It’s as inevitable as a democracy sausage at your local polling booth: come the election, come the discussion about Eden-Monaro’s bellwether status as the seat that leads the nation.
It’s been won by the party that formed government in every election from 1972 to 2016; a result of diverse demography and geography ranging across coastal fishing and timber towns to Queanbeyan and the grazing country in between.
But despite the very slim margin for incumbent Kristy McBain, the bellwether arguably lost that status some time ago and is now a safer Labor seat than neighbouring Gilmore where the margin is bigger.
Former Army officer Mike Kelly won the seat in 2007 then lost it briefly to Peter Hendy in 2013. Despite a redistribution west towards Yass that should have made it safer for the Liberals, Kelly regained the seat with a significant swing in 2016 and won again in 2019 before announcing his retirement due to ill health in 2020.
Widely liked and respected, Kelly benefitted from the rapid urbanisation around Queanbeyan while retaining the trust of traditional Labor voters in smaller communities.
“I’d be very surprised if Kristy McBain didn’t increase her majority,” political analyst emeritus Professor John Warhurst says.
“She’s had to overcome the Mike Kelly popularity factor and now she is her own woman, so to speak, as the local member and has had time to establish herself.”
He’s expecting a sophomore surge for McBain, who won the seat with just 735 votes.
The former Bega Valley mayor became a national figure during the Black Summer bushfires and has run much of the Opposition’s attack on the government’s disaster recovery plan.
First elected to Bega Valley Council in 2012 as a 29-year-old, McBain also forms part of Labor’s narrative about promoting young women in leadership.
She’s been given plenty of opportunities to shine as Labor criticised a slow response to the natural disaster that left many bushfire victims without permanent homes up to two years after the blaze.
Professor Warhurst points out that her chances have been considerably boosted by the NSW Liberals pre-selection debacle.
Liberal candidate Jerry Nockles has been a staffer for both Hendy and Senator Jim Molan and has equally strong local connections, but was endorsed only a week before the election was called as one of the nine “captain’s pick” candidates who then faced a legal challenge.
The Jindabyne resident is a 24-year Navy veteran who has also held senior roles with international non-government organisations such as World Vision Australia and UNICEF. But the extreme tardiness of the pre-selection process is likely to weigh heavily against him in an election where national polling indicates a strong Labor swing or outright victory.
“I don’t think Eden Monaro will be anywhere near as close as the neighbouring seat of Gilmore”, Professor Warhurst says.
Fiona Phillips is sitting on a margin of 2.6 per cent for the ALP in Gilmore but faces a challenge from well known former NSW MP and Transport Minister Andrew Constance; also a vocal advocate for bushfire victims.
He will be a far more plausible candidate than Warren Mundine, who was parachuted into the seat only weeks before the election in 2019.
Greens candidate Vivian Harris is a climate activist who came to the Bega Valley after spending 15 years in northern NSW.
With qualifications in Veterinary Science, Education and Environmental Health, she’s one of a cohort of Greens who have made inroads into local government on the far south coast.
A familiar figure to Bega locals, Harris has notched up 100 climate strikes. Inspired by Greta Thunberg, she spent two hours in Littleton Gardens every Friday with signs protesting inaction on climate change.
Among other minor and independent parties, there has already been a casualty: One Nation candidate Gerard Nicol pulled out of the race after a series of social media comments and blog posts widely disparaging women were unearthed.
One Nation’s campaign director Damian Huxham described the statements as “repulsive” and said that after an urgent meeting, senior executive members of the party had decided to disendorse Mr Nicol’s candidacy.
United Australia Party candidate Darren Garnon founded and operates an industrial lubrication manufacturing business.
He has been involved in mentoring and supporting young men for many years and was one of the original founders of the Men Mentoring Men (MMM) program which became Menslink.
Toni McLennan is standing for the Informed Medical Options party, campaigning on the right to refuse or choose medical products (including COVID-19 vaccines) or procedures “without coercion, discrimination, bullying or punishment”, according to their website.
Independent candidate Andrew Thaler is also an election veteran. A small businessman from Nimmitabel, he is a renewable energy operator and activist and has previously contested Monaro, Eden-Monaro, the NSW Legislative Council and the recent Bega by-election.