Benalla By-Election A Test For National Party

Today’s by-election for the Victorian Legislative Assembly seat of Benalla will be a test for the National Party which has held the seat since its creation in 1904.

Denise AllenA win for the Labor Party would reduce its reliance on the support of the 3 Independents in the lower house.

The Bracks government currently holds 43 seats and governs with the support of independents Susan Davies (Gippsland West), Russell Savage (Mildura) and Craig Ingram (Gippsland East).

Victory in Benalla would allow the ALP to pass its legislation to trial heroin injecting rooms with the support of Susan Davies, although the Opposition-controlled Legislative Council would most likely still block the measure.

A loss for the National Party in one of its blue-ribbon seats would send tremors through the coalition parties, at both State and Federal levels. It would be a set-back for the new National Party leader, Peter Ryan. Ryan has held the job since last December, following the resignation of former leader and member for Benalla, Pat McNamara.

There are 7 candidates in the by-election:

  • Maurie Smith (Independent)
  • Bill Hill (Independent)
  • Alf Thorpe (Australian Reform Party)
  • Denise Allen (ALP)
  • Janet Mackenzie (Australian Greens)
  • Bill Sykes (NP)
  • Geoff Rowe (Independent)

Newspaper polls today suggest that the contest is tight, whilst other reports say that that Labor insiders are quietly confident of picking up the traditionally conservative electorate.

A win for the Labor Party would be an indication of continuing strong support for Premier Steve Bracks. It would also be a stunning reversal of political fortunes since this time last year when Benalla was held by former Premier Jeff Kennett’s deputy. The ALP also snatched Kennett’s seat of Burwood in a by-election in December.

BenallaThere are 44 polling booths in the sprawling Benalla electorate, ranging from Nagambie in the west, through Euroa, Violet Town, Benalla, Glenrown and Myrtleford in the north, to Mt. Buffalo and Bright in the east, to Mansfield, Alexandra, Eildon, Mt. Buller, Jamieson and Marysville in the south.

McNamara won Benalla last September in a two-candidate contest, securing 57.41% of the vote. There were 46 polling booths in Benalla in 1999, many of them small in numbers. McNamara won all except 3 (Eildon, Jamieson and Wandiligong) and these were won only narrowly by the ALP candidate, Denise Allen.

By contrast, at the 1996 election, McNamara secured 58.86% of the primary vote against 4 other candidates, including independent Bill Hill, who won 15.36% of the primary vote in 1996.

 

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