WALSH DEFIES BLOODY BALLOT
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
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.