The Riverine Herald - - FRONT PAGE -

PETER Walsh cut a lonely fig­ure, driv­ing the streets of Swan Hill yes­ter­day morn­ing, tak­ing down his elec­tion posters and sig­nage.

But at least the Na­tion­als leader and Mem­ber for Mur­ray Plains has a job to go to to­day.

Un­like most mem­bers of the Vic­to­rian Coali­tion; who could be re­port­ing to Cen­tre­link this morn­ing af­ter one of the big­gest blood­baths in the state’s elec­toral his­tory.

It was clas­sic coun­try seat pol­i­tics, the state leader of his party out col­lect­ing signs ‘‘I am sure the pub­lic has seen enough of, I know I have’’.

Mr Walsh said only one of his party’s seven Lower House seats was in doubt.

“Mil­dura is very close; we are send­ing some se­nior peo­ple there first thing be­cause what­ever the out­come there will be a re­count,” Mr Walsh said.

But Mr Walsh could not hide his shock at the enor­mity of the elec­tion – some­thing he be­lieved nei­ther the Coali­tion nor the La­bor party saw com­ing.

And the speed with which the elec­tion fell apart was ap­palling.

With La­bor ex­pected to have at least 55 of the 88 seats in the Leg­isla­tive Assem­bly the Coali­tion is look­ing at 28 seats – at best. At 6pm Satur­day it held 37.

Take the seven Na­tion­als seats out and the Lib­er­als have been cut to 21 mem­bers.

Mr Walsh agreed his­tor­i­cally a loss of this mag­ni­tude would con­demn the Coali­tion to at least two more terms in the wilder­ness of op­po­si­tion. But not these days. “Not long ago I would not have ar­gued with that es­ti­ma­tion but in re­cent years pol­i­tics has be­come an in­cred­i­bly volatile scene here, just ask the past five or six Prime Min­is­ters,” Mr Walsh said.

“Look at Campbell New­man in Queens­land – in 2012 the Coali­tion left La­bor with just seven seats out of 89,” he said.

“In 2015 the Coali­tion was smashed and New­man even lost his own seat — all in such a short time span. As de­flat­ing as the week­end has been there is noth­ing to sug­gest this can­not be turned around.”

The voter dis­dain for the Coali­tion was city-cen­tric and tar­geted only the Lib­er­als.

Both Mr Walsh in Mur­ray Plains and his deputy Stephanie Ryan in the neigh­bour­ing seat of Euroa per­formed slightly bet­ter than they had in the 2014 elec­tion.

In 2014, stand­ing for the new­ly­cre­ated seat of Mur­ray Plains, Mr Walsh re­ceived 72 per cent of the vote on a two-party pre­ferred ba­sis.

At the close of count­ing he had lifted this to 76 per cent.

He at­trib­uted that to his party’s phi­los­o­phy of com­mu­nity.

“We al­ways try and work with our com­mu­ni­ties, give them a voice to be heard, and fo­cus on the is­sues that are im­por­tant to them, such as, in Echuca, the Spe­cial­ist School, trains and road safety is­sues.

“Most im­por­tantly, we are al­ways ac­ces­si­ble; if not im­me­di­ately then through the very hard work­ing and help­ful staff we have in our elec­toral of­fices.

“In many cases they are the store­front and they do a spec­tac­u­lar job of help­ing ev­ery­one who walks through the door or is on the phone.

‘‘That said, har­ness­ing com­mu­nity is not as easy in so many of the di­verse elec­torates in Mel­bourne, there it is more about big pic­ture pol­i­tics and per­son­al­i­ties.”

The week­end’s win means Mr Walsh is now en­ter­ing his fifth par­lia­ment and he said he had no in­ten­tion of stop­ping.

Un­der his party’s rules all posts are de­clared va­cant af­ter an elec­tion but he would be putting his hand up again for the lead­er­ship.

How­ever, he did con­cede com­ing from such a mi­nor­ity po­si­tion would make op­po­si­tion an even tougher ask between now and the next elec­tion.

“What went through my mind as we watched the count was it would be dif­fi­cult to achieve what we want here,” he added.

“We will just have to work harder to em­bar­rass the govern­ment into do­ing things – a govern­ment that clearly has lit­tle idea of any­thing north of Bendigo.

“Most of all, though, is you don’t think about what is hap­pen­ing to you, you think about what’s hap­pen­ing to your elec­torate.”

‘ Pol­i­tics has be­come an in­cred­i­bly volatile scene here, just ask the past five or six Prime Min­is­ters. As de­flat­ing as the week­end has been there is noth­ing to ’ sug­gest this can­not be turned around

Photo: Luke Hemer

READY FOR THE FIGHT­BACK: Peter Walsh, right, talk­ing to a voter in Echuca on Satur­day. He said his party is pre­par­ing for the long road back to govern­ment.

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