The Victorian coalition parties face a perilous by-election in Benalla in the new year following the decision of Pat McNamara to retire from Parliament.
McNamara resigned today as leader of the National Party and was replaced by Peter Ryan. Ryan was elected unanimously. The MLA for Swan Hill, Barry Steggall, is his new deputy.
The expected by-election follows last weekend’s 10% swing to the ALP which delivered the Bracks government Burwood, the seat of former Premier Jeff Kennett.
McNamara won Benalla last September in a two-candidate contest, securing 57.41% of the vote.
There are 46 polling booths in Benalla, many of them small in numbers. Last September, McNamara won all but 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 has announced he will contest the forthcoming by-election. Hill won 15.36% of the primary vote in 1996.
Given the strong showing for independents in other rural seats in this year’s election, the National Party has good cause to be concerned about its capacity to retain Benalla, but Labor and independent candidates will have no illusions about their prospects in this traditional conservative electorate.