Three strong candidates have stepped forward to contest the seat of Shepparton in November’s Victorian poll. Whoever is elected, Shepparton will be the winner.
While no party official will admit it, safe seats are often taken for granted by the party that holds them. And generally the parties which don’t, ignore them.
Suzanna Sheed’s shock success at the 2014 election changed the local political landscape, bringing to a close 69 years of continuous Country and National party rule.
The News is not suggesting Shepparton was neglected during this period, simply that such a long term of incumbency places a seat to the back of the queue when government and opposition decide how and where to dole out the promises and budget sweeteners that so often go to marginal seats.
Being held by an independent can bring many benefits, especially if numbers in the parliament are tight, and the independent is relied on by government to pass legislation, or even form office.
Conversely, a government in a strong position in the Victorian lower house can all but ignore independents if it chooses, comfortable that it has the numbers to pass legislation and maintain supply without any outside help.
Until election time rolls around and it wants to win that seat, or win it back.
By putting up her hand again, Ms Sheed has shown she will be a strong candidate in 2018. She’s already done the hard work of taking Shepparton from the Nationals. Incumbency places her in the box seat, and as the Federal Member for Murray and Nationals member Damian Drum told The News somewhat candidly, it will be a difficult seat to wrestle from her.
Peter Schwarz’ win at the Nationals’ community pre-selection last weekend provides another strong candidate. Mr Schwarz is a shrewd political operator, and as federal treasurer of the Nationals has the ear of his party leadership, useful for wrangling promises and sweeteners as he attempts to win back the seat for his party.
Rounding out the list of candidates with a chance of victory in November is the Liberals’ Cheryl Hammer. Ms Hammer brings more than a few assets to her fight. She’s well known locally and has a good reputation. She’s backed by the Matthew Guy Liberal machine that scents victory in November. Liberals and Nationals do not fight each other when one or the other holds a seat, but Ms Sheed’s victory opens the door to a contest where everything is up for grabs.
For the second time in four years the seat is a three-cornered contest with two of the three major political parties seeking office. Standing in the way is a popular and effective incumbent.
The battle will be intense. The eventual winner will be Shepparton.