McGowan’s lasting legacy
The news of Cathy McGowan’s planned departure from federal politics and the seat of Indi comes as no surprise. Ms McGowan, 65, flagged she was seeking a successor last November.
When first elected in 2013, Ms McGowan narrowly defeated then Liberal party incumbent Sophie Mirabella, the only Liberal party member to lose her seat at that election.
The victory sent a shockwave through conventional political wisdom, proving that socalled safe conservative country seats were vulnerable to the right type of independent candidate.
Just more than a year later, Shepparton’s Suzanna Sheed repeated the performance at the Victorian state level.
Ms Sheed arguably had an easier path to victory. She was not contesting against an established incumbent and had the benefit of the Indi precedent.
This is not to take away from Ms Sheed’s achievements, which have been considerable, not least of which was her re-election on an increased margin in November.
Ali Cupper also arguably followed in Ms McGowan’s footsteps when she defeated the Nationals’ Peter Crisp in November.
Tammy Atkins made inroads in Ovens, claiming 19 per cent of the first preference vote, but was still beaten overwhelmingly by the Nationals’ Tim McCurdy.
Jacqui Hawkins came much closer to the prize in Benambra, with 48 per cent on the two-candidate preferred vote against Liberal Bill Tilley.
The latter two have links to ‘‘Voices 4 Indi’’, which with Ms McGowan’s succession plan, is increasingly looking like a political party in behaviour, if not in name.
Independents are not known for choosing successors, but in this instance one is being put forth and it will be interesting if Dr Helen Haines can build on the foundation Ms McGowan created. We expect a heated three-way contest with the Liberals and Nationals expected to fight hard to return the seat to the Coalition fold.
We will also wait to see if a McGowan-inspired candidate will enter the field in Nicholls, formerly the electorate of Murray, to challenge the domination of the National Party and Damian Drum.
As a popular incumbent, we believe Mr Drum would be difficult to defeat. However, a close race empowers voters and keeps our political leaders on their toes.
A good independent challenger in Nicholls would benefit the electorate.