Nationals mull poor local election results

By Myles Peterson

Following a disastrous performance in Shepparton at the recent Victorian election, National Party members have shared their thoughts on where it went wrong and how to move forward.

The Nationals’ primary vote for the lower house seat of Shepparton dropped from 52.9 per cent eight years ago to just 13.03 per cent this year.

And while the results were not as bad in the upper house, due to the vagaries of the Legislative Council voting system, Nationals incumbent Luke O’Sullivan looks likely to lose his seat to candidates who achieved less than five per cent of the vote.

Nationals Shepparton branch president Peter Shields was pragmatic about the losses and said the party needed to get back to its grassroots.

‘‘It’s swings and roundabouts — these things happen. Daniel Andrews now has full rein to mess things up,’’ he said.

Mr Shields, himself a candidate for pre-selection back in May, said the Shepparton chapter would begin a full review.

‘‘I’m now focusing on reinvigorating the National Party within the community,’’ he said.

Federal Member for Murray and former state upper house member for Northern Victoria Damian Drum said it was a disappointing result for the party, while acknowledging the successful incumbent’s campaign.

‘‘I think full credit is due to Suzanna Sheed,’’ he said.

‘‘The people made their choice and I congratulate her.’’

Mr Drum said his party needed to take a deep breath and have a conversation behind the scenes before moving forward.

He also conceded leadership change and infighting among the party’s federal Liberal Party colleagues may have impacted the election result and lamented ‘‘a good economic message’’ was being lost.

‘‘The economy is being handled very, very well,’’ he said.

‘‘We’ve protected our borders. We’re going to deliver a surplus — something our opponents haven’t been able to do for 29 years.’’

Mr Drum said running a joint Coalition ticket in the Victorian upper house regions could also be re-examined, leaving room for the National and Liberal parties to return to individual party tickets.

But the Liberals’ Wendy Lovell said a joint ticket was a formal part of the Coalition agreement and ending the arrangement would open the two partners to contesting lower house seats against each other.

Under the agreement, Coalition members do not contest against their incumbent partners.

‘‘The Coalition agreement has recently been looked at and renegotiated and the two parties have committed to remain in Coalition,’’ she said.

Ms Lovell said the Coalition would need to re-examine how voting was done in the upper house and how upper house candidates campaigned.

‘‘Now with so many minor parties on offer ... I think the way we campaign as major parties has to change,’’ she said.

Former State Member for Shepparton Don Kilgour said it was a misconception the seat had previously been safe and the Nationals’ poor showing this year needed to be taken in context.

He praised the Liberals’ Cheryl Hammer for running a strong campaign and noted the Coalition received a combined primary vote of about 40 per cent, up from the Nationals’ 35 per cent in 2014.

‘‘She ran a very good campaign,’’ he said.