

Party: Australian Labor Party

Profession: Farmer, teacher, refugee worker

Priorities: ‘‘My goal is a safer, fairer, more prosperous and more sustainable community. I will prioritise investment in healthcare and education, roads and rail. This investment, combined with securing water for agriculture, will support our strongly growing regional economy, providing jobs and opportunities for all.

‘‘Vulnerable people deserve additional care; I will ensure housing for the homeless, more services for those living with mental illness and better support for victims of family violence.

‘‘I will promote self-determination for our first Australians and assistance for recent arrivals. And I will fulfil our obligation to future generations by addressing climate change.’’

Nickee Freeman

Party: Australian Greens

Profession: Environmental scientist

Priorities: Ms Freeman, 49, has a degree in environmental science specialising in Australian flora and fauna and describes herself as a practical conservationist, not a greenie.

‘‘I’ve never chained myself to a tree or anything like that. Just being called the Greens party is sometimes an instant barrier to taking on what we represent due to the confusion between ‘greenies’ and ‘Greens’ ...I’ve actually always said that I’m a ‘brownie’.

‘‘I come from a farming community, so I very much feel the pain of people who are working on the land.

‘‘And as a scientist I understand that we need to look after the land from the soil up.’’

● (News archive)

Cheryl Hammer

Party: Liberal

Profession: Journalist, farmer, small businesswoman, philanthropist

Priorities: ‘‘My focus is to take investment in our region to the next level. I will work to elevate our electorate to ensure it is always a priority for government.

‘‘The completion of stage two of Goulburn Valley Health and the Shepparton bypass are vital projects to be realised as is my $15.5million commitment to the Shepparton Sports and Events Centre. Further funding for education is essential.

‘‘Skyrocketing household costs need urgent action and tax relief for business will help generate jobs in our region. Water security is critical in the Shepparton district and I am committed to supporting our farmers.’’