A fascinating experiment in democracy was staged during the weekend, with the Nationals community preselection for the seat of Shepparton.
It was interesting for a number of reasons, including the fact it was most definitely a novelty, being the first time such an initiative has been run in Victoria.
Traditionally, the selection of a candidate to represent the party at the state election would be a decision local branch members would make.
So to leave that selection up to potentially thousands of local voters in the lead-up to November’s state election added a layer of intrigue.
With the stipulation that candidates must be a financial member of the Nationals, three candidates — Peter Schwarz, Peter Shields and Daniel Watson — put their hand up.
As it turned out, Mr Schwarz, a long-time Nationals member and former state president, was a clear winner of the preselection, with 52.9 per cent of the vote after the allocation of preferences.
And while the voter turnout was not in the thousands, 720 people cast a vote across six polling booths in Shepparton, Mooroopna, Tatura, Numurkah and Nathalia.
The party said it was pleased with the level of engagement shown across the community.
From a Nationals perspective, there was several clear motivations for trying the idea of a community preselection.
●The first and most obvious was the opportunity to engage with voters on a different level and allowing them the opportunity to further shape what happens in this election year;
●Another was to get people talking about the Nationals in general. The preselection stages, from announcement, to nominations and culminating in Saturday’s result, kept it on the agenda for months. A forum for the three candidates in Mooroopna last week, attended by about 60 people, was another chance for the candidates to pitch to voters, and for voters to ask questions of them;
●For 47 years, the seat of Shepparton had been a safe seat for the Nationals. That was until 2014, when lawyer Suzanna Sheed ran as an independent and defeated the Nationals on their own turf.
Ms Sheed last month announced she would re-contest the seat, and on that same day, Shepparton businesswoman and community advocate Cheryl Hammer was announced as the Liberal candidate.
It will be the first time the Liberal party has run a candidate to contest Shepparton since 2006.
So we have three confirmed candidates in Mr Schwarz, Ms Sheed and Ms Hammer.
It promises to be a most interesting seven months ahead in the lead-up to the election on November 24.